Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Day with Islam

We covered Islam on one of the last days of my World Religions class. We discussed the Hajj, or the trek to Mecca that every Muslim is encouraged to complete at least once in their lifetimes. He spoke of this trip with great enthuisiasm, saying that he himself would like to go one one. He said that the sheer numbers of Muslims completing the trip every year was breathtaking in itself, and seeing all of them completing their salaat together as one was awe-inspiring. I looked up the Hajj on YouTube, I saw videos of thousands of people praying all together, and yes, it was impressive, but I couldn't grasp the same enthusiasm that gripped my professor. It took a trip to the Islamic Center of Riverside to really understand how he felt.

The visit to the Mosque was a requirement for my final group project. I drove myself and two other partners through a horrible rain storm to get there, but it was worth every risk. We showed up to the Mosque about forty-five minutes before the Friday service began, so I had a chance to ask the director a few questions. He said that this week was a week where much of the congregation was on holiday. He said that they usually fit 1000 to 2000 people in the Mosque every Friday afternoon. I thought this was completely unrealistic. From the outside, the Mosque doesn't look very big at all, let alone big enough to hold thousands of people. When I got inside, I was surprised that it was bigger than I first thought, but still, two thousand people is the size that my high school was, and we had a hard enough time jamming all of those kids into our big gymnasium for pep rallies.

I was taken in by a gentlemen who volunteered to be my guide, and I sat on a chair in the main "sanctuary" or 'room" or whatever they call it, while my guide completed the first to rakats of his noon-time salaat. The second two, he said, would be led by the guest speaker after his lecture. This main area we were in was actually seperate from the entrance from where I came in, but this entrance was actually another large hall, and carpets had been laid down on the tile floor to accomodate more people. As we sat and spoke, I noticed more and more people gradually entering. There were almost no chairs in the entire building. There were some of course in the back, for old men, and that is where I sat through the lecture, but the far majority of the congregation sat on the carpeted floors. As the guest speaker entered and began his lecture, I looked around fully for the first time: there were literally hundreds of people just in that main room! It didn't look like that many, but they were all shoulder to shoulder sitting in even rows facing the speaker. I looked behind me out into the main entrance hall, and there were even more people out there. This was the moment I understood that the director was speaking the truth. When the lecture was over, everyone stood (except me) and waited for the speaker to lead the salaat. When these prayers are done privately, they are usually done silently, but when the guest speaker lead them, he chanted in Arabic, and the entire congregation chanted along with him. I never thought I could be taken in by such an event, but my professor had been right. Everyone was chanting in tune with each other in low voices that vibrated the room (take in mind that the hundreds of people around me were all men, the women were upstairs). Each part of each rakat was done by the congregation simultaneously, as one, all facing north. The only thing I can relate it to is "the wave" that the fans do at Major League Baseball games. It's difficult to depict the awesome site of all this to someone who has never experienced this. All I can say is that as I sat there, engulfed by the surround sound of hundreds of chanting voices, watching all around me as a wave of men prayed as they had done their whole lives, I felt a tingle and a shiver run through my entire body. It's something so intence that it makes you want to join them, even if you don't believe in their religion. I didn't of course, and I probably never will, but it's just a feeling that I'm trying to put into words. There are many things about Islam that I disagree with, but I can understand now why so many practice it. If nothing else, it allows the opportunity to be a part of in extremely intence experience, and it occurs in a time as simple as a Friday afternoon service.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


I haven't gone to church once since I've left for college. I'm taking a religious studies class, I wrote a whole blog on how important church is, and yet I haven't gone once. My only defense is that I haven't had time, but I guess that's a lie. I haven't made time. I mean, there's a church three blocks from campus, for crying out loud. If I had REALLY wanted to go, I would have gone. The thing is, I put off most of my work until Sunday, so when it rolls around every week, I ask myself, "can I go to church today?", and I always end telling myself, "no, you need the time for school work." I do want to go, just not enough to actually go. What's even more sad is that I probably waste the same amount of time on Sunday, even with all the work I have, that I would be spending going to church. The point is, I feel absolutely horrible about it.

What is it with Sundays? It's the best day to go to church, God made it the day of rest, the day of sabbath. So why did God let me wake up on countless Sundays thinking that going to Church was work? It's funny looking back at what I told myself on those days: "I'll make up for it when I go to college". Wrong! I guess I can only hope that I grow out of this phase of "lazy college student". One of these days I'll be a regular church-goer, then it'll be my turn to send "Season's Greetings" cards and "we miss you" letters to all the kids going off to college.

It isn't God that "lets" me be lazy, as much as I want to believe otherwise. He gave me free will. Going or not going is up to me, and my feeling of guilt is all mental. I'll believe that. But I can still blame it on the Church.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Loud Silence

I read an article the other day in USA Today that inspired a little writing, and oddly enough it came from the business section. It was about a CEO of a large foreign energy group, Vijay Eswaran, and a unique practice of his that he claims is a factor in his success. Every morning he devotes one hour to complete silence, in which time he reflects the day before, makes short and long term goals, goes over notes of the previous session, and "prays" or in the words of his book, "communes with the Lord". Yes, he has written a book on it, called In The Sphere of Silence.

The inspiration for this practice, Mr Eswaran said, came from the Hindu practice called mauna, which was done with his grandfather. He said it was traditionally done during Brahma muhurta, "when the day is born again", the two hours before the sun rises. In my brief study of Hinduism, I had never heard of this practice. Of all the religions studied in my class, Hinduism was my least favorite because many of the ideologies and concepts didn't make sense. This simple practice oviously has it's benefits, so I may have to reconsider my opinion. Eswaran was reconnected with the practice, which he had stopped during college (go figure), when he took an oath of silence right after college graduation for 33 days as a lay monk.

Eswaran describes the hour of silence as "yoga of the mind", saying "silence is like exercise. A person who never does it would rather get shot than get started. Once started , he would rather die than stop". It really does seem beneficial. This hour stimulates memory by recalling the previous day. All the lessons learned that day come back and are put on paper so that they are not forgotten. Setting goals for the day, the week, even the months and years to come help to sharpen the mind and help us to make each daily action with a purpose in mind. All of us have goals, we all make resolutions, but often we forget these hopeful self changes in the fast paced world full of distractions. Eswaran comments on this. Though he says the silence is not a prayer, "It does have a spiritual side, a recognition that there is something beyond dashing around 9 to 5 that defines the purpose within us".

There are similar concepts that are practiced, though not quite the same. I play baseball, and I've been taught by my father to visualize myself getting hits, to visualize my swing, my at-bats, and the innings played defensively. The same went with wrestling. The idea was that if we could see ourselves doing what we wanted to do mentally, it would be easier to do physically when the time came. It does prove helpful, because how we see ourselves determines how we act and how others see us. If we see ourselves being successful, and getting each step to success clear in our mind, then we are more likely to succeed. It's not necessarily easier, because success never is, but we do become more prepared.

