Thursday, March 02, 2006

Thursday Thirteen - World Religions edition

Thirteen Things about My New Desire to Study World Religions

1. I've actually been interested in religion as an academic study for awhile. My college major was psychology - mainly because I was pre-med for two years and when I decided I didn't want to go to med school, psychology was an easy major to complete. But I also studied psychology because I thought it would give me insight into human nature. However, I've since realized that if I had to do it over again, I'd study History or Literature because those disciplines give a far better picture of human nature than psychology. Psychology, being a scientific study, tends to focus on the trees instead of the forest. And I think that you need to see the big picture of human behavior - as reflected in history in particular - to really get a sense of how people behave.

2. I've always been interested in Medieval history. Don't ask me why the time of rampant syphilis, poor hygiene and beheadings is appealing to me. It just is. Anyway, it seems to me that Medieval history and religious history are intertwined. You can't really understand that time in history without studying the development of organized religion.

3. Although I would say I'm a spiritual person, I'm not religious. My family has sort of a strange religious history - my dad's mother was born in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) and when she was three, she came with her family to the United States. (She came through Ellis Island which I find totally cool.) Unfortunately, her baby brother died soon thereafter during an influenza epidemic. According to family lore, the Catholic Church wanted $10 to bury the baby in consecrated ground but as recent immigrants, they didn't have the money so the baby was buried in Potter's Field. (Or as my dad tells it, his grandmother would angrily say "They flung the baby's body into Potter's Field." We have a history of drama queens in my family.) After that, they never went to church again. My dad's father grew up in a religious Jewish family but for unknown reasons, he stopped going to synagogue after he was 13 and when he was about 18, he left home and never went back. He never talked about his religious upbringing or why he turned his back on his family.

4. My mom was raised Methodist but wasn't a big churchgoer and religion wasn't an important part of her life. So my brothers and I were raised without much religion. We celebrated a secular Christmas and the only time we went to church was when my parents hired couples from nearby Trinity College to babysit us when they went on vacation. My brothers and I thought it was cool to go to church and sit in the playroom coloring in Jesus Loves You coloring books. We grew up in a predominantly Jewish suburb of Chicago so I grew up identifying with Judaism from a cultural and perhaps spiritual standpoint but not from an organized religious standpoint.

5. That changed when my dad married to a Jewish woman. We would go to synagogue on the High Holidays and celebrate Passover at our house. We lit candles on Hanukkah and learned about Jewish history. I began to identify myself as Jewish and even joined a "Jewish" sorority in college. I was the only non-Jew in the house. No one knew I wasn't technically Jewish until my mom sent me a Valentines card addressed to me with my full name - I have always used my middle name and my first name (at least on my birth certificate) is Mary. There aren't a lot of Jewish girls named Mary. The revelation didn't cause any drama - having grown up where I did and with my history, I didn't really count as a non-Jew.

6. When I was in my 20's I officially converted to Judaism with the Mikvah and everything. I attended a Conservative synagogue and really enjoyed it. As part of the conversion, I promised to marry a Jewish man. But life being what it is, I fell madly in love with my husband who was technically raised Lutheran but isn't religious. We've talked on and off about finding a religion that would suit us both - we both enjoyed going to my parent's synagogue because they practice something called Humanistic Judaism which (according to the the Society for Humanistic Judaism) "embraces a human-centered philosophy that combines the celebration of Jewish culture and identity with an adherence to humanistic values and ideas." But, for a variety of reasons, that doesn't work for us. We celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah (at least when we can remember to light the candles!) and we talk about different religions with the kids.

7. I think that both of us would probably be most comfortable with Unitarian Universalism which (according to the Unitarian Universalist Association) is "a religion that keeps an open mind to the religious questions people have struggled with in all times and places. We believe that personal experience, conscience and reason should be the final authorities in religion, and that in the end religious authority lies not in a book or person or institution, but in ourselves." But neither of us really feels like we need to start attending church and frankly, I'm not sure how we'd fit it into our schedule right now.

