Separation of Church and Self

By Maddie Mohamadi | Sidwell Friends School

My religious beliefs have always been central to my identity, but recently, I’ve struggled to balance them with my new scientific beliefs. My mom’s family consists of extremely devout Christians who have raised me to practice the Catholic faith. From first to eighth grade, my parents enrolled me in a Catholic Sunday school. As a result, I was taught that creationism was fact: God created the Earth and all organisms on it in six days and rested on the seventh. Because this was all I knew, I believed it was the only truth; however, my education in the sciences, especially in middle school, has caused me to rethink my previous views on creationism.

At the school of religion, I learned a variety of things about the Catholic faith that ranged from the Ten Commandments to the miracles of Jesus. As I attended year after year, my outlook on creationism became more fixed; I had never truly learned about how life was created until I took biology in 7th grade. Although I had heard about the concept of evolution, I never fully understood it. In that 7th-grade class, we started the year by looking at the origin of the Earth. On the timeline, it showed that the Earth was formed 4.6 billion years ago, and the first humans evolved about 2.8 million years ago. However, according to the Bible, God created the Earth and all existing life in a total of six days. I came to question whether it was scientifically possible for all life on Earth to be formed in that significantly short timespan. In fact, I came to feel a tension between my Catholic faith and scientific education. As my mindset began to move toward a firm belief in the sciences, I worried that I might be betraying my family.

As devout Catholics, my grandparents, aunt, and uncle would constantly ask me about my faith. Whenever my grandparents would come from New York to visit, a major topic of discussion was when I would receive Confirmation. As my beliefs about the world’s creation evolved, I found it hard to tell them how I truly felt. I felt pressured to keep attending religious classes; I feared that if I stopped going, then my family would be disappointed.

As I continued the lessons, I got closer and closer to my Confirmation, the sacrament that marks the significant step in affirming my Catholic faith. My family members wanted me to partake in this sacrament, as it is a salient rite of passage in our family.

I had trouble deciding whether or not I wanted to receive Confirmation, but in the end I decided to make a compromise: I would obtain the sacrament and quit the religious school. Although my family initially felt uncertain about this decision, they decided that it was a reasonable settlement. This allowed me to stick with my own beliefs while upholding family tradition. Ultimately, while I have determined I am more aligned with science, I have come to understand there is room for both viewpoints to be expressed and respected. Currently, I am still figuring out whether I fully identify with the Catholic faith. By accepting new ideas and questioning others, I have come to understand that I am both a religious and scientific believer, which has broadened my overall outlook on the world.