Avery Thorpe, Maddie Kosc
When junior Neharika Palivela first started attending public school, she quickly learned she was different from her peers. Palivela was raised Hindu, so she did not share the same Christian beliefs that many other students around her had been taught. During her childhood, Palivela said, she strongly believed in the teachings of Hinduism, but as she grew older, she said she slowly stopped believing them.
“I think part of it is just feeling guilty because I know that because I don’t believe in this stuff a lot of the traditions are going to end up being lost—and some of those traditions and festivals and holidays I actually do enjoy—but they’re all going to get lost because I don’t actually believe in the practice of the religion,” Palivela said.
Palivela is not alone. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that the number of adults in the U.S. regularly attending religious services has been declining over recent years. 30 percent of adults said that they rarely or never attend services. Of that figure, 37 percent said they practice their religion in alternate forms, 28 percent said they are non-believers and 23 percent said they have not yet found a religion or place of worship that best suits their beliefs.
Still, while this survey shows fewer adults attend religious services, Rev. Jenni Crowley Cartee, a youth minister at Orchard Park Presbyterian Church (OPPC), said her church has experienced higher numbers of youth attending services and participating in the community than in the past. Crowley Cartee said one reason for this may be that teens in the church invite friends to join them and encourage others to participate.
“We work really hard to keep youth connected through meaningful experiences, both in the summer and throughout the year, and I think keeping a mission focus for our youth ministry helps youth want to be here and want to be engaged,” Crowley Cartee said. “And also being a safe place where youth are actually encouraged to ask difficult questions and to really think through their own beliefs rather than just being spoon-fed easy answers.”
Junior Aadam Merzoug said he is proud to be Muslim, despite the negativity toward Islam in media in recent years. Merzoug said when he was younger, he didn’t really believe in all of the teachings, but as he’s matured he has found that routines like praying five times a day have benefited him mentally and spiritually.
“I’m thankful for everyone in this school who has not said anything negative about the Muslims, and there’s a handful of Muslims in the school, and it’s just helped the Muslim community grow and all of my peers are now more self-aware of the culture itself,” Merzoug said.
While Palivela now identifies as agnostic, meaning she believes that nothing is known about God or any higher power or may never be known, she said she still carries many Hindu teachings with her. Palivela said it’s like having her own religion in her head, and said she pulls certain beliefs from other religions and cultures.
“There are parts of Hinduism I really like,” Palivela said, “like the whole idea of karma, doing good so that good comes back to you. That has definitely impacted the way that I act with other people, and in the long run I would say that the entire principle has made me want to be a better person. It’s little things like that stay with you.”
Crowley Cartee said she thinks believing in a higher power can impact youth in their day-to-day lives and change their perspective of the world around them by helping youth to seek out meaning and understanding. She also said having an outlook on the world that’s based on religious beliefs encourages teens to reach out and care for their peers.
“We all have days when we struggle, we slip backward and we are not the people that we are called to be or the people we want to be, but in general I see our youth try really hard to reach out to one another, to find ways to support each other even when things aren’t good, and I also think that I see them reach out to others in their community, in their schools and want to find a way to make a difference,” Crowley Cartee said.
Palivela said while she personally does not believe in all the Hindu teachings and many of the rituals which are traditionally performed, she still is able to understand and connect with the appeal of following religious teachings and the way it has impacted humanity throughout the course of history.
“It makes sense and I do think it has had some really good impacts. In the sense that it brought people together, it gives you a sense of community and in times where people were so lost, it was that faith that kept them going,” Palivela said. “In that sense, I think it’s kind of a beautiful thing to have that kind of blind faith in something. I think it speaks monumentally about humanity.”