8. So - why all of a sudden, do I feel like studying world religions? As I said above, I've always been interested in it and lately I've been feeling like I need to learn something new. If I had all the money in the world, I'd probably go back to school and do something in this University of Chicago Humanities program. But right now, I need something that's free and that I can do at my own pace, given my already too full schedule. Plus, I've been doing a lot of self-reflection lately and I feel I could use a little spiritual study at this point.

9. The other day, I got the urge to read the Bible - the whole thing, Old and New Testament. I'm sure it's related to PMS, I get weird ideas like that when the hormones kick in. But I stumbled on the Internet Sacred Text Archive which is one of the most ambitious and amazing sites I've ever seen. The site is "a freely available archive of electronic texts about religion, mythology, legends and folklore, and occult and esoteric topics. Texts are presented in English translation and, in some cases, in the original language. This site has no particular agenda other than promoting religious tolerance and scholarship." It contains THOUSANDS of full texts and articles about world religions.

10. With respect to Christianity, this site has among many other things, the ENTIRE text of the King James Bible, the Vulgate (which is the Latin bible - in Latin), and the Apocrypha. With respect to Judaism, it has the Tanakh (both English and Hebrew texts) and the ENTIRE TEN VOLUME Talmud. It has books and information about every other religion you've heard of and many you haven't. It also has sections on "Traditions" which aren't necessarily religions but include things like Shamanism and Legends such as the Legend of Arthur. The Traditions section includes sections regarding women and religion that are fascinating - I read part of The Vindication of the Rights of Woman written in 1792 by Mary Wollstonecraft. It even has The Woman's Bible by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, published in 1898.

11. Last night I read The Book of the Goddess which is fairly short. I admit, I giggled when I read the part about the "Big Bang" being the first official "world-shattering" orgasm. ("And the Goddess saw that the multiverses were good. And that was the first orgasm. When we experience orgasm we take an infinitesimal sip Of the cup of the ecstasy of creation.) I think that's funny. What can I say, I'm immature like that. I really couldn't help but laugh reading Genesis, as defined in the Goddess tradition. It's sort of a weird combination of official sounding religious wording and scientific mumbo jumbo ("In the voids between the stars and deep in the nebulae, Wherever atoms linked into long chains, There was a soup of organic molecules. And the Goddess sang "Let the long chains of atoms become self-replicating And evolve into my image".)

12. It has some interesting principals, though - most of which are hard to disagree with. Goddess worshipers believe in love for all people, care for the planet and sharing the gift of your sexuality with those you love. They believe that when you judge others, you take on the karma of that judgment so you need to be careful and fair in how you judge people. The Goddess teaches us to remember that the Earth is not dependent upon humans to live but humans are dependent upon the Earth and so we must rebalance our lives with that in mind. Goddess worshipers believe in leading by consensus and finding common ground rather than through force and hierarchy.

13. Ok, now I have to get back to the work that pays the bills. Tune in next week for some more fun with world religions!

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cmhl said...

I love medieval history too! LOVE it.

Dariana said...

What a wonderful 13. This is different and I love it. Happy TT!

landismom said...

Great post, very interesting insight into your background.

Nancy said...

OMG! Thank you so much for that link. I love to read stuff about like this I don't really believe in religion as it is used today, but I am spiritual.

My grandmother taught me the Lords Prayer and that is the extent of my religious background. I did go to Mass w. my friend all the time, and her mother always ended up YELLING at both of us. I can stand, kneel, sit, with the best of them ;)

I so relate to wanting to do more and having no time or cash.

I'm UP!

Chickadee said...

I have been interested in World Religions too, but my interest has changed into pagan type religions and spirituality.

I may have to explore that Goddess booked you talked about. I'm not sure I agree with all of it, but some of it sounds pretty good to me.

My 13 are up.

JK :) said...

I really hope you'll be able to go back to school to study World Religion and History. But for now, you can probably read books and other texts first. :)

Happy weekend :)