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I love being a Religious Studies major!

By William Alexander | January 21, 2009

Here is the exact text of a paper I just wrote for my religious studies class.  I’m not going to bother giving context, it is pretty easy to get.  I love my life now that I’m doing what I want to in school.  Kids, don’t be afraid to dream.

My religious tradition would most closely be described as deeply personal, self produced, inconstant, and heavily influenced by the East. Many influences come from New Ageist ideals, while others come from ancient Vedic concepts, or age old Chinese traditions. I continue to understand and realize the divinity of all existence, while living as a Buddhist and Taoist. As a Buddhist I view the Bible as a useful for some guide that is inherently empty of inherent existence. As a Taoist I see that the Tao came first, and from that came the wisdom found in the Bible. I have actually tried to read the Bible with a Taoist lens and seem AMAZING connections. King David and Lao Tzu surely saw the exact same thing, called by different names (or the same thing, nameless!). I think the Bible is the true word of God, as much as I think a flower, a mountain, or a gunshot to the face is the true word of God. Some people need to approach enlightenment from the biblical direction — and to be more specific in there, some people need to interpret it literally, some metaphorically, some in between. In the end of the day, I am worried more about experiencing myself more fully, and have left the Bible as a major source of advice for my personal life and moved on to more specific advice in the forms of personal experience and introspection. My reading and looking for advice comes from gods word most often in the form of other spiritual beings — in conversations, blogs, e-mails, or books they have written.

I adhere most closely to Ch’an or Zen Buddhism. The founder of Ch’an Buddhism was an uneducated orphan who intrinsically understood the ‘obvious’ truths that lead one to enlightenment. I use him (Hui-neng) as an example of how I should search to understand what authority figures to revere and whom I should not. If Hui-neng can create a wealth of knowledge having never been trained, a theologian may help me in my path to understanding divinity, regardless of his formal training. Further, as a Buddhist I acknowledge the inevitable change certain in all life — it seems useless to adhere to an ancient custom if it is not of the most benefit to all. Popes have been corrupt and Popes have been mighty spiritual leaders. I don’t see a reason to choose a Pope over Mahatmas Ghandi, for example, but see no reason to revere Hui-neng over Pope John Paul II. Each of them is reflecting the light of God from a different angle and in a different frequency, helping people who fell outside the spectrum before to see it. I can always see something in a new light, but I need to make sure what I see makes sense and falls in accord with what I feel in my spirit.

My working hermeneutic (personal lens) regarding the Bible conforms perfectly to my “religious tradition” since this I have acknowledged that my religious tradition is my own (I think we all have our own, but some choose to ignore that). I look at the Bible as helpful but not necessary, wise but not infallible, insightful but not the only correct point of view, and the perfect expression of the divine. (Exactly like everything else in the universe.)

My religious point of view has been influenced by my immediate culture, especially in how I feel that I should question things constantly. My home’s culture was one of inquisitiveness and idealism. As an “upper class white kid,” I went to Catholic School until my junior year of college — each of these years helped define my relationship with the divine, often I perceived I was growing away from the god of the Book. (Which I learned later was not Possible!) In any case, I have used this “ethnicity” (whatever that means) as a spring board into my own inquisitions upon myself. My religious stance is completely different, but 100% connected to my ethnicity. Actually, YOUR ethnicity influences my religious stance, as does your choice of transportation four weeks and three days ago, the way you like your tea, and what you had for breakfast today. My “ethnicity” is as inseparable from my religious expression as you are from me. We are all connected, and intimately so. When wind blows on one part of the web, the raindrops on the rest of the web shall move, too!

Gender is a funny-to-define concept. What does it mean to be a girl? The way conventionally educated language has formed would say that members of the Female Sex have a vagina, their male counterparts have a penis. To be a Female in Gender is completely different. Sex, while the majority of the time is clearly binary (with birth rarities and surgical procedures being the exception). Gender is a relative thing. To be female in gender means that your gender is not male. I will never know that hardships and feelings that physically Female human beings undergo in the world, so I can only interpret the Bible (in this life) as a physical Male. My gender (as far as I am concerned) is fluid and extremely difficult to define. Walking the gender line of androgyny, I feel, gives me a unique perspective, but is an infinitesimally small piece of the puzzle to how I understand the Bible. My unique gender helps define who I am, but other than generalizations like, “I’m more sensitive than most “boys” that I know,” I don’t know how to put it. I try my best to see beyond physical Sex, since these really don’t change the spirit at all.

