Times Change and So Do the Dummies

I dedicate my time to several things in life...a life of a guy rapidly approaching 71. Playing with my two grandchildren, writing, teaching, and preparing for an imminent trip to Burma are important things. In addition, I have mentioned in other essays that I have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). While my body is not always moving, my mind is. I work 15-hours a day, which includes biking around our neighborhood for an hour. During a regular week, I divide the day into one or more of those activities. These activities often hop from one to another without much reason or planning.

I went to sleep a couple of nights ago around midnight, but my brain was not tired at all. I tried to go to sleep but realized that I needed to address an issue in a class that I was teaching online. I finally was able to go to sleep after I made a mental note to address that issue the first thing the next morning. Making mental notes for a person with ADD is not a great idea. However, my discomfort was enough that I recalled my note the next morning.

I was teaching a world religion class. This survey class spends a week on one of a dozen various belief systems. We look at each religion and discuss it, which is at least fun for me. I encourage students to question and debate anything about any of the religions. I do not care what they question. However, I want them to think.

The textbook lists the religions in chronological order. Therefore, we discussed Christianity not until the class is nearly ¾ of the way through the semester. Then it happens as it happens every semester for years. My classes are mostly Christian with a handful of Muslims. I have had Native Americans, Buddhists, and Hindus over the years, but it is mostly the class comes from either a Christian or Muslim background. The level of commitment to either religion varies, but the class knows well one or the other of those two faiths.

While my students feel free to debate the pros and cons of the other religions without taking anything personally, it is often different when it comes to their belief system. The more religiously conservative they are, the more personally they take any comment from other students or me questioning some aspect of theology. This occurs even though I tell them that this class is a survey class of the major religions today in our world. It is not pushing and attacking any religion. It is merely a secular research of world religions.

I have also told them that I want them to leave at the end of the 17-week semester knowing about all the religions. It is none of my business what they thought about any of the various religions prior to, during, or after the semester is over. Nonetheless, I want them to have a good understanding of each religion, how it developed, and a general theological understanding of the each belief system. I get paid to do that.

In addition, I want them to think critically about everything that they read about a religion or debate with other students and me. This past week, we finally arrived at Christianity, which is divided into 3-major groups: Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant faiths.

In each of the major branches, there are subdivisions in each of the major faiths. For example, there are 30-40k different branches of Protestantism in the world today. Interestingly, in each denomination, they believe that they are preaching the correct gospel or else they would not be separated from the others. Each branch believes that they have a corner on the truth. Then you combine the Protestants with the Catholics and Eastern Orthodox faiths, and you have many denominations/branches all thinking in some manner that they are correct.

I ask the class whether or not they see a logical disconnect. There are 10s of thousands of various branches of various religions all touting that they are true and the others do not get it. That is hubris and gets in the way of learning...learning about different religion and learning about nearly everything else. I want this class to think about world religions. However, it goes beyond that. Forget the benefit of your knowing about loads of religions. The benefit of thinking goes beyond this class. I want them and all my students to think and not merely repeat what someone else said long ago and far away - even though the person that is saying it might be right.

To make my point to my classes about the value of thinking and not merely repeating beliefs of others, I give them examples in their lives that is not related to a religion. Happenings in Washington are wondrous examples. Beyond religions flaunting beliefs that raise questions, politicians often act as if they can see the total reality of the world, politicians often the same.

Recently, one group harped upon the other group not permitting for a couple million privately insured people be insured by often-faulty coverage. The group spent a great deal of time critiquing the second group stopping dropping 4-million whose insurance did not conform to Obamacare restrictions like not being insured for preexisting conditions or limits on benefits during one's lifetime. The second group corrected within a week of the complaint. The criticizing group, who were critical of the poor folks that got cancellation notices, have never dealt with the 40-million of others who have not been covered for decades due in part to their inability to afford medical insurance. That is a 10:1 ratio. The first group complained about an issue that concerned a tenth of the total number of people without healthcare for decades. They were concerned about the few when the many were not noticed.

One of the leaders of the complaining group that the others cannot be trusted. What has the first group done?

In conclusion, if you ever want to enjoy a survey of world religions class, email me. I will let you know how to enroll. However, I hope that you willing to think and not merely repeat often some very questionable theological notions...most of which go back several millennia.

If you are not able to avail yourself of that fun experience of taking an online class from me, at least, I want this article to help you see the problems in life in general when we do not think. I do not care what you think, but I do care that you think. Now, this is a cautionary caveat, repeating something someone else said is not thinking. This essay and all my classes attempt to get people to think and avoid to be 21st century Charlie McCarthys...repeating what another said.

 Charlie McCarthy and the rest of the Bergen family

Charlie McCarthy and the rest of the Bergen family

Thinking will often cause some sort of pain or discomfort. However, without pain, there is no gain. Pain is good if it is addressed. This is an important lesson for each of us to learn.


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