It was the beginning of freshman year, and my next-door neighbor invited me to Princeton Faith and Action’s Friday Night Encounters. I’m not a Christian — I consider myself a secular humanist — but for the sake of hanging out with my neighbor, I decided to go. We ate some Caribbean food, sang hymns about Jesus Christ, and talked about Christian rap music afterwards. Not going to lie, Andy Mineo is my jam sometimes.
I thought everybody in PFA was pretty nice, but singing and praising Jesus Christ felt kind of … strange, considering I didn’t really believe in him or even know the specifics of why Jesus was so special. Sure, I had heard about Christianity in passing in the news, literature, or from friends, but at that moment, I realized that I never had much direct exposure to religious culture growing up.
So I set the following challenge for myself: attend any religious event that I get personally invited to, provided that I have time — with the caveat that if it’s a recurring event, then I am only obligated to go to the first meeting.
I had three major reasons for taking on this challenge:
1. I want to learn more about religious culture for the sake of my Christian friends back home.
2. I should challenge my beliefs and expose myself to different viewpoints in order to have confidence in the beliefs that I do hold.
3. I love arbitrary challenges — but please don’t make me go vegan again.
A year later, I’ve only been invited to Christian events, but I’ve gone to church, eaten quesadillas, swing danced, attended small-group discussions, talked one-on-one with a pastor, and had deep conversations for hours with other students about Christian theology. Someone told me that, at this point, I’ve become a better Christian than most Christians.
What have I learned? Well, I’m still no expert on Christianity, but going outside of my comfort zone has been such a valuable and eye-opening experience.
I can’t say that I believe in the Christian God any more than when I started. He seems like a nice guy, but I feel that I would have to change a lot of my values to accommodate Him, which is a commitment that I’m just not willing to make. However, just because I don’t agree with all Christian beliefs doesn’t mean that I haven’t learned a lot from the Christians on campus I have engaged with. A lot of the Christians on campus have this kind of existential awareness that I haven’t found in many other people that I’ve talked to, which has been really refreshing among all the stress and pressure that we’re often subjected to as Princeton students. I’ve learned how people learn to believe in themselves, their communities, and their ideals. I might not believe in the Christian God, but I can believe in the good aspects of His people.
So what now? Admittedly, I’m a little burnt out on Christian conversations, but to all the Christians that have invited me to their events: thank you. If you invite me to another Christian event, be assured that I’ll be coming of my own volition — and since a lot of you are so friendly, there’s a good chance I will come.
But, I would like to extend my challenge. Not only do I pose my challenge to every religious group on campus, Christian or otherwise — I am also opening the floor to literally any student group to send me an invitation, and I’ll come, following the rules that I outlined at the beginning. We’re often stuck in our own bubbles and in-groups, but I think that if we can interact with people of all different flavors, then maybe we can learn to be a little more empathetic and understanding of all people. Call that my kind of faith.