(The following reflection, “Why I Encourage Questioning Religion,” originated as a post by Rachel Schmidt, Spiritual Life Coach, on her blog site. It is reprinted here with permission.)
I was raised to be religious and now I’m not. Well, I’m kind of not. I’m like, “Catholicish” now or maybe “Catholic-adjacent”? Every once in a while Mass is nice to go to; Jesus is cool but maybe not in a divine way; and Catholic social teaching is fascinating. But the status of my religiosity is complicated. This Catholic/not Catholic journey is an ongoing conversation with myself filled with a lot of questioning.
Many within the Catholic Church are wondering why young people are leaving. Saint Mary’s Press decided to research, to ask, and to listen to young people rather than surmise. I appreciate being asked to share my story with them, and you can check out my interview. During our conversation, I spoke about my experience growing up in the church and how I’ve gradually—though not completely—dissociated with it.
A big reason I’ve backed off from the church is because I haven’t found a safe space to question and disagree with it, within it. I have felt like I must compromise who I am to be Catholic, and I don’t like covering up who I am. I don’t want to betray myself and to feel like I have to hide when I come to conclusions about life that are contrary to the Catholic faith. As I said in my interview, “Questioning was allowed as long as you came back to the conclusion that was given to you in the first place. But now, I was starting to question and realizing my conclusions weren’t always going back to what I had been given from my youth.”
Questioning is integral to who I am as a person. I’m a curious human, and I’ve always been the annoying, Hermione-like student who raises her hand and asks, “But why?” I don’t just accept things because someone told me to. I probe and search. I like to think critically and get deep into subjects. That’s why I have two degrees in theology; this brain of mine is intent on inquiry.
I also question because I don’t like to be controlled. I need spiritual guides and mentors who help me be who I truly am, who God created me to be, rather than authoritative, religious figures who tell me who I am. Spiritual life should not be predicated on control. Control may provide a sense of certainty, but it doesn’t provide freedom or authenticity. I like the freedom to question, make my own decisions, see what works for me, make mistakes, and most importantly, be who I authentically am. How can I compromise myself in order to support the religious beliefs of an institution? I absolutely cannot.
I also have doubts and fears and need to be able to express them out loud without judgment. I need to authentically exist in the in-betweens of belief and be supported while I do that. The LGBTQIA community is a perfect example of a community that is supportive of the in-betweens. A lot of people think the “Q” stands for queer; it actually stands for “queer or questioning.” I was marveling recently about how beautiful it is that this community lets people know, “Hey, it’s alright to question and figure out your sexuality and your gender, and we are here for you when you don’t know where you stand.” So much of life is spent in a state of ambiguity, and the answer to ambiguity is not necessarily finding certainty—it’s finding unconditional love and support.
I sincerely appreciate Saint Mary’s Press for acknowledging me and listening to my story. I continue to be a questioning, growing human being who is open to letting the wind of the spirit of God blow through me. I will take inspiration from wherever it comes; yes, even Jesus or the Catholic Church. I’ve found this approach has opened me to a relationship with a power greater than myself and allowed me to love more. We can live our best lives in the midst of uncertainty, ambiguity, and questions, and for me, questioning has compelled me to allow deeper spiritual experiences. Some of us sorely need the space to push the boundaries set by religious institutions so that we can live authentic lives of wonder and awe and be led by a power greater than ourselves. Let us support one another in this experience.