Eswaran has an interesting idea on the part of this "silent hour" spent communing with God. Not necessarily God, but as Eswaran puts it, communing with your maker, if you choose to believe in one". He doesn 't think of it as praying, but rather "a time of asking questions as you would to a buddy, looking upon your maker as a guide....The answers eventually materialize". This could be viewed as praying or not as praying, but the concept of asking "our maker" these questions is valuable. It's unlikely that God would make himself present to answer these questions, but just like the goals and dreams, it's important to keep the questions fresh in our minds so they may be answered in time through our own actions.

Obviously this man is highly successful, and the practice seems to make sense, therefore I believe it's worth a shot. The question is how many people can make time for a practice like it? Those who think one hour is too long to sit still will not likely take up the practice, but I think that an hour of completing the tasks that Eswaran describes could easily make the rest of the day more valuable and allow us to get more done in less time.

On a final note, the Company that Eswaran started is called Qi or Ch'i, taken from the Chinese character. I found it an interesting piece of information considering my class just finished a two week study of Chinese religion which focuses around the concept of Ch'i.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Daoism: the religion of good health?

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I have become increasingly interested in Daoism over the past few weeks. It's coming up on the end of the semester, and I was hoping on doing Daoism for my final group project. Unfortunately, the closest Daoist "temple" is in L.A., which is too far to drive. Hopefully I'll get another chance.

Anyway, the reason it has become so interesting to me is because of the emphasis that the religion puts on health and well being. I found it to be an amazing concept. I've never actually thought of religion and physical health, or religion and exercise, as similar entities. I am a believer in the mental and emotional health benefits of going to church and praying, and maybe through that a sence of better physical health is gained. What I've found are the actual practices that stimulate good health.

Everyone has heard of Acupuncture. I have personally never tried it, so I don't know how well it works, but I've heard good things about it. It is all based around the Daoist belief in energy "meridians" that run throughout the body, especially throughout the spine. The "point" of using the needles (haha, he made a funny!) is to stimulate the natural flow of energy at a certain point in the body, thus curing various bodily ailments.

Tai Chi, or T'ai chi ch'uan, is another one of these "health practices". According to Living Religions by Mary Fisher, it is a "continual circular movement through a series of dance-like postures", and it is intended to encourage the "unobstructed flow of chi through the body". Chi can vaguely be compared to the status of God in this Chinese religion, because chi is believed to be the "impersonal self-generating energy" from which the universe was made. To me this religion teaches that enlightenment on earth doesn't come from praying or reading ancient scriptures, but rather through accepting the "yin" and "yang" aspects of chi and allowing the both to flow throughout the mind and body freely. Amazingingly, the practices which help to allow this free movement of chi also improve balance, strength, agility and flexibility. So even if we don't believe that chi exists, we can still reap the physical benefits. If nothing else, we can walk away from these fantastic exercises with reduced stress and a better, more confident feeling with ourselves.

I just can't get over how great of a concept it is. These Daoist practices are gaining popularity all over the world; by now, though don't quote me on this, there must be just as many non-Daoists who practice the exercises as those who are Daoist. If Daoism was the religion of choice in the world, if it somehow took the place of Christianity in the number of people who practice it, it seems to me that the world would be a much healthier, if not much better, place.

And if that dream came true, who knows what could come next? Maybe a religion that focuses on world peace! Oh wait, we already do. Shoot.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Theories of Evil

I've covered some pretty deep topics in a few of my blogs, and this one is no exception. Where can one start when discussing something as complex and endless as "evil"? There are so many paths to take, so many ways to start. I find myself starting from the required readings in my World Religions class. This week's religion is Judaism. Interestingly enough, it's also Jewish Education week here at Redlands.

I read a passage out of one of my class's required texts, The Great Religions: Essential Questions. The passage discussed the question, "Why does Evil exist?", and was focused mainly one the answers that Judaism provides. Frankly, I disliked the passage. I felt that the writer never really came to a clear point. The writer, Marc-Alain Quaknin, began by discussing the Jewish belief that there was no "original sin" that was passed on over generations. Instead, "It is up to each individual to take up the daily struggle so that their good my triumph over their bad". I'm not sure how this is a valid alternative to original sin, maybe the writer simply phrased it badly or I simply can't see it. But the first belief, that there was no original sin, implies many different things. It means that the wrongs commited in the past have no effect on the present day. It means that humanity isn't in a fallen, depraved state, or if it can be considered such, than it is not due to the "first sin". Meanings aside, this Jewish belief would have been a good concept to explain in Quaknin's passage, but he doesn't. Instead he appears to argue against it. He talks about humanity as a whole choosing evil instead of good; that with free will granted to us "we" went against God's rules. After such a statement as expaining the responsibilities of each individual, speaking of humanity in general at all, let alone speaking of humanity as one unit who chose evil is going against that concept. What's more is that it's not true. Men often do choose evil, this is true, but just as many choose good.

I don't really want to argue against a professional's word, since I've already done that in a previous assignment. Rather, I thought I'd brainstorm out loud the possibility of the "Jewish belief". If it really is all up to the individual in each lifetime, what then does that mean? It's difficult, because some of the concept of "original sin" does serve as an easy explanation. For example it can be thought that many people who grow up evil are that way because of something or someone influencing their lives when they were young. Maybe a tragic event taught them to discredit God and believe that nothing good would happen to them. Maybe they were abused as a child. Maybe they were born into a family of organized crime. The idea of sin being passed on, in this sense, proves valid. But these situations could just as easily come another way. Even after experiencing horrible atrocities, it is still the individual, the victim, to choose what path they take. Many choose evil, but many choose good. Following the same strand, were the effects on the young person in question not brought on by individual choices of the parent or influential person? I take the belief in individual responsibility to mean that the choices and struggles of the individual determine all good and bad for that individual in that lifetime. If they raise a child to be evil because of their choices, that's not exactly good for them, is it?
What are the sources of evil in this day and age? Of course, this question is debatable because of each individuals definition of good and evil. Well, as blasphemous as it sounds, religion certainly is a source of evil. Whether they are devine words from this religion, or simply misinterpretations, evil deeds take place every day in the name of God or religion. Poverty is a source. Poverty can start one of two ways: it can be believed that every poor person is poor because of their choices; others would argue that accidents happen that no one could have any control over, and the "system" or "man" prevents them from regaining their right to success and prosperity. To take one step back from poverty, money itself is a major source of evil. The lack of it can cause evil, but the presence of it can cause just as much or even more evil. Poverty inspires petty crime, theft, and reckless murder. People with money may have recieved it throug evil deeds, but have more resources available for them to do more evil (professional killers, organized crime, bribery, etc).

Can all of these sources be explained by the belief that original sin doesn't exist? The fact that humanity is not in a state of peace and prosperity can itself mean that humanity is, as a whole, depraved. But too much of the world lives for good, dreams of good, and wants the end of all evil. Could the first sin, the "orignal sin" not be the source of evil, but the source of good? Why would the tale of Adam and Eve even be written if not to prove the moral of it to millions of people? Was not the story to show the rest of us what not to do?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Open Letter

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I read a great article a couple of weeks ago in the Los Angeles Times about the recent Open Letter sent to Christian leaders around the world by a group of Muslim leaders. This letter discussed the similarities between the two religions, and called for peace between the two cultures. There were interviews on both Muslim intellectuals and some of the Christian leaders who recieved the letter. Both sides spoke highly of the letter, saying that it was the first time that Muslims have gathered to discuss the relationship between Christianity and Islam. Both agreed that a better relationship was needed to end the ignorance and hostility on both sides.

