Entering high school, I was preoccupied with worries very natural to most, if not all, high school freshmen. Am I going to fit in? Am I going to feel out of place?
The sentiments driving these worries came from the fact that I knew, very quickly, that I stood out among the student body at Marquette High. While some of that was very obvious (being a Hispanic among a majority Caucasian student body), some of it wasn’t so much, like the fact that I hadn’t had any previous religious education while many of my peers came from Catholic schools.
I had always been Catholic and gone to church and received Communion and the like, but I had very little connection to why I was Catholic, what it was that I really believed in, and how do I figure that out.
In its most ideal form, Jesuit Catholic education is structured to allow you, as a young man or woman, to navigate those questions. Upon graduating, I could not be more grateful to have studied under this tradition, not just for how it pushed me to define my faith and what means to me, but more so for how it allowed me to truly appreciate the diversity of thought and belief among my classmates with whom I shared this journey.
Yes, for those of us who were Catholic, we could all call ourselves Catholic, and yet each independently embrace our unique understanding of our faith. Even among Catholics, we were diverse, which is to say nothing of how much more diverse our group was when you included our fellow classmates who were Muslim, Hindu, Presbyterian, Baptist, and yes, atheists.
And that was just my high school class. The diversity of faith we live amongst once we step out into our communities and world today is infinitely greater. Faith is as much an individual exercise as it is a communal one, which should mean that we must never assume two people believe and act exactly the same. Seems like a logical conclusion, right?
Why, then, are we so quick to stereotype an entire population, community or faith group based on the beliefs and actions of a select group of people?
The answer, unfortunately, comes down to one of two things: ignorance or fear.
We are all naturally disposed to be distrustful of what is foreign to us, different from us; it isn’t unreasonable to be fearful of it, especially if we know nothing about it. The Bible is filled with stories of many exhibiting this. Our own country is filled with these very same histories.
And though I, nor anyone else, cannot blame anyone for not knowing or feeling afraid, what remains inexcusable is a lack of desire to be informed, to move away from fear and simply resort to remaining ignorant and scared.
To anyone who’s been following presidential politics in recent months, many of these sentiments about certain groups of faith or minorities have been brought to the forefront, with proclamations practically begging us to be fearful of those who aren’t like us, to stereotype certain groups by the actions of select radical few among their ranks.
Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, the politics of terrorism and immigration is not what I’m talking about. Rather, I encourage readers to take politics out and think about your faith.
We must remember we don’t live in a world with only people like us, and we must learn to “love thy neighbor” no matter how much different they must be like us. Not “label our neighbor” or “fear our neighbor” or “attack our neighbor” but “love our neighbor.”
The United States’ biggest reason for success laid in its willingness and ability to embrace diversity. Let’s not let fear get in the way of changing that.