A final reflection

So this assignment is officially over. What better topic for my last reflection post than a reflection on having to record my reflections.

I think this assignment has been so helpful and thought provoking. Maybe a little time consuming and frustrating at times when I couldn’t think of what to write, but it also pushed me to think deeper and make connections outside of class.

 

In fact, as I was reading a chapter for my Communication class, a lot of the wording in the book sounded so similar to ideas we had explored in this Religion course. It talked about communication as something that has always existed. That there has never been a society without communication of some form just like there has never been a society without religion of some form.

This assignment has taught me to connect things in the classroom to other experiences and to think more deeply about everything.

 

I think I’ll keep this blog going so I continue to make these invaluable connections.

 

Also, religion and pop culture is one of my favorite topics and I found these two nifty little sites:

http://www.beliefnet.com/Entertainment/Movies/2008/09/The-Most-Controversial-Religious-Movies-of-All-Time.aspx

Top 10 Most Controversial Religious Movies

They are lists of the most controversial movies of all time. Very interesting. I am on a mission to watch all of these movies because I never really understood religion conflict with media and pop culture. It’s all fiction. It’s just what makes money. No one is getting hurt, and yet religion tends to turn against things that don’t hold the same values, but what’s the big deal really? I will never understand, but it is something I will continue to explore through this blog. Now I have some movies to go watch before I can post any more!

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Morals are quite the hot topic.

I used to love this class because of the always interesting discussion that took place, but some topics just inspire what feels like a feud of ideals instead of a discussion of viewpoints.

It’s really scary.

 

I have my own views on morals and their relation to religion. I’m not closed-minded about it, I always find everyone’s input extremely interesting and insightful. Everyone really makes some good points! But what I absolutely cannot stand is when people start to get so righteous and defensive about their points. Obviously people feel very strongly about their ideas, and that’s great, but when everyone starts yelling over each other to be heard and cutting each other off, I just feel like crawling under my desk and out the door. It’s like being in the middle of gunfire. And although I’m sure no one would admit it, I think it has a lot to do with ignorance and limited view. On topics like religion, I think sometimes people are oblivious to how limited their view is. Speaking for myself, it is easy to forget that “religion” is not limited to belief in God. We’ve spent the whole semester attempting to define religion and saying it is made up of rituals and traditions and community, and it’s pretty freaking hard to escape!!

So then when we talk about morality, at least when we talked about it today, it seemed like everyone forgot that. Religion = God. But that’s not the case!!!! And I see a lot of truth in looking at morality and religion like you would look at a rectangle and a square. All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. Genuinely religious people are believed to be/hold morals, but not all moral people are truly religious. Morality is the rectangle. It can be in a religious sense, or it can stand on it’s own. Now some would argue that all morals result out of religious belief, and I see a certain truth in that. I would not say it is false. But I also see a truth in saying that morals can exist without the influence of religion. Maybe I am too biased to make that judgment because I was raised in a religious family and attended 13 years of Catholic school, but I think humanity can come to the conclusion, at least a majority consensus, that certain acts are bad when committed with foul intent. And I think humanity has the ability to discern what defines intent as malicious. I don’t think their needs to be a belief in a godly overseer or karmic punishment for one to come to the conclusion that you should not take someone else’s life. 

What about the conscience? Is that a part of the brain and self derived from religion? I really don’t think so. It’s in our wiring to feel bad about actions we commit when they are committed with wrongful purpose. I feel bad when I spend considerable amounts of money. Sometimes even on things that I feel I really need. I know that I could probably live without them, but I decide they are necessary for my comfort. But I also know that my family struggles with money. That my parents are providing me with an education at a $40,000 a year institution. That they have already sacrificed to send me through Catholic school for 13 years. That they are currently putting my brother through Catholic school and will continue to for at least the next five years. None of this has anything to do with religion. But the voice in my head makes me feel bad when I spend money on little luxuries because I know that my family is struggling. That I am taking for granted. And I feel like I am hurting them indirectly in some way. That is morals. Morals work through your conscience. And I don’t need religious beliefs to tell me that I should be worried about the well being of my family.

