Don’t ask me about God

Cal in Color

Photo of Marina Román Cantú

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I’ve realized that what is sometimes thought of as “eccentric” in other places could easily pass as “normal” at UC Berkeley.

This idea came to me as I walked through Sproul Hall with my head hanging low in an attempt to avoid eye contact with anyone who was tabling or giving propaganda. Most of the time, I fail at this task and end up signing up for some business fraternity’s informative session.

Every day as I walk to class, I pass by the anti-capitalist guy with a microphone who shouts directly at the Christian guy screaming about the Bible on the other side of the street. On a rare occasion, if you walk by in the afternoon, they are both situated side-to-side from the woman in a folding table with a “Free Palestine” mask giving pamphlets (who is usually behind the man delivering what seems to be an antisemitic speech straight at her).

At first, I was startled by all of this, as I genuinely thought I was the only one seeing these people — since everyone else walked as if they could not hear them. As more weeks passed, these collective voices became familiar.

Last month, as I walked through Sather Gate back to my dorm, a man that seemed like a student intercepted me. In what has been probably one of the most bizarre exchanges I’ve had, he flat out asked me if I wanted to come to his church with him. Bear in mind that I have not been inside a church in the last four years, and I can confidently say that as soon as I step into one, I’ll probably burst into flames.

I usually don’t engage voluntarily in conversations regarding faith.

Even though agnostic people and atheists have reached a record high in Mexico, talking about quitting my Catholic viewpoint continues to be a slippery slope. I avoid talking about religion because people (frequently the older generations) usually have one of the following reactions: Either they feel appalled by my “lack of Catholic spiritual guidance,” or they begin meddling and questioning me unceasingly about what I do believe in. 

For a person who thinks faith belongs in a rather more intimate conversation, I was caught off guard when this man at Sather Gate asked me (seconds after meeting me) if I believed in God. I kept quiet, so he proceeded to tell me that if I came with him, he’d show me scientific proof that God existed. I was now intrigued. 

I told him that I’m an atheist, but was raised Catholic and even went to Catholic school for several years. When he asked about what made me depart from my Catholic upbringing, I froze. I couldn’t respond because, to be honest, I wasn’t sure.

A few seconds passed before my contemplative moment became awkward silence. Due to my lack of answers, he left me to try his luck with other passers-by. I thought about our interaction for the rest of the day. 

I come from a family where no one has ever questioned their Catholic beliefs; they’ve accepted them with a sense of belonging and familiarity. Sometimes, I think it just makes sense to be a Catholic in Mexico. It eases interactions and gives you a sense of commonality with a large portion of the population, even if you don’t necessarily agree with what the church is preaching. As I grew up, people implicitly told me that my social and political views opposed — or sometimes denied — my Catholic beliefs. 

For a girl who cried out of joy at 8 years old when receiving her First Communion, I don’t know the exact moment I stopped believing in what Catholicism portrays as a god. Perhaps it was the moment I saw hatred stemming from the most devoted people I knew. Or maybe it was back in 2015, when I watched “Spotlight” in theaters and remembered that my own hometown is the cradle of one of the largest clerical pedophile scandals that have come to light in recent years. For all I know, it could’ve also been the moment I saw some pro-life influencers from my home university going viral and decided I wanted nothing to do with them. 

 My household has transitioned to a more eclectic view on faith now, where meditation, crystals and palo santo sticks coexist with my mom’s prayers, crosses and rosary beads. However, I still hold remains of my Catholic upbringing — involuntarily and probably out of tradition — like the way I helplessly mouth a little prayer every time I hear an ambulance pass by because that’s what my grandma taught me. I can’t help it, it’s so rooted in me. 

I stopped believing in God, and there isn’t exactly a unique single moment when this happened. I gradually walked away from my Catholic faith that, for more than a decade, felt like a second skin. Maybe at some point, everything will click, and religion will make sense to me again. I’m not opposed to that. But for now, I’m at ease thinking that if God does exist, my grandmother and my mother’s faith and prayers are still watching over me.

Marina Román writes the Friday column on being a person of color at UC Berkeley. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected], or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.