I brought this letter up in my class and discussed it. Many of the students, and my professor, along with myself, were surprised by some by some of the issues brought up in the article. One of the Muslim intellectuals quoted agreed that the letter would help Americans to understand that Islam is a peace loving religion, and that the radicals and terrorists only make up a small minority. He also defended, in a way, the ideas of these radicals, saying that many Muslims do not know of the free America that we all know, but only remember hostilities by white people like the crusades. I found it interesting, as did my professor, that this subject even needed to be brought up. As much as I agree that most Muslim people are peaceful and need to be seperated from the radicals, these atrocities were done hundreds of years ago, and we have since redeemed ourselves, in my opinion. I would have been less surprised, just because it is the L.A. Times, if the article had more in it about the unfairness in Guantanamo. Anyway, it wasn't brought up, so it doesn't need to be here.

I think that the letter is long since do, and it is great to see a group of Muslims gathering to end the hatred that is tearing nations apart, causing war and destruction. I haven't read the full letter yet, but I plan to. The official site that has the letter available, in full, to read, is:

Monday, November 5, 2007

Young Love

Love is the blessing and the curse of this world. Without it, we could not call ourselves human, but with it, we are doomed to live with the concequences it brings. It's the most precious thing we have to give, but does that mean we should keep it for only a precious few? Loving all human beings is an answer for some, but is the risk of having it abused too high? The word itself gets abused. Those who feel the power that the emotion represents will only tell certain people "I love you". Others will pull it out of nowhere, sometimes to people they've hardly met. Often they don't mean it, it only serves as a way to describe a feeling towards them at that particular moment. Someone might tell another that they love them, when they are actually only feeling gratitude, joy, and sometimes only sorrow. Love could very well be that simple at times, but it is only a temporary lure.

When we are little, we are taught to love our parents and grandparents. But are we really taught? Do we need telling to love our parents? Maybe we do when we get a little older and into the rebellion stages of life, but usually not when we are little. Our parents are the ones always there, calming us when we are scared or angry, feeding us, playing with us, teaching us to wash our hands, brush our teeth, and not to cross the street without them. All the while, they are telling us that they love us. Even when we are small and our brains "aren't fully developed", we can still have a perspective on what love is. Love is what made our parents do all those things for us, it's what made them read us bed time stories and kiss us goodnight. Love is what made our tiny insignificant lives special. So is it safe to say that we know love better when we are young than when we get older? Children do have minds like a sponge, they can take up almost any concept faster than we can at an older age. True, there are more aspects about love that we cannot learn as children, but what we do learn seems pretty sufficient to me. When we in turn tell our parents that we love them, it's the truth. It's odd then, that we are told as children that we are too young to love, that we don't know what love is. We should encourage it. We don't want our children to be hurt by love, but love surrounds them from the start. Childhood love is one of the greatest parts of our youth, sometimes of our whole lives. I'm sure there are cases where two people who grew up together found it quite easy to spend the rest of their lives together. I was struck by love when I was little, and there is no denying it helped me learn what love was. Sometimes I would see a girl for the first time and immediately think I was in love, only to be dissapointed when we couldn't get along. I got it right once, maybe twice, but they ended up moving away, and so I moved on.

Childhood love comes in two parts, as does the love we experience in every other stage of life. The first is the parental love: the love we have for our parents and grandparents which lasts forever; and the introduction to love outside our immediate family: the pretty girls who beat us at basketball, the ones we throw rocks at, and maybe eventually pick "flowers" that are actually weeds for them. Sometimes it can last, but usually it's a small preview of what to expect later on. It serves as a guide that tells us to be cautious when we give others our hearts, but also not to fight love when it slaps us in the face.

There are many more phases of love which I think I could do better justice for in another post, be the question I have of childhood love is: Is what I just described as the reason behind young love really true? Why did God give us this wild emotion, at least at such a young age? We ask God why we suffer when love hurts us, and it's no different when we are little. Parents and other adults try to steer us away from it so we can't get hurt, but we feel it all the same, so we get hurt just as easily. Love can't be pushed away, because it's a trait that God gave us when he made us human. If children weren't meant to experience love, then we would think that God would have blocked that part of our learning process. He didn't, therefore loving beyond our parental love must have a reason. I can't answer it for certain, but I've given my ideas. It's a fun thing to ponder.

Yogi Berra must have been a Zen Buddhist

When we are asked what we think of "The Wise Man", many of us have a visual of an old man with a long beard sitting on top of a mountain. There are many jokes and comics about this image, with various people going to this all knowing person and asking them some "ultimate question". In these comics, the answers are almost never straight forward, and are many times surprising, or funny. This image that we percieve is the image of a Zen Buddhist.

Zen Buddhism was founded, historically, by a successor of Buddha who spent nine years in silent meditation at a monastery in northern China. It was originally called Ch'an Buddhism, the "yogic stage of meditation". It was re-named when the form of Buddhism found its way into Japan. Zen Buddhists rebuff all scriptures, in fact almost all things that link it to Buddhism. They instead focus on "mind-to mind transmission of the dharma". The previous quotes were taken from Living Religions by Mary Fisher.

Zen Buddhist hopefuls undergo vigorous exercises. Buddhists will sit outside Zen monasteries for weeks hoping to be recognized and allowed inside. Once inside, they must sit for even longer in silent meditation. If they begin to fall asleep, or are observed to, they are hit across the shoulders with a wooden "Kyosaku" bat.

The most interesting aspect of this form of Buddhism is that of "koans". A koan is a statement made by a Zen master, usually an answer to a question. In Zen Buddhism, younger Buddhists ask the question, and this question is prepared over years of training. Ideally this Buddhist only asks one question, and the belief is that "to know the question is to know the answer". This in itself could be taken as a koan, because normally these statements make no sense to someone who is not practiced in the religion. These koans are sometimes meant to funny, sometimes they are meant to be surprising, but always they are meant to bring awakening to the questioner. If the person who asked the question can understand the answer, then they are enlightened by Zen terms.

An Anthology of Living Religions gives some examples of koans given by famous Zen masters.

For an example, the question asked was "Is there Buddha-nature in a dog?"
The answer given by the master was simply "Wu".

A monk asked what the meaning was of the First Patriarch's visit to China. The answer by the master was "The cypress tree in the front courtyard."

It is mind boggling to think that these answers could ever make sense. It almost seems that this master pulled the answer out of thin air, but that would have no romance. The answer has a meaning, and somewhere in the vigorous meditation done by these Buddhists lies the answer to understanding, and apparently to enlightenment.

Yogi Berra is a famous baseball player who is known for the strange things he has said as much as he is for his baseball career. The title of this blog was a joke, because there is no way that Yogi Berra went through everything that Zen Buddhists go through, but phrases he has made can be related to koans. Some of his more famous quotes are:

"You can't think and hit at the same time."

