Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Patheos Portal and this Blog

Some time ago a colleague commented on a comment of my own that this blog was not as interesting as many appearing on the Patheos portal.

This has bubbled away in the background of my mind until this morning.  I jumped off my exercise machine [aka attempts to extend my life long enough for me to finish several books] to write my reaction before it evaporated from my misfiring synapses.

The Patheos portal - and most religious blogs - is primarily theological in its outlook.  That is, it contains blogs by theologians and by those who are employed professionally in Religious Studies departments or Departments of Religion, etc. at universities or seminaries.  I, on the other hand, am not a theologian, or a scholar trained in the religious studies stream.  I am firstly an historian.  My special focus and interest is the history of religion and of spirituality - I say 'and' here, but that is a mistake - students of mine will know my terms 'religio' and 'spiritus', two labels I invented to stick onto institutional religion and onto the sense of the numinous that individuals feel either as individuals or in a community of believers [or, non-believers!].  But I must develop this further to emphasize that they are integrated and integral to one another - humans are social animals mostly, and we experience 'spiritus' as part of a group - we 'feel' it inside our own heads and hearts, but reinforcement, growth, ... watering and feeding of spiritus comes from a community.

Well, what does this tangent have to do with my approach and my reasoning for not entering this blog as part of the Patheos portal?  Well, as an historian, my principle interest is the integration and dis-integration of religion into culture [that is, in its anthropological sense, not its 'artistic' sense] and how this changes over time.  Theology is a part of this picture, but for my interests a lesser part.  In the Patheos portal, theology takes pride of place and is central.  I am less interested in what religious professionals, well, profess...than I am in how real people function as religious and spiritual beings in society over time.  As an historian, I focus in this blog on the overall social and cultural setting of religion and all the factors in this maelstrom called life.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Experience of Religion: Buddhism and Consumerism in Collision

FromW05 - the first is by a student that term, the second by my daughter who attended the same event:

I thought that I would share this amusing story with everyone. Last year I went to see the Dalai Lama at Sky Dome because I was interested in his words and Buddhism in general. There was no crowd control at the ticket boxes at the Sky Dome, or proper lines set up, it was just a mass of people pushing each other to get through to buy tickets. At one point some crazy forty-year-old man, who had his wife and kid with him lost control and started punching a teenager who he thought cut in front of him for tickets. My friend and I couldn't believe this and restrained the guy and pushed him out of the area. This sparked other people to start pushing and swearing at each other; it was unbelievable. Here was a spiritual leader who came to Toronto to talk about peace and toleration, his tour was called the power of compassion, and people were going nuts and fighting each other. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

Also, I was expecting some kind of spiritual enlightenment or at least spiritual atmosphere at this event. But it is here that I really realized the importance of religious venue. The Catholic Church I attended for this assignment, I thought, did a pretty good job of creating a spiritual environment through the architecture of the church and structure of the ceremony. When I was at the Sky Dome to hear the Dalai Lama speak, it was absolutely impossible to experience anything spiritual because of the venue. At the Sky Dome, one is surrounded by B. S. advertisements, and other marketing nonsense. The Sky Dome is so big and empty, cold and gray that it made a spiritual feeling during the Dalai Lama's talk unattainable. The talk would have had a much higher spiritual impact if it had taken place at a temple or in a field with a natural setting.

AND, from my daughter who is a Buddhist:

I have always been attracted to the notion of Buddhism, I knew a little from my undergrad but it wasn't until after my daughter was born that I really felt drawn to it as a religion, a way to structure my life. I am not sure why this happened when it did, it must have been a divine, karmic intervention. Anyway, I studied with a Thai Monk for a year and then set out on my own to try and keep Buddhism in my way. When I heard that the Dalai Lama was coming to T.O. I made sure that I would attend his talk, as a means to continue my spiritual growth. I guess that I envisioned it as a pilgrimage of sorts like those one sees on t.v. and in the movies. I hoped to be moved. Well I was moved, but not in ways I had expected. My first taste of what was to come occurred when I realized that my group would be paying 20$ to park our car miles from the event. As we trudged through the rain to our entrance, we were met with some joyful, some sullen faces, and many who appeared to be there for show. When the lines began to move in, people began to jostle one another, shoving to get in. Once inside, the chaos stepped up a notch. I recall feeling as I imagined survivors of some horrible natural disaster would feel, trying to stay close to those you knew while strangers ran idiotically around you, making it hard to walk together. People were rude, yelling to one another, shoving, desperate to rush to their assigned seat. Insanity was all around and closing in. Heaven forbid you had to use the washroom!!! Where was the love, the compassion, the concern for fellow man? Where was the letting go of the material, of all that binds us??
Once we fought our way to our seats this surreal experience continued to unfold. As I tried to get in the mood, as I tried to listen to this man I admired, whose presence itself moved me, whose words made me glad, I found it difficult to block out the hockey game mentality and disrespect running rampant around us. I watched couples looking for their seats while juggling hot dogs, pop and a jumbo popcorn (a more economical choice, for only 50 cents more). I looked around for the beer stand as I watched another man saunter back to his seat, munching on his pizza slice, seemingly oblivious that a few feet away was the icon and spiritual leader of Tibet. I anticipated the ads around the stadium, but I did not expect the actions of those filling it to be disrespectful, so self indulgent and self centered. I am glad I went, as I wanted to hear him speak, however, I would have liked it if somebody's mother had at somepoint knocked some manners into those around me.