It’s pure instinct.

I believe morals are tied in with instinct. Animals kill other animals for food; for survival. They don’t kill just to kill. We kill animals for food; for survival. When running on instinct, no creature would kill for the sake of causing death. Killing is an instinctual reaction for survival. Whether it be the result of a feeling of being threatened, to protect, or to provide for basic needs such as food, killing has a reason in the animal kingdom. It’s not an evil act. 

We’ve talked about religion being used to explain things; tragedies, what happens when we die, etc. And I think that still applies here. Religion developed as a way to explain feelings of instinct.

Final Paper

So this final paper will give me chance to delve deeper into any religion. Well, there are quite a few to choose from. My first thought was Buddhism because it was the one I was most interested in during class. So I think that would be a good option for me. But I also thought about expanding on what we have done in class this semester and not choosing any of the religions we covered. Something outside the Big 5. But what to choose? Something interesting and controversial. I’ve decided that this would be prime time to explore something that has always interested me, but often forget to view as a religion:
Pagan Witchcraft and Wicca.

Pentagrams and herbal spells and potions are what first come to mind so it will be interesting to do further research into the real beliefs and practices, traditions and rituals of Paganism.

Choosing the phenomenological categories in which to examine Witchcraft will be the most difficult part, I think. Rituals will definitely be one of them since I’m sure one of the first things that people call to mind in response to the word witchcraft is cauldrons and sacrifices surrounded by candles and pentagrams.
Already doing some research via the library’s tools, I found this nice like summary of an article on children’s participation in modern paganism.
“The emphasis within Pagan families on the performance of ritual activities and spiritual practices in everyday life reflects the importance of considering ritual as only one of the many venues for religious expression among adults and children.”

 

This is obviously a religion that stresses the importance of ritual as a vehicle for the sacred. Although it views that sacred in  a way very different from Christianity, both stress ritual activities and spiritual practices and probably have some interesting similarities.

Religion and Pop-Culture

Religion as a fashion statement.

In recent years, American culture and fashion has taken on religion as the latest trend. Crosses adorn every article of clothing in some stores, and cross shaped jewelry can be found just about anywhere. As I type this I am wearing cross earrings.
So when did crosses become the hottest trend? They’ve been popular for a while.

Article

But more recently, they have taken over the fashion industry. They are everywhere. So do people choose to dress head to toe in cross apparel because they are devoutly religious? Or because they want to appear religion? Or maybe the just like the look. But for those you wear cross-adorned clothing purely for the aesthetic appeal, do they recognize the religious connection?
Should it be considered disrespectful that our culture is taking on religious symbols and rejecting their true meaning?

It’s hard to say. I personally think crosses are beautiful and simple. Easy as that. But I am also Catholic, i recognize what the cross stands for in my religion. Is the crucifix I wear around my neck the same as the ones that hang from my earlobes? I don’t think so. One is a religious symbol, and the other is simple a shape; two delicate lines overlapping. But where is the line drawn that makes them two distinct entities. It’s not so easy to find.

Culture has turned symbols with meaning into meaningless fads. People wear rosaries around their necks and have them tattooed all over their body. Now, the act in itself is not necessarily bad. But where do the motives lie? For fashion purposes? To keep up with the trends?

It should be obvious that we are facing a problem when people are adorning themselves with religious symbols and rejecting their meanings.

The Egg

“So what’s the point of it all?”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”

“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.

I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”

“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”

“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”

“Just me? What about everyone else?”

“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”

You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”

“All you. Different incarnations of you.”

“Wait. I’m everyone!?”

“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.

“I’m every human being who ever lived?”

“Or who will ever live, yes.”

“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”

“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.

“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.

“And you’re the millions he killed.”

“I’m Jesus?”

“And you’re everyone who followed him.”

You fell silent.

“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”

You thought for a long time.

“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”

“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”

“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”

“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”

“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”

“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”

And I sent you on your way.”