"This is like Deja Vu all over again."

"You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."

"I knew I was going to take the wrong train, so I left early."

"If you can't imitate him, don't copy him."

And probably my favorite of all time:

"Baseball is 90% mental -- the other half is physical."

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Friday was my 19th birthday. It was definately an interesting day. I woke up at about 6:30 am to go and see my Calculus professor. He has office hours from 7 am to 8 am when his class begins. I've begun to make a habit of doing this, because the homework he gives us is so hard. When I got to his office and began to work, it occured to me, "Wow, it's my birthday and I'm up incredibly early doing math". It felt strange at first, but then I felt good about it. "This is how I want to spend by birthday", I thought, "doing something meaningful". It made me feel accomplished.

In my chemistry class, there were a few people who said "Happy Birthday", and one of my friends even surprised me with a card and a small gift. After class I stopped at the post office to pick up a package and some cards that had been delivered. One was from a lady at my church back home who had gotten a small number of the congregation that I knew to sign a birthday card. This was very special to me. In another blog I wrote about how much my church back home means to me, and this card added to that feeling of being loved.

Birthdays are special days. They are days where people who hardly know you will shake your hand and wish you a happy birthday. They are days that unite people who are thousands of miles away from each other. They are opportunities to be creative, to show someone or many people your good side. It's even better if it is your birthday. For me, this was my first birthday away from home, away from one of my parents. I recieved some gifts, I was taken out to dinner, it was great. But with the gifts and the spirit of the day came the realization of how truly blessed I am. I thanked God for the family that raised me and made my birthday special, and I thanked Him for the friends without whom the day just wouldn't be as great. I realized that I should thank Him much more often. I realized that birthdays are days for being reminded of and thankful for all of God's gifts: our friends and our family. We remember just how special he made us and how valuable we really are to the world.

A strange thing happened around the same time I had my little epiphany. I was riding my long board cruiser back to my dorm with one of my packages that a friend from home had sent me. I was just about there when my board hit a seed that had fallen from one of the big trees in front of my dorm. The wheel immediatly stopped, I flew forward, and in doing so flung the skateboard backwards. A car just happened to be coming down the street, and it rolled right over my board. I was lucky that the deck didn't snap, but it chipped and both of my trucks were bent and useless. I couldn't believe this was happening on my birthday. This board was basically an early birthday present, my transportation, a two hundred dollar investment, laying battered and broken. I was angry, the car had just kept going, I wanted to chase it down and demand money from the driver. I had all these bad thoughts, "Why me?" type of thoughts, but none of them got me anywhere. I'm still amazed at what happened, I can't begin to think of why it happened, all I can do now is forget about it and try to fix my board when I can. I'll move on, and I'll walk away with only the great memories of my "infamous" 19th birthday.

God truly works in mysterious ways.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Religion Cocktail Continued

Another favorite book of mine is Kaffir Boy. I had to read it for the first time in my 10th grade English class, and I've read it twice more since. It is an autobiography of the life of Mark Mathabane. Johannes Mathabane lived in South Africa during the reign of Apartheid. He later changed his first name to Mark when he came to the United States. The book is full of great lessons and stories about politics, sports, and religion. There is one in particular that plays into my last blog, and is the subject of this one.

Johannes' mother was a very hard working woman who managed to raise over five children on almost nothing. She was very open minded, with the idea that she would try anything that could help her and her children's situations. When Christian missionaries came to The Johannesberg ghetto, she converter herself and her children. However, she still held onto her tribal beliefs and traditions. She would pray when things were going badly, but when things were not (at least by her standards) she felt no need to pray. Once, when Johannes came down with some sort of eye infection that made him blind for some time, his mother believed it was bad voodoo set upon him by jealous neighbors. She believed this even though she had converted to Christianity. Along with taking Johannes to a witch doctor, she took him to the clinic as well.

I don't want to say that Johannes' mother was ignorant, for she was a very wise woman and she just wanted the best for her family. But it seems that religion is just a fall-to for so many people. It's a typical and popular stories, and many people have experienced at least some of what Johannes' mother went through. When things are going well, we don't give God the credit, but when things are going bad, we pray for his help. We don't want to blame ourselves for our misfortunes, but we want credit for our own success.

There was a speaker at my bachloriette ceremony who spoke of this very thing. He said that God is just as much a part of our success as he is of our misfortunes. On another but similar hand, we will thank God when something good happens to us, but what do we do when something bad happens? We pray for help, or for forgiveness, and sometimes, if the strain is too much, we look for some other means of comfort. This speaker said that we need to thank God for the bad things that happen to us as well. He makes bad things happen to us so that we learn, and because he loves us. Johannes' mother prayed for help during bad times, and thanked him for some good things, but did she ever thank Him for making her life miserable? I know, this seems like a completely rediculous thing to do, and it sounded that way when I heard it from this speaker. The book made Johannes' mother out to be a saint, so why should anything bad happen to her. It falls into the question yet again of why bad things happen to good people, but I don't want to dig into that again just now. I only want to ask how we as a people should take in religion? I don't believe that it should be used solely to comfort us in times of need. It shouldn't be a leaning post or a way of putting off the wrong-doing onto something else. But should we thank God for everything that goes wrong? Is He always responsible, or do we need to take more responsibility for our actions? Jonas finally thanked God for making the whale eat him. Jonas acknowledged that he was in the wrong, that God was just, and once that was done, God set him free. Just as important, should we thank God just as much or more for the good things in life, or do we need to give ourselves more credit?

Wow, I always sit here to write about something and give my opinion, but all I ever come up with are questions. I suppose the questions will eventually end and the more knowledgable opinions will some day begin, but until then, I don't think my blogs are making for very good learning experiences.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Religion Cocktail

My last World Religions class brought up an interesting discussion topic. We were discussing how the concept of time in the Hindu religion could be taken in and believed by a Christian in every other sence.

The Hindu religion believes in four time intervals between each destruction and rebirth of the universe: the Krta Yuga, known as the Golden Age, the Treta Yuga, the Drapara Age, and the Kali Age. My professor asked how this concept could be added into a Christian system. Some answered that the start of the Kali Age, which lasts 432,000 years (also the shortest of each time period, amazing as it is to believe) could be recognized as the birth of Jesus. The end of this age could be the seen as the apocalypse, since this is believed as the "temporary" end of the universe in the Hindu religion. By this measurement, it would seem that Jesus' time was not so long ago, and it also means that our "version" of the universe has been around for millions upon millions of years. The Golden Age would have been long before dinosaurs, so this draws the question "what was the Golden Age?" And while we're at it, was the Golden Age even on this planet? What was life like? It's so hard to imagine a world perfect in every way.

