Daily Archives: May 4, 2007

Your soul won’t fit on a syllabus

From a New York Times article on religion and college students:

“My theory is that the baby boomers decided they weren’t going to impose their religious life on their children the way their parents imposed it on them,” Mr. Steffen continued. “The idea was to let them come to it themselves. And then they get to campus and things happen; someone dies, a suicide occurs. Real issues arise for them, and they sometimes feel that they don’t have resources to deal with them. And sometimes they turn to religion and courses in religion.”

This is a very interesting analysis, and I think it has a lot of merit. What caught my eye was this last sentence, since I’ve been frustrated with this very phenomenon, namely the part about religion classes.

I’m taking an Intro to Judaism class and it really, honestly pains me the types of problems people are bringing into that class. People getting impatient with “all the historical stuff” — who want the professor to cut to the chase of “what Jews believe”? When people respond to a textbook chapter by evaluating whether they agreed with certain practices? The girl who said she didn’t “like” the ideal of always putting God first? “That was a little disturbing to me,” she said. “I didn’t like that. I mean, always?”

Setting aside for the moment that this girl had an issue with the entire ethical foundation of the Judeo-Christian world, not to mention the common thread among — deep breath — setting that aside — that’s not what religion classes are for.

And I grant that I do have an issue with the whole idea of a “religion major”. These people are generally the most confused when it comes to spiritual matters — and that’s when they’re finished.

So with all that full disclosure out there, I say unto my spiritually seeking peers: hie thee unto a church/mosque/synagogue/whatever. Don’t expect a class to teach you what to believe. It doesn’t work that way.

See, the thing is, if you think that religion is essentially a tool developed by humans for dealing with emotional trauma and the inscrutables of the world — you take a fairly detached view. It’s like buying a computer: sure, you may be aesthetically drawn to one or another, but when it comes down to it, you want a spec sheet so you can compare, one to one.

But you’re not really looking for rituals. The world is full of rituals to help you cope with things, and you know it. It’s all within your grasp. If what you want is faith, you can’t take a class for that. That’s going to take some investment.

Not to mention the general value of a 101 class…. seriously, people. Less than a 200-level usually won’t count toward your major. It’s a little insulting.


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