academic, Philosophy, Religion

writing || World Religions: Thoughts on the Course

Studying religion at a Catholic school has been fascinating, albeit rather challenging. Although I am a Christian, and still celebrate Christian holidays with my friends and family, my relationship to God, the universe, the energies and spirits or whatever is out there is my own, and I’ve never felt that any religion has done it justice in describing it. This is why I was very excited to learn World Religions, and get a glimpse at many different religions. Hopefully I’d come out with a few that I really liked, and I definitely did!

Though so far I’ve only learned about Aboriginal spirituality, Hinduism and some Buddhism in class, and a little about the Muslim faith (from discussions with my peers), I’ve found that it’s a difficult course to only learn about but not think about the implications of, though that too would difficult because we live in an immensely politically correct age where it’s almost taboo to see anything negative in someone else’s beliefs. In any case, I’ve discovered things I love about each religion and things I dislike. All in all, it’s been an interesting course so far and I’m really glad to have learned religion in school because I’m finding that it applies to almost everything I read about or do. Religion is one of the earliest foundations of civilization itself, and however much we may pass it off saying “to each their own”, religions have been the tools of both many agreements and many wars.

Aboriginal spirituality was the first we studied. I went into that unit thinking it would be a repeat of most of my social studies classes from grade 5, 6, 7, and 8. Being Canadian, we learned about Aboriginals a lot. To the point where I might even admit I was desensitized to their struggles as a people. I knew early settlers treated them horribly, and the government’s ugly face was certainly shown in their dealings with them, but I was tired of learning about the Woodland, the Cree, the Haida and matching each to their diets, living styles and individual cultures. I was eager to learn about the kings and queens of England, the French Revolution, the 20th century and ancient Greece and Rome (though this is partly my doing – switching schools after grade 5 caused me to repeat Aboriginal history course and I never learned this; I had to take a separate course to satisfy my curiosity).

However, in grade 8 to prepare my portfolio for acceptance into an art school, I was tasked to visit any art exhibit and then write about the experience. Unknowingly, by visiting the most convenient one, I stepped into an exhibit of Aboriginal art. Disappointed and ready to see wood carvings and old hobby art that wasn’t interesting to me, I was fascinated instead by Aboriginal-born Sonny Assu’s satirical work. Cereal boxes with an Aboriginal twist, abstract painting representing aspects of their life and hardships, and a fascinating symbolic sculpture commenting on the ban of the Potlach, one of their most important community events.

This kind of history lesson that comes straight from the people it’s about is the kinds you’ll never learn from history books with a hidden agenda. It’s raw and pure and gave me a new insight on Aboriginal culture.

My religion course also surprised me. Instead of memorizing each individual Aboriginal culture, we took a look at the big picture, and I found that I really appreciated the environmental aspect of their culture. As a huge environmentalist myself, this is really important to me, and I think incorporating it into religion is a fantastic way to ensure generation after generation treats the earth with due respect.

On the other hand, I disliked the self-torture rituals and even the hallucination quest, which my logical brain tells me is merely an effect of no food and water for a long time. I don’t deny that hallucinations might lead to some kinds of insight into your subconscious, but I do not believe the methods used to accomplish that are safe or practical. Each culture has some things I can appreciate, and some I can’t quite understand.

Next, we learned about Hinduism. This one surprised me the most. For some reason, Hinduism has been one that is associated with images of unshaven and unwashed ascetic monks self-mutilating themselves to be closer to God. If any religion can cause that, I don’t see how I could sympathize or understand it. And granted, I still have some doubts about the effectiveness of the stories they describe. The Hindu texts have legends of Vishnu avatars with multiple wives, overly timid and obedient children, and people’s limbs transforming into those of animals. Most of them I found childish, and if not I found that I could not sympathize with them. Though I understand that the treatment of women differed greatly centuries ago, and children might have had different responsibilities, I have a hard time understanding a culture that is so far away both time-wise and distance-wise.

Not to mention that my experience on the retreat visiting a Hindu temple was very disappointing. Separated right from the start from my male friends, the girls had to sit at the back of the room, which was filled with icons. In fact, I was also dismayed at the immense importance the religion seemed to place on images and material items, and to me it seems that, despite huge changes having taken place in the Western world in terms of those very treatments of women and attitudes towards children, not much has changed in the religion, which I find difficult to understand.

On the other hand, it was much the same case as with the Aboriginals – I could really appreciate the environmental, animal-protecting aspect of their religion. I also really love the belief in the energy and spirit, because I’ve found it to be one of the closest yet to my own beliefs. In reading about Brahman and the all-encompassing universe in which everything – even Gods – are reborn, I was excited. I, too, believe in the idea that “all is one”. And finally, I loved that Hinduism was where yoga – a practice I love to do myself – originated, for I’d always thought it to be Buddhism.

Finally, we are currently learning about Buddhism, and though we haven’t gotten far, I am really surprised to find that there are certain things about Buddhism I also do not understand. Thus, the one religion I thought I would identify with perfectly is, in fact, not perfect either. Though it builds on the same things I loved about Hinduism and removes everything I dislike about its inability to evolve with the world, the extreme nature of the complete Buddhist monk’s life was also strange to understand.

All in all, I’ve had an interesting time learning things I never knew about each religion. Though I haven’t found a perfect religion yet – and I don’t think one exists – I’m certainly going to use this knowledge to inspire my own beliefs about the questions no one knows the answers to.

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