The above is an excerpt from a very powerful piece called The Egg by Andy Weir.

 It really makes you think. And what I found super interesting is how you can’t identify it with just one religion. But it contains pieces of them all. It shows how similar belief really is. When “God” mentions incarnation in the beginning of the story ( full story ) the character makes a connection to Hinduism. The idea of actions determining incarnation reminded me of Buddhism. And things that the god character said like “every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done unto yourself” and calling the other character his child, reminded me of Christianity. The message of this story is amazing.

And what’s really amazing about it; it actually makes sense.

Defining Evil

Defining evil is never something I really thought about before. When you’re little, Disney movies teach you what evil is. The villains who do mean things are evil. Simba’s uncle Scar is evil. He kills his own brother out of jealousy and greedy. That seems like a pretty good definition of evil. Jafar tries to steal the kingdom by forcing Jasmine to marry him. Greed and selfishness again. So he is evil too.

But in reality, outside the realm of animated kids movies. What is evil? Are the Disney definitions correct because their purpose is to teach kids in a way that is easy for them to understand? But there is only so much you can expect a child to grasp.

We can organize evil on a continuum. Some evils are more evil than others. If this is true, how do we determine the level of evilness? Does such a scale exist?

In my mind, intent is a pretty big factor in the determination of evil value of a deed. I took an Intro to Criminal Justice course a couple years ago, and I feel like that totally relates to the question of the presence of evil in the world even though now I am viewing it through a religious lens.

In the criminal justice system, intent determines whether an act is criminal or not. That’s why there exists different categories of murder and homicide. Intent is one of the main factors for assessing a possible crime.

So can we use intent to accurately define evil? Are acts evil based solely on their intent? I think this is the best way to look at it.

That being said, it is important to realize how relative this all is. We can never know exactly what someone is going through, how they were raised, what their day has been like, what their personality is at its core, and therefore we can never judge their intent from an outside viewpoint. It’s not possible to look into someone else’s mind and sole and determine the intent of their every thought and action.

Unfortunately the world is not as black and white as the Disney movies. Even the ones in color. When villains in a movie are evil, it’s because they were designed to represent evil. In the real world, we can’t assume the unhappy person we bump into on the street is evil because they yell something nasty at us as they storm away. We can’t even assume that the guy on the evening news who raped and killed ten innocent girls is evil. Sure we can view it that way from out relative reality. And sure there is probably a majority who would agree. But it is also important that we understand that we cannot judge. The right to judge the actions and intent of others is beyond us, and if we think we can take that duty upon ourselves and carry out our judgments in a righteous way, we the being evil ourselves.

The Devil’s Playground

I had heard about Rumspringa before. I like about an hour and a half from Lancaster, PA which is known for being “Amish Country.” I have family who lives in that area, and I got my two dogs from an Amish farm in Lancaster. So I had seen the way of life before. And When I heard about Rumspringa I couldn’t believe such a thing existed. Looking at the way Amish communities live I thought, “What teen would choose to go back to that life after getting to experience the modern world?” Rumspringa is pretty much a time machine! For someone raised in the simple ways of the Amish, joining the modern world would be like traveling to a future world that is unbelievably advanced. It makes me think of how a few years ago(circa 1995), when the world thought about the distant future (2013), images of floating cars and chrome cities came to mind. I mean look at the Jetsons! Who wouldn’t want to join the future with all their crazy technologies and ideas! The analogy seemed accurate in my mind. But watching the documentary on Rumspringa opened my eyes. These Amish teens don’t really experience the real modern world. They enter a false sense of reality based on extremes. Drugs, alcohol, smoking, sex. It’s crazy! That’s not the real world! Now it makes sense how the Amish community hasn’t gone extinct!!! Who would choose to like in that crazy, chaotic world of extremes for the rest of their life?! No one! Crazy people? That’s the only way.

If these teens were adopted for a few months by real families in the real world so that they truly got to taste the real “english” world, I bet the number of teen who return to the Amish church would drop drastically.