I don’t know. I literally don’t.
I am, what some call, competitive. In class, I’m that guy who answers the professor’s questions, does the extra credit even though I don’t need to, and addresses class concerns that weren’t directed toward me. I like to show how much I know. Positive reinforcement encourages me to pursue this behavior whether it’s a good grade, praise, or that intrinsic tickle of achievement, I know that this is something I enjoy. Every night I go the library on campus to study. I bring my notes, flashcards, and highlighters as study aids. I feel prepared. Confident to woo my professors into writing me recommendation letters for graduate school, the next frontier of academic competition. I become a sponge. Soaking in every line of text, example, and table from my textbooks. Every bullet point more important than the last. I feel a surge of energy as I think of new examples of the material. “I got this!” The next day I walk into class. Cocky, confident, and desperate for praise I march to my seat. I’m ready for anything the professor throws at me. The lecture begins with a question from the last lecture. I state the answer…I thought was correct. The professor responds with an impassive, “No.”
I’m stunned. I was wrong? I can’t believe this. My heart beats a faster than usual. I feel uneasy in my chair. I can feel the judgment of my peers closing in on me. Mortified, I sink into my chair, lower my head, and stay quiet for the rest of the class. I couldn’t handle being wrong. I couldn’t handle the uncertainty of ignorance. It made me uncomfortable. There was this split-second incongruence between my identity and social presence inducing anxiety.
Erik Erikson, a well-known psychologist, said that humans grow through stages. These stages are characterized by a drive to fulfil a particular goal. The stages that most college students are in would be role identity vs. confusion. Who am I? What am I meant to do? What should I study? What do I believe? Many of us are trying to figure it all out. In terms of faith, many of us believe what our parents believe – in other words what we were taught. Some diverge away from their family’s worldview to discover another. I am the latter. I grew up in a nondenominational, Christian household. I was taught the basic tenants: don’t lie, steal, cheat, kill, etc. Something in Christianity failed to connect with me. I love the virtues it taught me, but I felt disconnected still. It wasn’t something I could identify with. I became uncertain. I had doubts. I felt stressed, this time existentially.
Where do I go from here? I know that uncertainty is something I cannot deal with, but somehow I’ve found an identity that, to me, embraces uncertainty: agnosticism. I find myself listening more to different worldviews than anyone in my church would have. I try to incorporate different values that I learn from religions like Islam, Judaism, or Baha’i. Because I don’t know, because I’m uncomfortable, I seek out answers to know more. Through this I become more assured in myself, but I feel like I have developed a comprehensive understanding of what interfaith means to me.