But this is straying from the point and the question. Could all this be taken into a Christian belief? And this question isn't even the real question, only an example. Can any part of any religion be shared by another? I could not even answer this question during class, and I still can't. The only thing that came to mind was a book that I have mentioned in an earlier blog: The Life of Pi. As said before, the main plot has nothing really to do with religion, but it adds depth and meaning to the story, and without it the hero of the story surely would have made different decisions over the course of the book. Pi, the hero, practices Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. The novel does not go into much detail about his practices, only that he was born a Hindu, began to believe in Jesus after learning that he was the mortal son of God, and prayed constantly during the day as Muslims do. The combination of concepts of Hinduism and Christianity during class made me think of Pi. Did he ask himself the same questions? How did he clear his mind over combining these religions? Did he try to fit the Hindu time frame into Christian, or Islamic, context? Did he try to fit Christianty's one God, or Trinity for that matter, into Hindu context? I almost wish the author would create a second book which discussed solely the philosophy behind Pi's faith. I like to believe that the boy found a solution for these puzzles. He must have at least found a way around them, otherwise why would he keep practicing all three? How could he live the life he was living without some reconciliation between the three?

I think one of the morals, maybe even a sub-moral, was that these religions have their similiarities. This concept I am learning in class as well. That may have been the secret point to my wise professor's question. He knows some of the similarities, and he wanted us to find our Eureka moment by discussing certain mixtures of religious beliefs. In my mind, this whole matter is like a baby toy. The baby cannot fit a square block into the round hole. That is what we are doing; one religious belief is the square block, and another religion's context is the round hole. Except this time around, the block will eventually fit. I haven't found the answer. Some may have found it, I'll call these people enlightened. Pi was one of these enlightened people, but unfortunately, he was only fictional. Someday the answer will come to me in the form of Pi. He'll knock on my door, and he'll put my mind at rest. Speaking of rest, it's 12:30. I think it's body rest time.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Good and Evil

The topic of good and evil is really a remarkable subject. People have been trying to define the two since the beginning of time, and they become words that we can only define individually. Concepts of "beauty" and "fun", for example, can not have single, specific definitions. what one person considers ugly, another considers beautiful; what one person thinks is fun might be boring, sad, sometimes even dangerous, to another individual. I've made up my mind that the same thing goes with good and evil. Over time more questions stemmed from our efforts. "Why do good things happen to evil people?"; "why do bad things happen to good people?"; "What if bad things need to happen for the good of the whole? Does that make it ok?"

For me, religion has helped gain a grasp on my own definitions of good and evil. The lessons taught from the Bible, from sermons in church, and from Sunday school complimented the main lessons which were those from my parents. I know that other religions have very similar lessons, and some have other valuable ones that Christianity doesn't focus on, and vice versa. Then I think about the Crusades, when rogue and radical self-proclaimed "Christians" killed thousands? What about similar "Christians" who lynched African Americans while hiding their own faces? What about "Christians" who stand outside of University campuses and call every other passing college girl a slut because they aren't wearing jeans? These people can't possibly have been raised with the same Christian values as I did, because I would never dream of doing any of those things. Isn't Christianity one religion, doesn't it teach the same thing to everybody? Good and evil cannot even be defined in a single religion.

And what about Islam? "The religion of peace" has lived up to it's name on countless occasions, but recently all we can seem to hear about are the ones that are blowing themselves up in the name of Allah. These radicals truly have blinds over their eyes, because all they see is an America with only Christians, and the only Christians they see are the ones who killed their ancestors during the Crusades. There is no doubt that what they are doing, they believe is either "good" or "good for the whole". I doubt it, but it's possible that some of these terrorists know that what they are doing is evil, but believe it will provide a brighter future. Again, sences of good and evil are skewed. I hate to give up, but will the human race ever come to terms so that everyone can agree on what is right and wrong? It almost seems a hopeless case because it seems as though as long as people think for themselves and act as individuals, there will always be difference. We can only hope that someday a golden age will come where individuals can think for themselves and still think as one as far as good and evil.

Why do bad things happen to good people? One would like to believe that most people in the world are good people, but it's all chance. For all we know from the lies and secret identities of so many people, the truly good ones could be a precious few, so why do bad things happen to them? Instead, ask yourself, "should bad people get a second chance?" Everyone in this world has done a bad deed, whether it was something as tiny as a little white lie, or whether it was premeditated murder. This is a known fact. But it is also a known fact that people change. Sometimes after the evil has come and gone, there is a special person who can do well in and for the world, and all they need is that second chance. This topic has caused arguments such as life imprisonment and the death penalty, and not everyone in this world deserves that chance. My point is, good things can happen to people who have been bad their whole lives. So how does God even the scale? By making bad things happen to good people. I believe that life is full of tests, and it is how God can determine who the truly good people are in the world. Some of us become bad after one or many of these "tests". As I said, people change, and it's not always for the better. On the other hand, sometimes it is hard to believe that some of the bad things are done to test us or are done for a reason. Everyone has had a moment when they thought to themselves, "that person (or I) did not deserve what happened". And in some cases, they are right. One explanation is that of God's tests, one may be karma, and one may be that there is no God, and the only explanation is that shit happens.

I don't believe that the world will come up with universal definitions for good and evil in my lifetime; therefore I will act as I see fit, and do what I believe is right in a given situation. I will believe that bad things happen because that is life, and in order to properly appreciate whatever paradise comes after death, I must have my share of sufferings. All I can do is make the best of what I have, and make the best of whatever happens. To conclude I'd like to provide a quote that is one of my favorites. I don't know who the original creator is, but I read it strangely enough in a "Opus" Sunday comic strip.

"Life is what happens when you are making other plans."

Friday, October 19, 2007

Take one for the team

As an athelete, I watch a lot of sports. I am always seeing atheletes praying. Some teams pray as a group. Some pray to themselves when they score a run or a touchdown or a goal. I have prayed with my team mates as a team before games, and I have prayed quietly to myself before games or matches. When I see it happening, the question comes to my mind that everyone has asked themselves. Does God take sides? Does He root for a single team during the duels that attract so much public attention? My answer to this is, directly, no, but passively, possibly. It's a touchy subject, and a tough one to answer, and obviously no one knows for sure. I believe that God is involved, but He doesn't take sides.

God created all people. He must be equally good to all of us. Anyone who has ever played a sport has experienced victory, and also defeat. Loss may be more common in some sports than others, but where there is a winner in sports, there must be a loser. We can't always tie.

When a team wins, it is not because God was rooting for them. He is too powerful and present in all things to take sides in sports. That does not mean, however, that he is completely removed from the outcomes. God created some people with more natural athletic ability than others. He also created ones more natural work ethic than others. There are those that are naturally talented and "destined", if you will, to do well in sports. On the other hand, those whom He blessed with natural ability were often not blessed with the other characteristics needed to make a great athelete, and therefore waste their talents. The point is, those who have a good combination of the traits needed will more often then not experience victory more than defeat. Sometimes God places these atheletes with teams of people whom God did not bless. Other times the atheletes find themselves with a team of other atheletes like them, and everything clicks, and these teams go far. Sometimes it is the coach who gets blessed and is sent to change a group of atheletes who have what it takes, but don't know it. I could go on and on with different scenarios. Gods atheletes are the ones who do the most with what God gave them. He sets the mold, and from there it is up to His creation to decide how far they will go.

