Monday, November 24, 2008
Over the last few weeks and months, I've been trying to discern what direction I should head with my graduate studies. Recently, I've begun to narrow things down a bit. I think what I really want to explore is expressions of the religious apart from specifically religious institutions. I find it fascinating that when people write and speak and think and hope and dream, so often religious elements are subtly present. It seems that being human almost necessitates being religious.
Of course, that is a pretty broad claim—and I know people who would strongly object. But to clarify, when I say "religious" I don't have in mind particular religions or rituals or doctrines. What I do have in mind, however, is notoriously difficult to pin down. When I say "religious" I mean it in a broad sense. For instance, what I would identify as the "religious" part of Christianity would not only be the beliefs and practices (like going to church, taking communion, etc.) but also the desire deep inside that drives Christians to follow God in the first place.
The deep-seated desire that motivates Christians to follow God, I believe, exists in everyone. Certainly it manifests itself differently in various peoples and cultures (and it can lead down some very divergent paths), but it is something common to all humans. We all grapple with the religious because, at its core, the religious has to do with a search for meaning and identity. It is, as one of my professors calls it, the "enduring presence and absence that is the mystery at the center of life."
This may seem a bit strange and possibly irrelevant to Chrisitanity, but it points to something interesting—because humans are inherently religious, that means that religious themes pop up all over the place. The religious shows up in art, music, poetry, novels, architecture and in almost anything else that people create, and because it is all driven by the same deep-seated desire that everyone shares, that means that it is all potentially relevant to me. If something by a Muslim novelist, a Mormon artist, or an atheist poet really strikes a chord in me, there is no need for me to discount it. It is all relevant to me and my own search for God.
We are all engaged in the same task of finding meaning and identity, so I'm certain that there is a lot we can learn from others—even when we have drastically different outlooks.
*In case it wasn't clear, I don't use "religious" in the perjorative sense that many evangelicals do. For me, the religious is something akin to "spiritual" (although that word can get me in trouble, too). Maybe it is something like the "God-shaped hole in my heart" that I learned about in Sunday school when I was young. Perhaps that's a crude way to phrase it, but I think I like it....