Tuesday, March 28, 2006

So, one of my aunts sent me on a mission. She had a patient today who is a Chemistry professor at Bryn Athyn College as well as a member of the New Church there on campus. She started asking him questions about the his beliefs and what exactly the New Church was about. The first thing she said to me was, "This is really weird." She really didn't get a chance to ask him much because she was cleaning his teeth, which is why she wanted me to look it up and report back to her. So here it is: go to www.newchurch.org and check it out. At first I had no idea who these people were or what exactly they believed in, but I would say they are an offshoot of Protestant Christianity with beliefs about the soul and the afterlife that differ from mainstream Christianity. For example, every person has an inner spiritual dimension called the soul. It then goes on to say that the soul cccupies a seperate spiritual dimension from the physical body. Upon the death of the body, the soul becomes fully aware of its surroundings, which is presumably the afterlife. This idea differs from the mainstream Christian idea of the soul dwelling within the physical body until death. There is also a slight distinction concerning how a believer gains access into Heaven. The New Church's website states "All people can be saved who accept that there is a God, and try to live good lives." This does not explicitely state the necessity of a belief in Jesus Christ specifically, as is required in mainstream Christianity, the believer need only express belief in a God. It is also apparently more works based, stating that people should live good lives and the only way to be sent to Hell is to do evil on Earth. I know this is very off topic from what we have been discussing in class, but I thought it was interesting to bring up. I hope some people check out the site for themselves and maybe come to some conclusions about this New Church phenomenon.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I would just like to say how shocked I was at our discussion today in class. I was blown away by some of the comments made by my fellow classmates as well as close friends. I would just like to comment on which ones bothered me, but not elaborate on them because I am a little mad (actually furious as well as offended and discriminated against) to write about it. I disagree with the following comments made by students in class today:
  1. That Eck is taking a way too optimistic approach to religious diversity and pluralism and therefore, paints this picture of a utopian society that is seen as impossible and thus, cannot be achieved.
  2. The discriminatory, prejudiced, and bigoted remark made about women leading Friday prayer in Islamic practice.
Because I am so upset by this one comment, I am going to refrain from making any remarks today and wait until I cool down from my fury. However, I would just like to say that I feel some people in class today were hypocritical with their remarks and beliefs. Till tomorrow when I continue this discussion further, goodnight.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Diana Eck, is she too optimistic? At first, I didn't know what to think of her writing or her book. In the introduction and first chapter, I was a little bored and frankly didn't know where she was going with the tremendous amount of information she was pouring into my head as I read each page. I mean, every paragraph contains so many different names of people, so many dates, so many facts of this and that, and so many names of temples, churches, etc. It is a little hard to keep everything straight, but after reading the million of pages Dr. Rein assigned to the class (I am sticking by my comment that it was absurd) I must say that Eck is really growing on me. I enjoyed what interpretations she had to make, even if they were among the very few, and can see how certain things she concludes make sense, although I haven't personally witnessed these things happening.
However, before I elaborate on that issue, I would like to say something that I wanted to say in class on Monday, but there wasn't enough time. The issue of what is pluralism exactly came up in class and I was hoping it did because I particularly liked what she had to say about the matter. In my opinion and this is what I wanted to say in class, pluralism is what is illustrated in the following quote, "When I saw a hundred thousand people there, I could not believe that I had been asked to pray. For the first time, I felt America was my home," said by Dr. Singh who was asked to pray at the Lincoln Memorial. In pretty much all of the examples that Eck provides us with depicting people reaching out towards one another and thus the optimistic view of things, you have people engaging with each other and taking the time to get to know one another. The differences are acknowledged and put aside and people participate with each other just like Dr. Singh, a Sikh immigrant, was asked to participate in the commemoration of the March on Washington.
Ok, now going back to my first observation about what she was talking about in her Hinduism and Buddhist chapters. Crap, I can't find the part in the book where I thought she best described what I am talking about. I hate when you can't find something in a book because you didn't mark the place. Well, I will do my best in trying to explain what I want to talk about. With all of her examples of the Hindu and Buddhist temples being built everywhere in the United States, I just feel that the teachings of these temples have evolved and adapted into American Hinduism and Buddhism. Somewhere in these two chapters, I remember her saying that one Zen master (maybe it was someone else, I can't find it) possessed both qualites of American style and traditional Hindu practice. It was seen through her teachings that she had adapted to the world she now lived in, thus creating American Hinduism. I am having a lot of trouble explaining what I mean because I can't find what I am alluding to in the book. So, I apologize. I felt that Eck also showed this through the geographical location, landscape, and physicality of the buildings themselves that have been built all of the U.S. in almost every major city. Ok, I am going to try to find what I was looking for in the book and hopefully I can find it for class tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