As I’ve mentioned, I am an “upper class white kid.” This means that I have parents with enough time on their hands to help me on an intimate level in understanding things for myself (with things like Math and Science Night at the dinner table), while also being able to share their many travels to other parts of the world with me, bringing me a more global perspective. Traveling to other countries (which is not an option for some social classes) has helped me realize that the typical Northern Virginian approach to the Bible is NOT the only one. This helped me directly understand the relativistic nature of religious interpretation as well as experience suffering and compassion on a new level. Being raised as a science focused, never-settling, “just be a good person” sort of kid, I have always taken the Bible with a grain of salt. It means more to me now that I see it as a reflection of god in my Buddhist/New Aged view than it did as a lesson book for young Catholics (like I saw it as a child).

In my private, Catholic school, it usually went that one year my dog will go to heaven, the next year all animals live without souls, while third grade only higher functioning animals have souls. Every teacher taught us something new about “our” professed faith. I began to question WHY God wanted us to go to church on the first Friday of the month, and why going to church on Saturday morning wouldn’t count for the whole week, while Saturday night would. I began to question nit-picky rules in “my” religion as I learned about them, and began wondering why I said the things I did in “my” prayers as I said them. Catholic school had much to do with my growth into a religious person, and much to do with the development of my unique relationship with god. (Hi god) Though I read and studied the Bible, I was never once told to interpret the texts in a literal sense. (I don’t recall many “this is how you should interpret this chapter,” things from school, actually) I usually walked away with the same general feeling: These texts have been handed down for a long time, translated many times, written years after the events, and maybe not even by the person who supposedly wrote it! The authorship, time of recording, etc., have never clouded the importance or validity of the text. I have always had a way of interpreting that I understood; sometimes I was to read literally, sometimes just as a lesson.

I, much more so than anyone I know, feel certain needs of others in a direct and sometimes impairing way. This is, in fact, the thing upon which I am working most to change about myself right now. I am often held up by injustices about which I can do nothing immediately to change — I will dwell on them for hours, feel guilt for my inability to help, and become cold and sad towards the world. I have realized that I need to practice being powered up by these emotions but not letting them take hold of me as they seem to do right now, and am learning to keep my head high and stay optimistic and loving despite the needs of others I see going unnoticed. “My community” is everything within the confines of Existence (as opposed to existence. Capital E Existence includes nonexistent things like thoughts and stuff). The needs of my community are exactly the same needs as I have. Since I will not be satisfied until the rest of the world is, I work very hard to make sure I never sit still (that almost sounds kind of selfish…). I see the hardships felt from godlessness and also the hardships felt from zealous “godliness”. I think the connections I see between most global travesties and religious interpretation has helped dampen my straight forward acceptance of all religious texts.

I think the part I would focus on in this is part of what I mentioned about YOUR influence in my life. You, your mom, your dog, and EVERYTHING in the universe has a direct and amazing connection and influence on me. I can’t understand the connection, but I can feel it and respect it. This assignment is about the various influences on my religion and my interpretation of the bible, but I can only express the smallest fraction of the things that go into forming my beliefs. I hope I did a decent job expressing my thoughts as far as this class and its conventional limitations are concerned.

Topics: Nonfiction, Philosophy, Utterly Random | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “I love being a Religious Studies major!”

  1. JessicaYoung Says:
    January 21st, 2009 at 9:08 am

    you know, the other day i was just thinking, “Hmm, it’s weird billy never talks about his major…he should talk about it more.”
    clearly I am psychic.
    I also have wicked timing skills.

  2. PPOL Says:
    January 21st, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    This? “Each of them is reflecting the light of God from a different angle and in a different frequency, helping people who fell outside the spectrum before to see it.” is absolutely poetic, Billy. I love it. Yes, yes and YES! My PPOL manages to put my feelings into words!

    :-) Nice essay – it helped me to understand you just a bit more.

    Love and stuff