The Experience of Religion: Hinduism

Now Hinduism:

from Winter 2004 

I know this is off topic but I have a couple of Hindu stories that my mom had to memorize in the form of poems in school in India.  I think this gives insight into how the Hindu's viewed the poor people in their society or the untouchables.

The first one is very short and is more like a anecdote than a story:
Some background into the story before my mom told it to me is that the untouchables were the only caste that were not allowed inside the temple but worshipped directly outside of it.  They came to the temple and prayed and offered whatever they had to the deities that were carved on the outside of the temple.   I found this interesting because we can see these deities clearly carved outside of the temple to Vishnu.
So an untouchable came to pray outside of the temple and stood in the corner silently praying to a bare wall and one of the statues inside the temple is said to have turned right around and faced the untouchable praying outside the temple instead of the people of higher caste inside the temple.
The second story she told me is a little longer one, forgive me for the fragments of both the stories, parts may be missing but the main point is still intact!
There as a rich man with a big house and every morning a poor beggar would come to the house.  The rich man would feed the beggar everyday but this day the rich man was going to the temple with his family to give a special offering to one of the deities, so when the beggar came to his house he just shooed him away without even stopping to talk to him.  That day the man and his family got ready to go to the temple by grooming themselves and cleaning their house.  They prepared an ornate offering by putting fresh fruits, fresh flowers, and lots of pearls on a gold tray to sacrifice to the deity. 
When the man took the tray of beautiful things to the temple he went to the altar where the deity was and bowed before it.  When he looked up the stature of the deity had disappeared and what was left was the poor beggar standing there in its place.  The deity had come to the man in the form of a beggar and he had chased him away, disregarding him.  The moral of the story:  the gods are not only in the temple but present in the poor and in everyday life.  This story was told to the higher class people to be good to the poor despite their place in the caste system because the deities don't care what caste an individual is in. 

The experience of religion - Islam

Here from S13 is a discussion by a student this term about Ramadan:

our group discussion, the topic of the Muslim month of Ramadan came about. I thought it would be nice to share some information about this month for the rest of the students!
Every year, Muslims have a month called Ramadan. Muslims follow the lunar calendar (it's more accurate than the solar calendar) so the months shift by 10 days every year. We still have 7 week days and 30 day months, all without the need for a leap year every four years.
So we have Ramadan, and Ramadan is a very holy month. During this month, Muslims who have passed the stage of maturity are required to fast during daylight hours. This means that from sunrise to sunset, we do not eat or drink. When the sun is down, we are allowed to eat and drink as normal.
Muslims fast primarily so that they can realize what it is like to be poor without food, and this helps them become more generous and give to those that don't have as much. It helps them realize about the plight of people around the world who do not have anything to eat.
I must say that this month really opens up one's eyes. In this rich Western society we do not appreciate food to the extent that we should. We throw away so much, meat, vegetables, grains, etc. We know that people around the world do not have it. But like they say, you do not appreciate what you have until it is taken away.
And it is during this month that you actually appreciate the food that you have. There is nothing like abstaining from water for 12 hours to make you realize how sweet and precious it really is. It puts things into perspective. You realize that you have been blessed with sustenance, and that others are not as lucky.
The hunger that you feel all day also serves as a reminder to protect you from other sins. Because hunger is a constant feeling, you are continually aware that you are fasting, and therefore continually mindful of God.
So if you are tempted to lie, or steal or cheat etc you won't do it because you're constantly reminded that you're fasting for God, and you're constantly reminded that God doesn't want you to commit those other sins. The hunger reminds you that God is always present and that you must live your life morally.
This whole deal lasts for a month because that is a sufficient time to build habit - if you abstain from sins like lying or cheating or stealing for a whole month, it's probably going to become a habit for you so even after the month is done you'll still be living with goodwill. So, the month is like a yearly rejuvenation for Muslims that makes us better people in general!
Fasting also has incredible heath benefits. It's good for your metabolism and stamina, acts as a detox session, and allows you to burn off a lot of excess fat. In a week I lost several pounds, all fat. When I look in the mirror I can see my muscle tone more clearly, which is definitely a plus. So all in all it's a whole month of rejuvenation, spiritually and health wise as well!