So, haven't made a blog entry in quite a long time. I've been really busy lately, so I haven't gotten a chance to sit at my computer and blog away like some other people in the class. This is going to be a short entry though because I haven't really enjoyed some of the last couple of readings, so instead of comment on what we have read, I am going to talk about the books that we are going to start reading very soon. I started reading Diana Eck's novel, A New Religious America and I have glanced at the other two books, Betweeen Heaven and Earth and Soul Searching. Earlier in the semester, we read an article by Eck on religious diversity and The Pluralism Project and I found what she said was very true in that our country is no longer just a Christian-based nation, but rather one can go to California and find anything from a Jewish synagogue to a Catholic church to a mosque all in the relatively same area of the state. I personally felt that she took a simplistic approach to the problem because everyone trying to understand each other's religion and being ok with them is easier said than done. Another point I would like to make is that personally, I think the main problem associated with how America has transformed into this place of extreme religious diversity is the mass ignorance and unawareness of this important, yet not made important issue. I don't think if I went to my family and asked them about the religious diversity of America that they would really believe at first the extent to which America has become a region where people can actively practice their religions, both privately and publicly. To me this is great and all, but I would have rathered started with the other two books. I think that studying the relationships and individual religious worlds that people make with sacred figures would be fascinating because it's like you are getting into the person's mind who believes they have this special relationship with the Virgin Mary or Allah or whatever higher being they believe in. I can't wait to read that book; I hope it is as good as I think it will be. The last book, Soul Searching, is other one that I wish we could have read first because I really didn't think that religious spirituality played such a great role in teenagers lives as the author claims it to have. Many of my friends in high school never went to church as did I, so reading that kind of made me step back and evaluate my own life. By taking these religious courses, I hope to be able to make the decision of whether I want to lead a religious life or not and being happy with that decision. Just from glancing at this book, I think that it speaks to the searching that I am doing now.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I found our discussion on Wednesday exactly what my last blog entry was about. It just made me realize even more that I tend to do exactly what Dr. Rein was talking about. Why do we privilege internal feelings and thoughts and tend to look for these inner aspects of people in order to understand their religion? I know that I do this and during class I was trying to figure out the reasons for me trying to analyze and understand someone's personal innermost feelings for the ultimate purpose of fully understanding their religion. For me personally, I place a greater emphasis on a person's feelings than their actions because I have always believed or maybe just followed the idea that people's thoughts and emotions govern the way they act. I don't know if I am going to be able to explain what I really mean and if I do, if it's in the best possible way, but here it goes. A person centers their focus on a particular thought, feeling, event, or anything they want to think about. It registers in whatever part of their brain, the brain interprets it, and comes to a conclusion or course of action. Now, I am no scientist (at least not yet), but this is how I view what happens in our brain just from taking some psychology courses. The brain lets the person know what to do and then that person does it. Therefore, it all comes back to the brain, to the internal rather than external part of human beings, to the feelings rather than actions of people. That may sound completely whack, but that's my take on it. So, I guess what my conclusion is is that if people understand where another person's feelings come from and what they are, then they will be able to connect on a level greater than if they just acknowledged the person's actions and reinacted them. People want to be connected to others on that deep spiritual, religious, and personal level that I don't think you would get if you just looked at the person's actions. That is why people look from the inside out and not from the outside in. And, to get that connection you have to go to the source of it all, which is feeling and emotion.

