There are many things about this class that I found extremely interesting, but I think that the examination of Christianity’s history was probably one of the most important and surprising things that I learned about in the class. Our first look into Judaism, for instance, was extremely interesting to me, because it opened my eyes to the fact that religion is not necessarily completely separated from the culture that surrounds it. In fact, religion is shaped by culture just as much as culture is shaped by religion; the readings we had examining how the Torah was, in many ways, a reflection of the struggles of the Jewish people was extremely enlightening in my understanding of the relationship between religion and the culture in which it is a part of. Taking that into account, examining the effects community and culture had on Christianity and on the interpretations of Jesus’ teachings was an extremely important aspect of the class. For example, the fact that the Gospels were not necessarily written by the disciples, but by communities with their own agendas was effective in that it provided me with a better insight of the purposes of the Gospels; they were not just written for Christians as a whole, they were written for a specific community with specific needs, and by understanding that, I believe that I attained a better grasp on what the messages behind each Gospel. The insight we gained on the relationship Christianity had with the cultures that surrounded it during its early days was also very important to me; learning how Christianity effectively adapted and adopted various aspects of different religions and cultures in order to survive and flourish in an environment where it was initially unwelcomed was probably one of the most fascinating aspects of the class; learning about how much of the philosophy surrounding Christian theology was inspired by the Greek Hellenistic movement was interesting, as was learning how much of the military aspects of Christianity was adopted from Roman culture. Going off of that, learning the relationship between Roman culture and Christianity, and the how Constantine’s reign helped mold a significant portion of Christianity was definitely helpful in understanding the influences each left on the other; understanding Constantine’s influence on Christianity was extremely helpful in examining how Christianity has evolved and survived throughout the centuries. Christianity, it seems, is a religion that was born out of change, is defined by change, and will continually change as time goes on, as much as people would like to think otherwise. This is seen even in recent history, with events such as Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses, which introduced a more personal and individual interpretation of the Bible, and the expansion of America, which brought forth the ideas of feminine and muscular Christianity. Overall, recognizing Christianity’s influential nature, as well as its ability to be influence, is even seen in present day. The media projects we had towards the end of the semester were especially intriguing to me, because they helped reveal just how much of a Christo-centric nation we still are. At the same time, they helped reveal the relationship between pop culture and religion, and how they are not as separate as much as we would like to think they are. Pop culture is still very much influenced by religious aspects, whether they be positive or negative; at the same time, present day culture does very much influence religion as well. Considering how many churches have gone on to be more progressive is an example of this. Overall, I think this class really benefitted me in understanding the adaptable and adoptable nature of religion, particularly Christianity, and how religion and culture continually influence each other in various ways.
My experience with this class was definitely a positive one, and one that helped me approach an outsider’s point of view with a lot more ease. I have always struggled with being able to view religion as a social institution with cultural and political influences as well as a center of my own personal faith, and although I believe I have been able to become better at approaching my faith with openness and careful observation, I believe I still do have a problem, especially in approaching certain areas with a completely unbiased perspective. The five qualities worth having in the academic study of religion are those of openness, honesty, critical intelligence, careful observation, and critical tolerance. Again, out of those five I believe that I am best at being open in the area of religion; I have learned that accepting the fact that I may be proven wrong in an area of belief is not necessarily something that should shut me down, but should encourage myself to keep on growing in both knowledge and faith. For example, I was rather surprised to learn that the apostles weren’t really the ones who wrote the Gospels; however, being able to accept that as an outsider actually helped me appreciate the text and its purpose much more. I also think that I am better at being able to carefully observe, read, and listen; I’ve always liked analyzing things, so it was never a big problem for me. Being able to do that, I feel, can really benefit a person in understanding the different cultural, political, and historical points of view that shapes religion, and how religion in turn shapes them. However, I do feel like my weakest spot in the five qualities is that of honesty, or more specifically, being unbiased. This isn’t to say that I do not recognize my own bias and understand that I will be influenced by my own points of view, but I do feel that it is harder for me to acknowledge any internal prejudices I may have due to my beliefs. Though I have gotten better at this as time goes on, it’s still a struggle, and I sometimes find it hard to set aside my own pride in order to recognize that hey, I might be wrong.
The environment is definitely one of the most discussed issues in society as of now. Due partly to the globalization of society and partly because of science’s better understanding of nature and the earth, people no longer have the idea of the earth being limitless in its resources; the toll of man’s effect on nature can be plainly seen in a now industrialized society. Humanity’s relationship with nature has become rather depersonalized, and this ‘distanced’ relationship due to industrialized society can be seen taking its toll in the effects brought on by the rapidly growing population of the world’s inhabitants, depletion of vital natural resources, and the pollution of the natural environment. Heightened concern over the treatment of the environment can be seen worldwide; however, the theological aspect of humanity’s relationship to nature is interesting because it varies so greatly in Christianity. For example, you have some denominations such as the Episcopal Church, which emphasizes the Christian’s duty to the environment, as it was assigned to Adam; God’s creation is was viewed as ‘good’ and perfect in beginning, but just as man became corrupted by sin, so did the environment become susceptible to death. Therefore, it is the Christian’s duty to take care of the earth. And since nature is important to God, it should also be important to the Christian. However, there are those who interpret God making us ‘stewards of the earth’ as being metaphorical and not necessarily literal. These people may or may not be concerned with the environment, but they will claim that when God asked us to become stewards, it was meant to be a spiritual stewardship, not necessarily an environmental one. Another interesting thing about the relationship between the Bible and nature is that some people do interpret there to be a duality between humanity and earth, just as there is a duality between man and woman. Which makes the metaphor of nature being a ‘mother’ in popular culture all the more interesting; is there a tie between dominion and fertility? The fact that the first man was molded from nature itself makes this all the more interesting.
