Falling from faith?

Originally Published: February 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: July 18, 2007
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Alice,

I came to Columbia from a small town in Nevada. I came on the suggestion of one of the elders in the church, partly as a means of becoming a stronger voice of the church and partly to become more familiar with my own faith. Over the past couple of months, I have begun to question many things the church says and does, and many of the things I believe. I find myself doing things that I never would have dreamt of doing only six months ago. I'm not sure that this process is reversible or where it is headed. I am really confused and not sure what I want. I am afraid that relations with my family will become difficult if they find out how much I have been questioning my faith. I am really confused and don't know what I want. Are there any organizations on campus that I can talk to about this? Do you have any advice?

Signed,
Falling from faith

Dear Falling from faith,

As you move away from home and enter college, you are gaining independence and discovering how you want to live your life. Now that you are not as immersed in your family and church, you have the opportunity to take a step back and look at your faith from a unique, more objective view. With this new view, you may see things you never saw before. You may also find yourself in new situations, dealing with issues that you've not yet faced. It's okay to examine, explore, and question your faith and the teachings of your church. The seemingly "simple" teachings of your faith may not fit into your new, more complex world.

Most likely, the confusion you feel will be with you for a while. The answers you want may not come easily or quickly. Accept that you are going through a period of questioning, and that this does not have to mean that you have "fallen" from your faith. You could speak with your pastor or your parents about some of the things you've thought about. You don't have to tell them about what you've been doing at school. Tell them about the questions and doubts you have — they may have gone through something similar when they were younger. Or if you are sure this won't go over well, you could speak with a pastor on your campus. At Columbia, you can talk with a pastoral counselor at Earl Hall (x4-3574), or someone at Counseling and Psychological Services (x4-2878). Believe it or not, there are many people going through a similar process of questioning their religious beliefs as they enter college, and the counselors available on campus are well prepared to help you think about these issues. 

You could also start to ask yourself some questions. Think about the pros and cons of your religion. What works for you and what doesn't? Why? Do you think it will have relevance in your life in the future? Can you come to terms with the aspects of your church with which you do not agree? Sometimes, it works for people to recognize and reconcile with what they do not believe in, agree with, or support, rather than to discard religion lock, stock, and barrel. For example, some Catholics support the use of artificial birth control — they are vocal in their disagreement with the Church's teaching on birth control and are working toward change in this area, but they haven't completely left their religion.

Faith is an extremely personal matter. It can add to, and complement, your life; and, it can help guide you through difficult times. You may decide to keep your faith, but not your religion. With time, patience, and talking through your questions you'll be able to decide what is best for you.

Alice