Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The So-Called "Right" Path

by Project Interfaith Communications Intern, Alan Flower

As a young man who has spent the majority of his life surrounded by religion (I grew up in a fairly religious household and attended religiously affiliated private schools) I can confidently say that religion—or, more accurately, the theology of the particular religion to which my upbringing and education have been affiliated—has played a very prominent role in my life. For example, if someone were to read the short “About me” portion of my Twitter page, they would find that I consider myself to be three things in one: a theologian, a nerd, and a musician. This may be true, as my undergraduate career was spent vehemently studying theology—I even plan on getting a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in theology—but is the religious faith I study that which I necessarily accept as my own personal religion? Up until very recently, my answer to this question would have been a resolute “Yes.” In my head, I would think, “How could someone spend so much time studying a faith tradition they don’t even accept as their own?” But things change. If someone were to ask me this question right now, I would still probably answer with a yes. In my mind, however, I would respond quite differently: “I really don’t know.”

I’m not exactly sure what it was that caused me to suddenly start questioning my religious beliefs so fervently. Don’t get me wrong: this is not to say that I had never had questions or doubts about what I believe; as most religious adherents will tell you, maintaining one’s faith can be difficult, especially in times of trial. That being said, however, I have never questioned my beliefs to this extent. Perhaps I am finally beginning to summon the courage to question things that have been indoctrinated in me from a very young age. Or maybe I am starting to recognize the beauty of other religious traditions, and am at a point in my life wherein I see that all religions contain a certain degree of validity. I honestly don’t know. Regardless of why this is happening, I believe that this period of questioning is good for me, as I have never really stopped to ask myself why I believe what I believe. The way I see it, all of this questioning can only help me to grow as a person. In an ironic sort of way, it’s actually kind of funny that I should be questioning my beliefs so adamantly; I had always scoffed at the notion of an atheistic theologian (talk about an oxymoron!). But alas! Here I am, a nascent theologian, questioning my religious beliefs. This is not to say that I am ready to completely discard my beliefs or religious affiliation. Instead, I am beginning to recognize the importance of what is going on in the here and now (especially the inherent dignity of all people and the significance of human interaction) rather than spending my time speculating on metaphysical realities, on things I am currently having difficulty grasping or experiencing. In a way, one could say that I am adopting a humanistic aspect of the religion I have always known.

“What do I believe, and why do I believe what I believe?” These are fundamental questions, questions I think all people should seriously ask themselves at least once over the course of their lives. In my case, I was instructed in the beliefs and traditions of a specific religion (both at home and at school), which led me to adopt the religion as my own. That being said, it is also important to realize that it is normal, healthy, and mature to ask questions, especially regarding matters that go beyond the physical realm—i.e., matters that require faith. Similarly, I don’t believe any religious community teaches that blind faith (complete, unwavering acceptance of religious teaching) is a requirement for one to belong to the religious community one wishes to join. In fact, I think that questions are necessary for one’s own spiritual development, as well as the development of the religious tradition to which one adheres; if there were no questions to ask or answer, there would be no progress, no advancement.

So what is my point? My point is really quite simple: Maybe you understand and willingly embrace the religion granted to you during your childhood and adolescence, or maybe you are like me and have questions about what you have been taught. Either way, you are right, so long as you discover the path that makes the most sense to you, and provides you with the most peace of mind. THAT is the so-called “right” path.

Alan Flower is the Communications Intern for Project Interfaith. He graduated from Creighton University in 2011, receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in theology, with specialization in biblical studies. He plans (hopes!) to get into Notre Dame University’s Master of Theological Studies program, followed by Notre Dame University’s Ph.D. theology program. His long-term goal is to become a professor of theology at a Catholic-Christian university. While interning for Project Interfaith, Alan hopes to improve his skills in inter-religious dialogue, as a way of facilitating peace, respect, and understanding among people of differing faith traditions. In his spare time, Alan enjoys reading, playing videogames, playing the guitar, playing the drums, singing, watching movies, and going out with his family and friends.

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