Another religious aspect of sports is the praying, and here God is also passively involved. God does not answer the prayer directly, but it is He who allowed prayer to bring hope and confidence to those who pray. Prayer in groups can inspire more team unity, and a team that acts more as one during competition has a better chance of winning. Those who pray individually often gain more hope and self confidence, traits that never hurt when playing sports. When one side has team unity, faith, hope, and confidence, and the other team lacks those things, it is easy to see which team will come out on top.

Religion helps in sports. I believe that is a fact. But it is not because of God directly that makes religion help. It is the people, the atheletes, who play do their upmost with what God gave them and have faith in themselves, their team, and in God who make religion a deciding factor in sports.

Monday, October 1, 2007


There is so much about Hinduism that is confusing me. Some of it I was able to grasp after many questions during last class, when we first began discussing it. I went into that class already with the belief that there were things about Hinduism that didnt make sense and contradicted itself. For example, one of Hinduism's beliefs is the belief in reincarnation. It is more complicated than just reincarnating, but this already is contradicted by the belief that once a person reaches the highest caste and dies, he/she goes on to heaven. There is the belief that many paths lead to heaven, but if we reincarnate, then there is no heaven.

Then there are things called castes, where, if you are born Hindu, you are born into a certain caste. If you recieve good karma through out that life, then you will be reborn into a higher caste, or ranking. But going back to the belief that all paths lead to heaven, what if that path involves being reborn as a Christian? What happens to the caste system then? This was a question I asked in class, and it was the answer I recieved that inspired this blog. I was told that it was the context, the perception of the various Hindu ways that allows Hinduism to make sense. To people who practice Hinduism, then it is easy to grasp that all paths lead to heaven and that all people have caste. The Christian perception, however, is that they have no caste. Come to think of it, it made sense then, but now going over it and trying to write about it a week later, it doesn't make sense anymore. It was the concept of this "context" of various Hindu ideas that intrigued me when it was told to me. One has to see through the eyes of a Hindu to understand it.

That shouldn't be the case. One should be able to understand these seemingly contradicting beliefs without being a Hindu. And why aren't there more Hindus who question these beliefs? That was a hypothetical question, because the answer is that some Hindus do question them. Gandhi questioned the concept of the "Untouchables" and also fought for the rights of Hindu widows.

Maybe I just need more time to learn the right way about Hinduism. Maybe I need to listen better to my Professor when he explains reasons behind things what I've been describing. I plan to pay much more attention to detail about whatever else I learn about Hinduism, because I know that somewhere there is a little fact, a little loophole or something that will suddenly make the religion click in my brain and answer all my questions. I haven't found it yet, but I think it will happen soon.

If anybody who reads this knows something about Hinduism that I don't, and feels they can explain it to me without being to angry at my ignorance, please, I invite them to leave a comment.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


So I'm taking a World Religions class. I admit, I didn't start this blog out of sheer love for religion and a lot of free time. It is a requirement. One of the many. For a class that doesn't take care of a writing general ed requirement, it sure seems like we write a lot. Maybe it's just me and my writers block. Writing two blogs per week doesn't sound hard at all, but then a week goes by, you haven't written them, and suddenly you've got four to write in two days. That's when it does get hard. But all that is another story. My complaining doesn't solve anything. Sometimes I just ask myself why I added this class and four more credits to my already decently busy schedule by some standards.

Obviously one reason is the credits themselves. I get two general ed credits out of the way taking it, and though I wish it covered the writing requirement, it still beats taking a four credit class that clears only one requirement.

That, however, is just a superficial reason, icing on the cake you could say. As unbelievable as it sounds, I'm not as shallow as I sometimes act. I know it's hard to believe, but it is true.

A few years back, my mom got me this book for Christmas called Life of Pi. If you've read it, you might have thought it was absolutely rediculous, or you may understand why it was so influential. It completely opened my eyes to other religions, even if it didn't cover every aspect. It made me curious about other religions and the good sides of them. The book's hero is a boy named Piscine, who nick names himself Pi (pronounced like pie). The main plot of the book really has nothing to do with religion, but it's Pi's background that was so interesting. He's from India, and he was raised Hindu by his parents. But in various occasions he ends up meeting a man who practices Islam, and Pi becomes taken in by it. He then starts to practice both Hinduism and Islam. This in itself was completely unheard of to me. How can someone believe in two religions and practice both at the same time. But it didn't stop there. He later had a meeting with a Christian minister who went into the history of Jesus Christ and told Pi all about Christianity. After that Pi began practicing all three religions. At first, I wanted to get rid of the book. I couldn't believe that some one would, in real life, be cabable of understanding and practicing the beliefs of three different religions, let alone combining Islam with Christianity. I had the presumption that Islam and Christianity were opposites, and the only justification or knowledge of Islam before reading the book was the news, which spoke constantly about terrorist groups who were "radical Muslims" and called their fight a "holy war". I thought all Muslims thought that way, that all were against Christianity, and that Islam preached the things that these terrorists were doing. I discovered from reading this book that I was wrong. The way that Islam is described in the book completely contradicted every idea I had of the religion. I can't recall how the book described each religion, but they were all positive. It didn't change my views of Christianity, but rather made me realize that there is a lot more to theology than meets the eye. If I was wrong about Islam, than I could be wrong about a lot of other things, too. It is possible to practice three religions as seemingly unlike each other as Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. But it wasn't the actual practice of these three religions that I wanted to learn about, but rather the concept. This boy had knowledge of all of these religions and thus knew about the cultures that practiced them. In the book he was judged as naive, but I admired him as an extremely wise fictional character. He was fictional, but the concept is real.

So it ended up being a book that made me want to take World Religions. I wanted to become as wise as Pi was concerning religion. I made up my mind that I would learn as much as possible about as many religions as possible, not to eventually practice them, but rather to take the lessons that each one has to give. Pi had a philosophy on life based on his experiences of his three religions, and that philosophy is what I hope to have in common with him evenutally.

Friday, September 28, 2007


My last blog talked a little about the diary that I recieved from my youth group when I left for college. Inside there were notes from each member of the youth group. Some of these notes had scriptures that were either some of the writers favorites, or just ones that they thought would do me some good. I thought I'd share them, because they are now some of my favorite scriptures, also.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken."

Mathew 11:28-30
"'Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.'"

James 1:2-8
"My brothers and sister, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
"If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord."

Proverbs 16:9
"The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps."

Luke 6:27-28
"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you."

Jeremiah 1:7-10
"But the Lord said to me,
'Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.' Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, 'Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.'"

Thursday, September 27, 2007

My Church

Going away to college was a big deal at my church. I attended the Forest Grove United Methodist Church back home in Oregon, and you could say that I am Methodist, since my parents both are and I was baptized in one. Anyway, the second to last Sunday before I left, there was a big section of the service devoted to myself and another friend from church who was graduating also.

I should also let you know that my church has a fantastic youth program. It's undergone a lot of changes over the years, all of which I have been present for, and though I did very little to affect anything with it, it evolved into a great one with two amazing youth pastors. They're husband and wife, and they recently had a baby boy.

