Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Spinning Wheels Religiously

Last Thursday I attended my first University Religion course. Unfortunately, I am the type of person who hypothesizes how the entire semester will be laid out based on the professor’s mannerisms in their first lecture. When I got to class I saw my red-faced, birkenstock wearing, longhaired professor. Immediately I classified him as an outdoorsy type who probably had a big ego since he obviously didn’t conform to any particular trend. I was wrong. I was in awe as this man began to speak. He was bold, loud, and more passionate than any instructor I have ever encountered. He informed us there were to be no textbooks, no notes, and no late marks. Then we were dismissed.

I was very skeptical about the material he would be covering in the next class since there currently is no class format. Upon arrival he showed us a film about two mountain climbers/friends entitled, 'Touching The Void'. He said the climber 'Joe's' experience was metaphorical of man's struggle with organized religion.

I personally do not believe in organized religion despite the fact that Catholicism has played a pivotal role in my household and educational upbringing. After fourteen years of Catholic education I was fully prepared for the professor to start lecturing us about the virtue and benevolence of Jesus. For the second time I was wrong.

By the end of that lecture my throat and stomach were heavy and my mind was full. Dr. Penner surprised me by speaking as I did as an angst ridden and insubordinate teenager. He told us he was here to provoke us and to anger us. He started by suggesting that organized religion is selfish, in that it tries to make us feel safe by offering us heaven, god, and joy in exchange for our souls and devotion. Religion is not something one should be able to possess or control. It is not a crutch for life. In trying to control religion one gains superficial happiness and loses the truth. There is no correct formula for living life. True spirituality should only take us out of the humdrum of our normal lives and make us feel alive.

To 'feel alive' we cannot allow ourselves to be controlled by the fear that deeply consumes us in our everyday lives. This fear is ingrained in our culture and our genes. E.g., fear of being unattractive, aging, not finding a spouse, etc. Inherently humans want comfort and security but spiritually we should not rest on one particular path. One should not be ‘defined’ or ‘definable’ in the way I tried to define Dr. Penner during the first lecture. Spiritually there should be constant growth. It is necessary to discard the trappings of our cultures, and the identity of ourselves in those cultures to grow as people. Struggle gives birth to spirituality while passivity gives birth to superficiality.

Can we give up everything to be reborn into our culture? What would our friends and family think if we gave up everything to be closer to 'god' or the 'spirit'? Would they be happy if we stopped caring about the daily grind in order to find god? What if we gave up everything to find god? People forget that Jesus and Buddha gave up everything and in this way I believe that true religion is cultish.

To end my thoughts I feel that organized religion has lost its way. Society uses religion as a stereoptying tool while some religions use themselves to provoke fear by promising eternal damnation. I am not claiming that myself or Dr. Penner are aware of the secrets of religion. Einstein once said "The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know," spiritually I am proud to say I feel the same.

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