In this reading, the discussion largely revolved around the fetus and its value as a person, talking about abortion from a relatively prochoice point of view.
When discussing whether the fetus has rights, what often comes up is the idea that pro-life activists seem to disregard the rights that women have over their bodies. Which I think is kind of interesting; it seems to me that a lot of people who are ‘prolife’ are actually ‘probirth’, and don’t necessarily care what happens to the children afterwards. Pro-life, in my opinion should be used to describe the rights to living a full life rather than just to being alive.
Cases such as the Laci Peterson Case actually provided an angle of debate to whether the fetus has value as a person or not; if a pregnant woman is killed, and both her and her unborn baby are counted as victims, then what does that say about abortion? If one assigns any value to a fetus, then it potentially becomes seen as a person and not just a fetus..
During the media presentation of “The Hunger Games”, I was really intrigued by the subtle religious undertones that I had not perceived before. It never really occurred to me that there were 12 Districts, and that they all surrounded the Capitol, which was seen as higher. But I think what interested me the most about the presentation was the talk surrounding the Nightlock berries. During the powerpoint, the berries were linked with the idea of the forbidden fruit, with Katniss being Eve, and Peeta being Adam. I think this is a good analysis, but I also think that there is more to it. If we were to take into account the analogy of the Gamemakers being ‘God’, then I think that the scene is a really interesting take on the temptation story. Instead of Eve ‘tempting’ and manipulating Adam, in this version, Eve is manipulating God. Not only that, but she beats Him at his own game. I think this is highly symbolic, and places Katniss in a situation where her overcoming of forces controlling her world makes her into a Christ figure; the twelve districts, I think, do not represent them following the Capitol. The twelve districts are to be her ‘disciples’, because Katniss is a symbol of their salvation.
Also, I think the idea of the Gamemakers as ‘God’ is both true and not; the structure is a lot more complicated than that, I think. On one hand, they do fulfill many godlike qualities, but I wouldn’t say Gamemakers are symbolic of God; I would say the Gamemakers are more like the angels, destructive and obeying their God, who I would say is President Snow. Which makes things a lot more complicated, in that Katniss may have outwitted fate, but not necessarily outwitted God himself. So there’s that.
The relationship between warfare and Christianity is one that is complicated and, I suppose, open to interpretation. The Bible’s take on war, especially the Old Testament, is less of an argument or philosophical viewpoint, and more of a grim reality, which is why I think it is somewhat of a moot point to use the Old Testament as proof that Christianity “promotes war”; if one would take a look at the time that the books were written, and the various situations and conditions that surrounded the communities for whom the books were written for, one would understand that there was a need for a God and religion that was strong in those types of scenarios. War wasn’t something that happened to people far away; these were people who lived under the constant threat of being attacked on a regular basis. Putting that aside, however, what interest me the most about this reading is the fact that it acknowledges that just as Christianity is diverse in its denominations, it is also diverse in its opinions on warfare in general. Some Christians are extremely pacifist in their stances in this area, but others are far more inclined to be not necessarily “pro-war”, but pro-military. I just find it all fascinating, considering that people in general have a complicated relationship with war and its effects; when is it necessary? Is it necessary at all? The question only gets more profound when one takes into account the idea of modern warfare and terrorism. Of course, it is in humanity’s nature to have a knee-jerk reaction when one is attacked; however, the question of whether our side is the “good side” sometimes appears. Again, as a religion, Christianity is diverse, which means the opinions that appear within it will be diverse as well; but I think that those who tend to see morality as black and white may have an easier time actively supporting a war effort, while those who aren’t may be more inclined to see war as strictly a grim necessity, or unnecessary period. This is a generalized assumption, of course, but I think it also goes with whether a certain branch is associated with certain political ideals and/or parties.
When talking about the religious undertones in “Book of Eli”, what interested me most was the fact that the Bible that Eli had been protecting was in Braille, and that he did not necessarily need to bring the physical book to his destination, but himself. Eli is blind, and yet he is the only one who can ‘truly’ understand the Word of God; to me, this definitely harkens to the idea of blind faith. Not only that, but the fact that Carnegie had the physical book with him, but could not use it because he could not understand it, is important because it draws a line between those who see the Bible as a means to control, and those who see the Bible as a means to serve.
This shot from “The Truman Show” really interests me, because the composition of the scene is definitely supposed to be taken as Christlike; he stretches out his arms as if on a cross, and behind him, there is a “sky” where he will be exiting through. It’s ironic, because though it’s so Messianic in it’s image, it’s really about a man taking control over his life from his “Creator”; basically, humanity triumphing over a higher power.
The mentioning of butterflies as a recurring motif of “I Am Legend” really grabbed my attention, especially after the connection of Neville to Christ was made. The thing about butterflies, is that they are symbolic of the idea of resurrection and new life, and of becoming something new. However, I think that the imagery of the butterflies makes more sense when one watches the alternate ending of “I Am Legend”; it is revealed that to the Dark Seekers, Neville and the rest of humanity are the monsters. So it’s really a twist to the whole idea of the sole survivor of humanity being its Savior.