I must say that I liked Dr. Rein's quote from Wednesday and I think that it says everything about what we as a class are trying to do by taking this course.
"The impulse to study and understand religion comes from religion itself." - Dr. Rein

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I am having such a difficult time in finding some of our readings interesting. Instead, I just find them extremely boring and very hard to get through sometimes. For example, the article about etic and emic. Oh my gosh! Boring. Personally, I find that the first-person accounts of religious experiences are a lot more engaging, compelling, and just easier to read. I find the narratives told exactly from the eyes of the beholder to be much more valuable for myself personally because I find that I learn more. I mean, fact is great and all, but I don't believe that just reading informative pieces will actually help people, especially myself, to understand religion. Facts don't explain a person's desire to practice a religion and they certainly don't explain what a person, who says he or she had been "saved," experienced internally when it comes to their thoughts and emotions. I mean, how can pure fact explain what a person needs to do, say, feel, experience, etc. in order for them to actually feel God, know Him, and want Him in their lives? This is where I believe the personal accounts come into play and where they can help people answer these questions or at least get on the right path to answering them. Like for me personally, I think the main reason I don't practice a religion or have any desire to do so is because I have for so long not lead a religious life at all. I mean, why don't I have a desire to be an active part of a religion? Is there something wrong with me? What do I need to do or feel inside myself in order to desire a religious life? All of these questions, I think, can be addressed by reading the religious experiences of other people to examine what they themselves were feeling internally at the moment they experienced this wonderful feeling. I believe that no fact or research or theory can help people (me) address this conflict. Fact does not address personal emotions, thoughts, or beliefs because every one person is different. In my opinion, fact can not explain that special feeling inside that people, who do lead religious lives, experience on a daily basis; it just can't describe that one tiny moment in someone's life that he or she realizes that they will have a boundless faith and love for God. Only the person's own retelling of that account can express what they were feeling, which in the end determines if one person will lead a religious life and another choose a life without religion completely. I have chosen through my own desires, emotions, feelings, and thoughts that I will not be a part of a religion; other people I know who do practice a religion chose to do so. Why? Why not me?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I am glad we took the time on Wednesday to discuss in smaller groups and as a class the four theorists and each of their essays because when I first read some of them, I must say I was very confused as to what they were trying to prove. I think we should do that more often because I know for myself personally that I don't always know exactly what the authors mean or their viewpoint on things. I hope I am not the only one who doesn't always completely understand the readings. Sometimes I wonder if I should have even taken this course. Oh well.

So, I haven't made an entry concerning the readings for awhile, so here it goes. I like Yearley's theory of spiritual regret because I agree, to a certain extent, with the whole idea of not abandoning your own religion for another set of beliefs or practices. However, there are two aspects of his essay that I don't like. For one, people convert all the time. It's not like there has never been a circumstance where a person has converted to another religion. When I said I agreed with his theory to an extent, I meant that I would not be opposed to converting to another religion. I believe that if a person is not satisfied or completely happy with their own religion, they have the right to convert to another one if it meant that the religion brought fullfillment and happiness to his or her life and it in the end made that individual a better person who could contribute to his or her community.

As for Paden and his comparative, analytical approach to comparing religions (a very risky act), I like the idea of breaking down the religion into its differents parts and analyzing its inner structure. I think that breaking the religion into its individual parts makes it less dangerous when comparing and contrasting religions.

Proudfoot....hmmm....Proudfoot. I am still a little confused with his theory of descriptive and explanatory reductionism because it says in the essay that both don't actually identify the religious experience according to how the person identified it. I don't know, maybe I am completely missing the entire point. I think the major difference between description and explanation is that a description includes aspects of persuasion and explanation is strictly informative. For example, when a friend of mine who had experienced being "saved" or finally realizing that his path was to follow God and look to God in everything he did told me about this experience of his, I immediately felt the sense that he was attempting to persuade and convince me that I should do the same. He did this by using vivid description in a very positive way, making it seem as if any other way besides his was wrong. An explanation would not include such bias.

Lastly, I strongly believe that people make conscious decisions as to what they will believe in and follow as a religion. Boyer's "sleep of reason" theory is total CRAP. However, I do see everyday that what people say they believe in does not match what they actually practice on an everyday basis, which means that we can not always take someone's word when they tell us, "This is what I believe and why."

Well, that's it for now. I have to get started on my other homework, which includes studying for the wonderful subject of Chemistry. :)