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​Reconciling Christianity with College Life

By Ifeoluwa T. Obayan, Crimson Staff Writer

A stack of tracts—colorful, attractive pamphlets that describe the process of salvation—has been sitting on my desk since the beginning of the semester, waiting for me to grab them on my way out the door—a day when I wake up feeling moved and ready to share the gospel with the Cantabrigians in the area. Tracts are often used by Christians when evangelizing.

But for now, they remain where they are, right next to my Bible—both a reminder of my faith. Here at Harvard, it is almost too easy to forget. Now, don’t get me wrong: I go to church every Sunday, and in various daily situations, I’m constantly thinking of how I should react or respond as a child of God. But, mostly, when I present myself to fellow students, Christianity is pushed to the very periphery.

Arriving here just last semester as a typical pastor’s daughter—born and raised in the church, living a fairly sheltered life—I thought I was sure of myself and my faith. What I’ve quickly learned in my time here is that college teaches you never to be too sure of yourself. I stepped foot on campus, already knowing where I would be worshipping come Sunday. By the will of my parents and myself, I would not go astray. Right from the beginning, I was quickly shaken out of my reverie.

College really was full of young people, without a care in the world, drinking and smoking. It’s not that I was naive. I watched TV and read books that had shown me the part of the world I had been raised to not participate in. Still, it was one thing to know and another to experience up close and personal. In these instances, your faith is put to the test. Having control quickly turns from a passive to an active act. This isn’t to condemn those who do these things, but only to point out that they are not what I believe I should be doing. What’s more, coming from a fairly conservative state like Texas, it was basically unheard of to plan school events on Wednesday evenings, not to mention Sundays around noon. I was more than shocked when things were scheduled at the same time I had church. I was offended. People on this campus had no regard for us Christians, who were then forced to compromise in some way. Then I realized, my faith wasn’t the only one that mattered here.

If having to reconcile with all this wasn’t enough, people challenged me at every turn. Friends wanted to know why I wasn’t drinking, smoking, or participating in this or that. Saying I was a Christian wasn’t a good enough answer. After all, some of them were Christians and others thought it was a bad excuse. This was particularly jarring for me because Christianity was the label I slapped on for the benefit of others and myself as my reason for everything. But now, I had to really think about my own personal reasons for my actions and behavior. Why was this moral compass so important to me? It was self-exploration like I’ve never done before.

The mistake some young people make is thinking that finding yourself in college has to mean letting go of faith because it is a form of brainwash, where you are restricted by a set of seemingly arbitrary rules that don’t allow you to really live your life. This doesn’t have to be the case. Finding yourself can just as easily be in the context of your faith. Struggling with your beliefs and testing the waters doesn’t necessarily have to render you as unfaithful. On the contrary, I feel I have become a stronger Christian because of it.

There are those, many of them educated young people, who aren’t moved by the idea of a higher power. To them, being a morally upright person or choosing to abstain from certain things need not require faith. Though that is valid, regardless of how we try to rationalize and demand proof in support of everything, not everything has explanation. Not everything makes sense. For me, believing in God is how I reconcile with the unknowable. It is comforting to have someone to look up to when things are clearly beyond my human power. I even stress much less about things because I trust in God. Yet, here I get the sense that “blind” faith is looked down upon in the quiet gaze and silent nods that I get when I talk of Christianity. That believing in something without fully knowing is not the way of the Harvard educated.

Being the judgmental, superior Christian only perpetuates a stereotype that puts so many people off from our faith. So, I began to learn what the love of God meant in a real world context, outside of the pages in the Bible. Becoming a less judgmental person and learning to love and accept others regardless of what they do is one of the best things college has done for me. Still, I am wary of being portrayed as the “Jesus freak” or called out because my more conservative beliefs may not fall in line with the progressive nature of the students here, so I keep quiet. But I refuse to believe that being a Christian and a young college student in this day and age have to be mutually exclusive, even if the two might always be warring against each other. Nevertheless, it is a struggle that I will gladly continue. One day, I will finally grab those tracts from my desk and reach out to others about why salvation is worth it all.

Ifeoluwa T. Obayan ‘19, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Hollis Hall.

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