So at this service the youth group gave both of us diaries. What's more is that each member of my youth group had written in these diaries little notes to each of us. It was probably the most touching experience I've had at that church, and that's saying a lot considering there have been many special experiences there. Having all of those kids from my church write to me in itself was an amazing feeling. But the things that they wrote, about how much they would miss me and how much I meant to them and the church, made me understand, more than any other occasion in my life, how much that church and those people meant to me. When I think about it, that church allowed me to make friends that I never would have made if I hadn't attended. The memories and lessons from going there ever since I was little are absolutely priceless to me. I didnt even attend that often. As long as I can remember, the tradition with my family was to wake up Sunday morning and ask each other, "do you feel like going to church today". Sometimes there were things that happened during the week that would cause one or all of us to want to go, and if one of us wanted to go, then we would usually all go. Other times, if there was nothing special going on that Sunday, or if our Saturday had been a particularly late one, we just wouldn't go. And I'd think about what the rest of the congregation, the "regulars", thought about us. "Oh, the Hummels didn't show up again," I'd think, "they just aren't good followers". I would think that the rest of the congregation looked down upon us for not attending every Sunday. But that was never the case. If we didn't show up that was ok, and when we came, all the better. They never looked down on us, they simply appreciated us more, at least it seemed like to me, when we did attend!

And I attended youth group even less than I attended church. The one idea that I came up with for this youth group was "Breakfast Club". It started out as a Saturday morning thing where we would get together, make breakfast in the kitchen, then take it to the youth room where we would eat, watch a movie, and just discuss life, religious or not. This seemed like a good plan, but usually it would be me, Bobby (my youth pastor), and maybe one or two other people. Bobby would bring all this breakfast food (which he graciously usually paid for straight from his wallet) and there would be no one to eat it. Gradually, more people caught on, but then the issue of money came up. An idea was brought up to have one Saturday a month where we would make breakfast for the congregation, whoever felt like attending, instead of making ourselves breakfast. Yes, we would still pay for the food, but we were hoping on getting some donations. The food was free, but donations were welcome, that kind of idea. Well the first Saturday for this congregation breakfast was poorly announced, and only one person came. This one person however was a very well respected member of our church, and the following day at church he made an announcement to the entire congregation about how wonderful our food was, and how more people should come next month. That was apparently advertisemnt enough, because the very next month over thirty members came to breakfast, we nearly ran out of food, and gained almost two hundred dollars in donations. The point of telling this story is not to glorify myself, but to glorify my youth group and my church. My idea would have never travelled that far had it not been for the amazing people that I was surrounded by.

So Breafast Club took off, and once it did, for some reason, I started going less. I had almost stopped completely going to youth group meetings on Sunday evenings, and I rarely did any other youth group activites. But when I read those notes written to me in my journal which was to go with me to college, it was as if I had gone to every possible activity that there was.

I have gained some unbelievable lessons from my church days back home, but one of the greatest that I took is that with the right people, the right congregation, nobody will ever judge you on how often you attend church or go on activities. They judge you on your personality and actions while you are with them. If you are good to them when you see them, they will cherish every moment that you are with them, and in turn you cherish every moment you spend with them. I was always forgiven when I forgot an important activity or just didnt feel like attending service; my absence was taken with a grain of salt. But my presence was always an extra gift. I was welcome and I was family. As far as I'm concerned, they were my family too. They still are.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What happens after we die?

“What happens after you die?” If there could be yet another ultimate question asked of religion, that would be it. Every culture has its theories, every faith has its theories, and every individual has their theories. Yes, I say theories as in plural because it is only human nature to be curious. Death is the single greatest mystery surrounding life. Everyone dies, that much we understand, but obviously after than no one living knows for certain. Does it all end; mind and soul? Or is there really just another adventure waiting to begin? Is there a Heaven or Hell? Is there even another place to go, or do we reincarnate? If we do, what do we reincarnate as? I’ve asked myself each of these questions, but those questions only spawn more.

If you have read the few blogs I’ve posted, you may have guessed the religion I was raised in, you may have not. I was raised as a Methodist Christian. I’ve been taught to believe in a heaven and a hell, and that the choices I make in this world will influence to which place I go after I die. I still believe that, but just to be certain, I’ve covered all bases. Countless times I’ve thought about what it would be like if it all ended, if my soul died with my body. I’ve gone over human reincarnation and with that animal reincarnation too. I’ve come up with a few select animals I’d come back as, just in case I have a choice in the matter. Though it could probably change in time, I’m currently at the owl. I narrowed it down to a bird from a lifelong dream to fly; then to a bird of prey because, hell, I am a guy. Owls are considered wise in every society; their likely the most mysterious of any bird of prey; their powerful; and for a wild animal, they don’t appear wild at all. I must admit that I consider myself a romantic, and in my mind owls are frontrunners for the most romantic animal in the entire kingdom. These ideas are of course only preparations. I want to be ready for any possibility, in case those golden gates don’t show up at the end of the dark tunnel.

If there really is a Heaven, what will it be like? Will every single good person who has ever passed going to be there waiting, or will only the few who knew and loved me during life and died before me be there to greet me? Will there be animals there, or is there really a separate Heaven just for them? The questions really are endless, and when we think about it, so are the possibilities. Say we really do get to Heaven, then what? What would we do? Can we choose to go back as some one or something else? Maybe we can ask to go back to a different reality. I’ve pictured myself going back to a reality where there are super heroes; or a reality where magic exists. It may come off as selfish, but if we had the opportunity to live what we see in the movies or read about in our favorite novels, I bet the majority of us would take that opportunity just like I would.

Maybe we have the power to go where ever we want, do whatever we want to do. Maybe we have a destiny in this world so that we can choose our paths after death. Then again, maybe we don’t have a say in anything. Maybe this life is the only time we have to choose our own paths, and destiny is only an illusion. If we do have a destiny on this planet, if each of our existences has a pre-set place that we can’t change, I believe that we’ll find out what it is when the time comes; but until then, we should take advantage of the choices we have. Nobody can make the right choice every time. We are only human, and bad decisions happen. But are those decisions really even bad? To think that we were able to make a decision, let alone learn from the bad ones, is a concept worthy of miracle status.

My grandfather recently passed away. If he still has control over his soul, then at this moment he’s experiencing the very thing that the living population has wondered about since the beginning of time. I wish I could know how he’s doing, if everything really alright, like I have to keep telling myself. I want to know that he’s happy, that he’s finally with my grandmother again. Maybe now he can finally watch me play baseball. If I don’t have what it takes to play college baseball, maybe he has the ability to rewind and watch the high school games that he never saw. That’s what I would wish for him. The way I know he’s doing ok up there or wherever he is, is if I end up ok. Me getting over his passing, keeping him in my heart, and moving on to bigger and better things, is his way of letting me know that he’s safe.

