While students on campus practice varying faiths, some students question exactly what, or who, they believe in at all.
Victoria Blakey-Padilla, a sophomore chemistry major, and Michael Novak, a sophomore history major, are both agnostic students at Seton Hall.
Padilla defined being agnostic as “believing in not necessarily a higher power but in something that’s a lot bigger than what we have here on Earth. But not necessarily identifying it as God – as a lot of Christian beliefs do.”
Novak said the definition for agnosticism varies from person to person.
“Basically, we don’t categorically deny the existence of God – we believe it’s unknowable,” Novak said.
Padilla added that agnosticism differs from atheism because she acknowledges that a higher power could exist. She doesn’t denounce it she just can’t put a label on it.
Dr. Peter Ahr, an associate professor of religion, said agnosticism isn’t really like a religious tradition. It’s precisely the opposite.
“When you’re teaching about religion, it’s a matter of ‘these people believe X’ or ‘those people believe Y.’ I don’t think you can talk about agnosticism that way, as if ‘those people believe in neither X or Y,’” Ahr said in an email. “There’s really no set body of beliefs that you can put together and say ‘this is what agnostics believe.’”
While she didn’t define herself as being agnostic growing up, Padilla said that she was “very open to other beliefs,” so she “never fully landed on one” during her childhood. She added that she never attended an organized church and learned about other religions from her mother, her devout Catholic father or through schooling.
Novak had a similar experience with religious beliefs growing up.
“My parents were both baptized Catholic, but I was never brought up with any particular religion. I don’t know, I guess I never really believed in God very much,” Novak said. “I probably stopped believing in God when I was 7 or 8. It just didn’t make sense to me.”
Padilla and Novak said they feel comfortable as agnostic students on campus despite Seton Hall being a Catholic university.
Padilla, who is part of the Blue Crew and gives tours on campus promoting the university to prospective students and their families said, “The thing I like to tell people is it’s as Catholic as you make it.”
“I’m very open to a lot of religions so I’ve never felt like I was missing out on anything, or that I was excluded from things because that’s really not what it’s about here at Seton Hall,” Padilla said. She added that she doesn’t feel like the Catholic faith is forced upon her at the university either.
Novak said he also doesn’t feel uncomfortable as an agnostic student at a Catholic university.
“Generally speaking I don’t feel uncomfortable here. At the beginning I was kind of apprehensive, I thought I was going to get harassed or stuff like that. I think most of that was me being paranoid, everyone is nice here,” Novak said.
Both Padilla and Novak put an emphasis on finding a higher education school that had outstanding educational programs when they selected their college of choice. The factor of receiving a good education outweighed the fact of any schools being Catholic universities or colleges.
Ahr said that all students should be comfortable at Seton Hall, whether they have varying faiths from the Catholic tradition or no defined faith at all.
“We pride ourselves on what we refer to the Catholic intellectual tradition and that tradition values discussion of religious issues worth academic discussion. The tradition includes a certain set of beliefs about the universe, but those beliefs are not a set box of stuff that excludes all other possibilities,” Ahr said. “Rather, we are all on a search for truth, and nobody and no tradition has such a lock on it as to exclude everybody else as wrong. We can all learn from each other; the truth is greater than any of us, or all of us together, can completely grasp.”
As Padilla said, she is open to other religions and she even attended Seton Hall’s Pack the Chapel event multiple times with her friends in Saint Paul’s Outreach (SPO).
“I have attended Pack the Chapel three times because they do it frequently throughout the semester. And a couple of them [her friends] invited me and I went, and that was pretty fun. I don’t think I’ve been in the Chapel other than those times, those were definitely cool,” Padilla said.
According to Br. John Paul Puschautz, of the Community of Saint John Brothers and Sisters, the Pack the Chapel event is run by Campus Ministry and the community he is part of.
There are six scheduled Pack the Chapel events for students throughout this semester and next semester.
They will all occur from 8:30-9:30 p.m. on Nov. 10, Dec. 8, Jan. 19, Feb. 9, and March 16 in the Immaculate Conception Chapel on campus and on April 20 on the University Green, according to Puschautz.
“It is fantastic that an agnostic or anyone from another faith background comes to this event. The love and mercy of God are for everyone, because everyone needs this divine love and forgiveness,” Puschautz said. “The environment we seek to foster among the students is one of true peace, a peace that is the fruit of loving God and neighbor.”
Leah Carton can be reached at email@example.com.