Self Reflection on Religion
Throughout history religion has played a monumental role in shaping human civilization. They come in all different kinds of beliefs systems, and are celebrated yearly. While there may be no universal religion, the stories and traditions that are associated with religion are unique and should be appreciated. It is through taking an Art and Religion course that I have questioned my own beliefs. Although I am Agnostic and may never believe in a single religion again, learning about other religions through my life has brought me more understanding.
Growing up as a kid, I was brought up as a “Christian.” I use Christian lightly because my parents only taught me the basic story of Jesus Christ. My main religion was being good at Christmas and Easter. That way Santa would bring me presents, and I would get eggs from the Easter bunny. In a way both these imaginary figures work as a religion themselves. Like a religion, they provide kids with learning early on how to believe in something that they cannot see. Finding out that Santa was not real, however, transformed my holidays forever. Just like parents have to deceive their own kids, I believe that deception is used within all religious communities to accumulate followers. While this may poorly reflect a religion, it also proves a point: every person who believes in religion on some level acknowledges that they could be believing in a fairy tale story like Santa Claus.
When I was in 5th grade I made an important discovery that changed the way I looked at religion. My personal experience was witnessing 9/11 from my grandparent’s house. On that day, like many Americans, I was filled with anger and my thoughts flooded with ideas of revenge. However, through all that pain and suffering I came to terms with what should matter the most. The most important treasure that anyone has to offer is life. When extreme Muslims took control of the planes and crashed them, they didn’t just kill thousands of men and women, they killed entire families. They ultimately left a wound so gigantic that every American experienced it. Now while I am not mad at anyone who comes from the Middle East, I am angry for the religion that caused so much death. Witnessing the events that played out on that tragic day taught me that religion could help people, but cause an equal amount of harm. It was through that moment in time that I changed my beliefs and left Christianity behind forever. Although Christianity did not cause the mass devastation, I came to realize that religion could take control, and make people do stupid, crazy and illogical things. From that point on, up until today, I have been Agnostic. With being Agnostic I have become more peaceful then I have ever felt then ever being a Christian.
While I may celebrate corporate holidays now, my family has become somewhat divided in beliefs. The nice aspect of having a family that is divided in how they practice religion is that they are tolerant of other religions. For the most part my sister and mother are very loose Christian’s and only attend church service on major holidays. My father is the most rigorous Christian in my family and goes to church every Sunday. When I was very young, it was my father who first introduced me to going to church. During that time, he would reward me by getting me a donut for after the service. While 9/11 was an eye opener for me, going to church with my Dad provided me with the insight into how a church worked, while also showing me how corrupt it can be. An example would be, how the church would collect money to fund very expensive programs, and buy expensive items. While I believe a church can be a wonderful tool to help homeless people survive in tough times, I also believe that churches abuse their position and collect money for a large profit.
When we are born into this world we have no choice in what family we are selected for. It is this very reason religion plays a key role in influencing entire families. It is my belief that sometimes religion is forced into children so much that they are unable to think for themselves. Some of these topic points relate from abortion or gay marriage rights. For most people I think that they turn to religion to answer important questions that affect other people’s lives. For me, I always talk about tough issues with my friends who are both heavily Christian. While I don’t think they are stupid or uneducated, I think that religion has turned them off to accepting people who are different then them. An example would be about gay rights, and how people should be able to choose who they want to be with. When I talk about a topic like gay marriage, my friends tell me constantly that it is a sin and should not be tolerated on any level. They believe that people choose to be gay to get attention, and they place them as freaks in society. In the end though, people like my friends should look at people, and not condemn anybody to acts of rejection or violence based on sexual orientation.
While I have only grown up to believe in Christianity, I have had the benefit of learning about different religious practices through friends and school. The fact is that no matter where you turn, religion is a major part of culture and influences everyone on some level. While I don’t agree on any particular religion, it is important about learning what types there are in the world. Learning about both the Navajo and Buddhist traditions has been practical and has even influenced my personal beliefs.
In the Navajo religion I have learned a lot about healing ceremonies, and the importance of sand paintings. The mythology that revolved around the paintings was also just as important. In the sand painting, Father Sky and Mother Earth, I learned the importance of the connection of our planet and its purpose in the universe. Both function with one another to create a harmony that could otherwise not be achieved. That harmony I believe is the creation of life. Another sand painting that I have learned from was Coyote Stealing Fire. That painting taught me several important lessons, like the value of using nature as an important tool for surviving.
Though sand paintings are a creative mechanism for telling stories, their main purpose is to heal. They are considered an ancient tradition and are used to cure a variety of common human diseases. While it takes a lot of money and a decent amount of time to create, Navajo sand paintings act as a way to both honor ancient customs, and heal someone who is sick. While chanting ceremonies might seem primitive compared to the technological advancements medicine, they have played an important role soothing and restoring physical and mental illnesses. From learning about the healing ways of the Navajo, I have ultimately learned to view healing as both a spiritual and physical experience.
Along with the Navajo religion, Buddhist culture and philosophy are a crucial part in understanding how belief systems work. Buddhism, although not defined as a religion, teaches the importance of human morals, and introduces the concept of universal acceptance. With teachings such as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, people can begin to see what truly matters in their own daily lives. From the Four Noble Truths I learned the importance of suffering in the world. Even more important however was how Buddhism teaches how to overcome suffering and help others. While I believe that Buddhism covers a variety of complicated subject matters, the most important topic it covers is how to use common sense. It is through common sense that we begin to see as people, what is morally right and wrong. Ultimately it provides a compass that we can use to judge our actions and how we respond to the world. Although it is my belief people are blinded by what they believe in, Buddhism can help take off the blindfold that chokes us from living with everyone in a difficult, and sometimes-violent way.
Though Buddhism is philosophical in nature, it can help us cope with other beliefs, while also providing a way to relieve pain and stress that can build up. To solve this problem meditation is introduced. With meditation people can heal their psyches and bodies. Learning meditation through the practices of Thich Nhat Hanh has changed how I live my daily life. By taking brief moments everyday to reflect, I find that my mind can relax while also thinking about difficult problems that I have to face. An example of my personal meditative growth has come from everyday living as a freshman. While many first year college students are over stressed and constantly in a state of panic or fear, I was able to teach my brain how to relax and keep stress to a minimum. It is because of this that my first year of college has been relatively easier then others.
Though there are many religions that are still practiced in the world, it is important to see what role they play in culture and thinking. When religion is taken in healthy amounts with a strong mind, religion can be a blessing and a gift to people everywhere. It can provide hope to people who need it the most, while inspiring others to take action and make positive changes. However, overdosing on religion can cause equal amounts of pain and anger. It can drive people to cause atrocious acts of violence that can be felt for a lifetime. Even though my core religion and philosophy is based around Agnosticism, studying several different types of religions has shaped me. Both, the Navajo and Buddhist teachings are invaluable, and have changed certain aspects of my life, as well as expanded my view of the world. It is important to realize though that while religion is a major aspect of human culture, we need to be careful about how powerful religion influences our lives and instead use more common sense and logic to make important decisions.