Those who paid their dues in this world and lived good lives deserve to be happy for eternity. Passing on should just be another great adventure instead of something to fear. I hope to God that what we do is “pass on”; pass over the bridge from this reality to the next, on and on to paradise. Second star to the right, and straight on ‘till morning.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Universal Language

There have been several claims to the origin of religion itself, and people are always looking for new theories. Christianity reaches back thousands of years, Buddhism and various other dominant religions reach back even further than that, and some indiginous religion-based cultures began even before those. But why did religion even take form? Why was the concept ever imagined? I say concept not to be blasphemous, but to show my curiosity. IF there wasn't a clear religious creation of the planet, and the theory of evolution is true, why did we as humans create the phenomenon of religion? That is the question that a number of intellectuals have tried to answer, and it is the question that inspired this blog.

The hermeneutics of suspicion dishes out many reasons why religion was created. Sigmund Freud described it as a need for a "father-figure" because it is human nature. He presented any and all religious ideas as illusions by the mind based on a need for the "fullfillments of the...most urgent wishes of mankind".

Karl Marx put it as frankly as humanly possible. Critisism of religion circles around the concept that "Man makes religion, religion does not make man". Marx uses the analogy that religion is like the symptoms of a powerful drug; it shows a meaning in the world where meaning is lacking, but it is not real.

I came across a new theory just recently while discussing indiginous religions. The idea is that the worship of spirits in the earth is merely the mask covering their religion's true importance. It is instead, "a way of communicating with people of all faiths to take care of nature and treat [Earth] like we would our family...."

Might this be true of every religion? If the worship of "earth spirits" is actually the passive teaching of environmentalism, then might Christianity be simply a subtle communication between peoples about treating others how you want to be treated? Everyone knows that each religion has their own lessons and teachings, but these have always been thought of as only part of the religion. The lessons have never been considered as the reason behind the entire way of faith.

Maybe sometime hundreds of thousands of years ago some one was trying to get a message across and no one would listen, so instead of fighting them so they would or give up, they simply invented religion. They thought up some higher being, told everyone that it was the higher force that told the person what they were telling the others, then as evidence showed how successful the message was.

I'm not trying to poke fun and anyone or any religion, and this idea could be completely of base. But is it possible? You can't say no.

Monday, September 17, 2007


I couldn't sleep. Everyone has that feeling. The moment you lay your head down, your mind starts wandering, making it impossible to fall asleep. That's what has just happened to me. By the title you might have been able to tell what it was that was keeping me awake, and yes, strangely enough, it was Superman.

Superman is something of an idle for me. I've always admired him and what he represents. Then I got to thinking, "how can a comic book hero represent so much to so many"? From there spawned the memory of a question that I asked my fellow students in my World Religions class. I asked them what kinds of things that they know of that symbolize religion or stand as religious "relics" if you will, to any culture. This discussion was graded, and though I recieved a decent score, I was scrutinized for not revealing my own opinions or answers to my own questions. Well now I am. To me, Superman serves as a religious symbol in the American culture. I'm sure there are, and I plan to find, literature comparing Superman to various religious figures.

Immediately the comparison would be to Jesus. In comic books about him the people go so far as to praise him as a messiah. He has followers, both human and superhuman (that would be the justice league, in case it wasn't obvious); he represents the three great, if not the greatest, virtues; not to mention his superpowers. His greatness could even inspire comparisons to God himself, as far as the Christian religion goes.

I say that because in other religions there are such things as demi-gods. With Superman's un-equaled strength and clear mind, who's stopping those believers?

Do not get me wrong, I plan to learn a lot more about my own Christian religion and enough about others to properly respect them and maybe take some of their lessons. But up to this point in my life, I have to admit that I check myself on Superman, not the bible. When I'm thinking about the decisions I would make, contrary to the common term, "what would Jesus do", I'm more likely to ask myself, "what would Superman do?"

Of course his superpowers are amazing. If I could have any super power, flying would be it. But it's not his superpowers that make him my hero. That's icing on the cake. It's his frame of mind. His ability to stay calm in the face of danger; his ability to stay true to his roots and his morals, his ability to not give in; his ability to see the best in people. Then there's his human side, which makes him easier to relate to. He struggles with his own abilities and his inability to save everyone despite his situation. He constantly puts the weight of the world on his shoulders, not because he's forced to, but because he believes that he is the only one who can hold it up. Like so many religion figures, he tries to teach goodness and rightiousness to anyone and everyone; he tries to expunge the sins of others. If there came a time where he had the choice to give his life to forgive the sins of the human race, I believe that he would give his life. That is why I believe him to be a religious symbol, and that is why I'm writing about a comic book hero at 1 in the morning.

Interestingly, the two men who first originated Superman were both Jewish.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Religion" as in the noun

I hardly began my reading on indigenous religions before I was already drawn in to something that I read. Language has always fascinated me, though I've never tried very hard at learning new ones. The reason why they fascinate me are the translations. What one word in one language might MEAN one word in English, but the literal translation to English could be completely different. Some languages don't have a word for an English word, and vice-versa. The reading that struck me comes from Chris Partridge's An Introduction to Religion. The very first page, second paragraph states, "Few indigenous languages have a word like 'religion' and some people have drawn the conclusion that it is inappropriate to speak of 'religion' with reference to indigenous cultures."

As I said before, the fact that a language can lack any word, let alone one for "religion", where it is so freely used and seemingly understood in our country, baffles me. But this realization does two things. It makes us question what the word "religion" means, and it tells us something quite interesting about that language's people and culture.

How can we define religion? Webster has a few definitions for it. "1. a system of faith in and worship of a deity. 2. devoutness; dedication to a holy life. 3. a doctrine or custom accepted on faith." While we're at it, deity means "devine nature" or "a god or goddess", at least still according to Webster.

The glossary of ITWR has a similar yet different definition. They include very cleverly it's latin origin, "(religere: to pay careful attention to some activity) A system of belief or worship, held by a community who may express their religion through shared myths, doctrines, ethical teachings, rituals, or the remembrance of special experiences.

To me, this definition covers more bases. Indigionous cultures and languages may lack the word "religion" because religion is intertwined with their culture. In some cases, it most likely determines the culture. The culture exists because of the so called "religious" systems, myths, and practices of the people. The Religion and society are one and the same, so how can that society's language have two different words for the same thing? That thought can be extended outrageously far. Why do we have a word for it, then? Because as a 1st world industrial country, we've learned of different religions and have accepted them. The constitution requires a seperation of church and state, but were those not already seperated by language? Some countries may require integration of a single religious belief in the running of the culture and country, but the moment the "state" does something outide the dictations of the "religion", it is seperated, at least some what. This church and state business is a tangent, but it is curious. We are obviously the better country for acknowledging and accepting other religions thus giving meaning to "religion".

So there it is. The subject of this blog has already been answered. I, at least, am to some extent satisfied by the definition presented by ITWR because inlike Webster's definition it doesn't restrict the word to the worship of "a deity", "a god or goddess", but rather acknowledges that it is simply a system of worship period, and that worship can be expressed in multiple fashions. Now what religion means is something completely different. Can that question ever be answered?

There's something odd. We ask for definitions by asking what a word means, but with many words, even in our own language, definition and meaning are completely different. As I said, language is fascinating.