This is an op-ed I wrote this week for the campus newspaper.
I read Bret Matthew’s recent follow up (”Losing my religion: a follow-up,” October 2 issue) to his column from almost a year ago (”Losing My religion: A rant about non-believing,” December 5 issue) with much introspection and joy. On a personal level, because my three years at Brandeis have been for me a similar spiritual and intellectual journey—albeit with unexpected results—I felt a deep connection and understanding.
On a more intellectual level, likewise, Bret’s column reconfirmed my belief that this type of searching of all sorts is precisely the purpose of college.
Like Bret, I began my time at Brandeis as a marginally Jewish agnostic. I had been the founder of my high school Jewish Student Union, but a lot of factors in my life, in particular my mother’s death from ovarian cancer during my senior year of high school, pushed me away from belief in a God.
By my second semester at Brandeis, I considered myself an ardent atheist, was an active member of the Brandeis Humanists, and wrote angry columns in the Justice denouncing prayer as silly and absurd. I thought I’d found meaning in secular humanism and felt content with my disbelief. Most frustratingly for me, I had stopped caring about the answers. I came to believe that whether God existed was at best irrelevant.
Last summer, I did a study abroad program studying traditional Chinese medicine and Public Health in Southwestern China. I had an incredible Chinese instructor that was a leader in the local Christian community and he reawakened my spiritual desire.
Throughout my time in China, I was impressed by the profound spiritual cultures of the great Eastern faiths and this reinvigorated my interest in finding spiritual fulfillment. I made a checklist of the sorts of values I wanted my eventual faith to reflect. The church I ended up falling in love with and being baptized into less than one year later was very different than what one would have predicted from that list.
One of my best friends at Brandeis was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (also known as the Mormon church). Throughout my period of atheism, I had mocked and made rude remarks about her faith in ways that I have come to realize was completely unbecoming of a true friend.
It was a church that I viewed as clearly fraudulent as well as regressively conservative. Still, I was fascinated by the way that her faith impacted her character and life choices in many positive ways.
I went to a Barnes and Noble and picked up a “Mormonism for Dummies” book and fell in love. The church theology answered all of questions I had been unable to find answers to in the past and gave me comfort and insight.
I met with the church missionaries and got a burning and searing testimony of the truth of the church one evening while praying in front of the Boston Temple (Off Route 2 in Belmont). I was eventually baptized into the church four months ago after my father came to accept my decision (a change for which I am eternally grateful) even as he continues to view it as a betrayal of my Jewish roots.
I’ve found an incredible community in the Boston area that has enabled me to improve myself in so many deep ways. Ironically, in the process I’ve also rediscovered the value of the Jewish roots that I’d once discarded and viewed as worthless and immensely enjoyed attending high holiday services and fasting for Yom Kippur because of my newfound faith.
My beliefs have been irrevocably altered during my time at Brandeis and in the Boston area, and I would not have it any other way. It is my firm belief, in fact, that if a student has not had at least one profound challenge to their most deeply held political, social or religious beliefs while an undergraduate here at Brandeis, that their time has not been well spent. In many ways, I feel deep sorrow when I see a great degree of stagnation at Brandeis with individuals clinging to groups that confirm preexisting views. Because of the small and hardly visible Republican presence on campus, for instance, I rarely see individuals having their political views challenged, let alone altered.
This semester I began attending lectures for Professor Gordie Fellman’s (SOC) War and the Possibilities of Peace class. I had taken Gordie’s Sociology of the Israel-Palestine conflict class in my freshman year and had found it a well-balanced and challenging class, which made me reconsider many of my preexisting beliefs. I expected something similar in this class.
Instead, I found lecture after lecture describing the ills of war in a very stereotypical fashion and found anti-war film after anti-war film being screened. The class seemed all in uniform agreement that war of any sort for any reason was not justified – or at the very least no one dared speak up to question the prevailing consensus. Instead of feeling soothed by this class on peace, I merely felt frustrated.
Attending a class where your deeply held beliefs are merely confirmed just seems like such a waste of time and effort. I’ve come to learn that my time is far too precious for that.
I write this not to preach my faith or any other, but to preach a gospel of self-discovery.
From my journey, I’ve learned three lessons that might help others along the way; I encourage you first to be willing to examine and question your core beliefs to ensure that they are built on a firm foundation, second to not surround yourself with people that merely reiterate your views but instead to seek out new ideas and perspectives, and third, and perhaps most important of all, to not let your pre-existing biases stand in the way of your personal growth and to be willing to act when you discover truth, no matter how unexpected or foreign.