9 My Inner Beliefs

Nicole Palacino

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Palacino begins this essay discussing the challenges of bringing their liberal Catholic identity into social discourse given the perceptions about religion. The author begins by contrasting personal experiences in a progressive church with the experience had in her grandparents’ more conservative church. Later, through a recollection of an experience had in a high school Biology class, Palacino reflects on how her classmates’ perception of Christians as creationists is at odds with their own scientific bent of mind. The essay uses these two scenes as a point of departure to explore the concerns that are particular to their context—of being excluded from both the communities the author seeks membership in: religion, science. They write: “because my faith can often be seen as contradictory to my involvement in science, I am afraid that one community will reject me because of my involvement with the other.” Using both specificity and analysis, Palacino writes an essay that invites readers to replace their own binary perception with a nuance understanding that is situated in the specific experiences of individuals.

Nicole Palacino


ENGLWRIT 112: College Writing

Day Month Year

My Inner Beliefs

I did not often feel any need to conceal my belief. Not until, that is, I visited my grandparents at their church in upstate New York. I remember very distinctly one Sunday we were visiting them and decided to join them for Sunday mass. That day happened to be the day that their pastor preached on his idea of the “perfect family.” He believed (and thought we should agree) that the perfect family must always support each other, be kind to each other, and contribute in many other helpful ways. I agreed with a lot of the ideas that he was talking about because I thought it would help everyone be more kind to each other. However, he also believed that the perfect family must consist of one dad and one mom. As soon as I heard that, I began clutching too hard to the edge of the bench, and my knuckles turned white. How could it be that my beliefs as part of my religion could be so different from theirs? I could feel the discomfort of my family in the air, but we did not discuss it until we had left, and my grandparents were in a different car.

Ever since I was little, I have gone to church every Sunday with my family. Since we moved to Massachusetts, we have gone to a Catholic church on the campus of a college because even though it was a much longer drive, the proximity of the college made it much more progressive than the churches in my town. Never once was there a mention of any prejudice towards the LGBTQ community, and people of every possible background attended. There was also an overwhelming sense of community that I haven’t been able to find fully in any other place in my life. Needless to say, I was and always have been grateful for that piece of my life.

However, going to my grandparent’s church was my first real experience with what is seen often in the news as a stereotypical Catholic church. It shocked me, and suddenly I realized that there was a chance that if people knew I was Catholic, they might jump straight to that image of a church preaching about the “perfect family.” Oftentimes when I watch the news, there are stories about Christians protesting the addition of more abortion clinics or the fact that marriage equality has been legalized. Even though I know, that isn’t me, and I can’t help the fear that people will see me as anything other than what I am. So instead of taking the time to explain to each person, I met why I was Catholic, I just avoided the topic altogether. It is a piece of my identity that I only share with those that I am closest with and only after I am sure they know me well.

One day in my junior year of high school, my biology class moved on to the topic of evolution. We were discussing how natural selection is a driving force for the process of evolution and how we all came from prokaryotes in the very early years of Earth. After class, a group of my friends and I were sitting outside and discussing the notes. As we were discussing evolution, someone brought up how they thought it was so amusing that there were people in the world who refused to believe in science and that did not believe in evolution. They especially focused on Christianity since there are many Christians who believe that every living creature was created within a few days by God. “I’ll never understand religious people,” one of them said. At those words, my heartbeat increased, and I felt my palms get sweaty. Immediately, I felt so separated from that group. There was no way I was going to speak up and correct them at that moment. There was no way that I was pointing out that I am religious, and I most definitely believe in evolution. Instead, I sat there quietly until everyone was done with the topic and had moved on. Never once did I say a word.

I am a biology major, and I consider myself an active member of the scientific community. In the future, I hope to have a job either in a lab or working to provide vaccines to third-world countries. I have known this for a long time and don’t picture myself drastically changing my plan. I have also been a part of the Catholic church for as long as I can remember. However, when I am in a group of Catholics, I often feel as though there is a chance that I will be excluded or considered an outsider because of my passion for science. In a similar way, I feel as though the scientific community would reject me if they knew of my religious beliefs because they would feel like it would not line up with their own view of the world. Both groups reflect a general sense among communities that their way of living in the “correct way” and that anyone who does not fit neatly into their box is in some way incorrect or not worth their time. This creates a sense of isolation between groups, and while it may seem like there is diversity in identities, most people instead must change to fit into these boxes. Otherwise, like me, they must hide pieces of themselves, ensuring that none of us are free to be who we truly are.

I’ve never once been ashamed of my faith. I do not hide my faith because I feel there is anything wrong with what I believe. However, because my faith can often be seen as contradictory to my involvement in science, I am afraid that one community will reject me because of my involvement with the other. By concealing this one piece of myself, I have been able to give myself the freedom to be involved in both parts of my life that are so important to me. The polarity between each of my interests has prevented me from being able to be completely open about my identity with everyone around me. Because so many groups in our lives may have secondary views that prevent them from being open to other groups, many people feel the need to hide parts of their identity to fit in where they want to. They are afraid that showing each part of their identity will cause them to be rejected by one or more of the groups they wish to be a part of. In order to stay active in all of these communities, people must conceal their involvement in groups that could cause controversy. While it may seem as though hiding pieces of ourselves keeps us trapped, it, in fact, gives us the freedom to truly be ourselves while avoiding judgement. If this secret were to be revealed for someone, they could be pushed out of a group that they identify with or be forced to choose between two parts of their identity, showing the polarizing nature of many communities many of us hope to be a part of.

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