(Written on January 8, 2009)
On Monday, I started my classes for winter semester. I'm taking Philosophical Foundations of World Religions and Human Origins and Prehistory. It should be interesting, studying human culture from biological, evolutionary, philosophical and religious perspectives all at once.
The philosophy class is actually being taught like anthropology, sociology or history more than as a philosophy class. We will be reading ABOUT philosophies from around the world rather than actually reading the sacred texts themselves. I was disappointed about that, but finding out that we will be learning about things like ceremonial gardening, tatooing, storytelling and sacred dances kind of makes up for that. I heard from a few of my classmates that the philosophy professor is a good professor.
So far, the one text, "World Philosophies" has not told me much about philosophies in terms of beliefs on proper ways to be a human, but instead on origin myths and how their interpretations changed throughout history. More history than philosophy. I'm still waiting for the other text to show up so I can start digging in. I think what bothers me about this first text isn't so much that it is history, but that it is a dry chronicaling of history with names, dates, places, writings listed in the way that my high school (and earlier) history textbooks only related history as a bunch of dates, leader names, battles, number dead and who won. There was no life to it-or rather, no lives. Those types of histories never bring history alive the way reading or hearing about someone's experience in confronting an unjust world with a mirror of its sins, such as Martin Luther King or even Jesus did. History is so much more alive when you can hear a song that was the underlying story of the time. History speaks directly to the student when the direct words of Thomas Jefferson, Homer, Virginia Woolf or Saint Teresa are directly read, rather than explained in the third person by some academian. Not only does history come alive, but the philosophical, intellectual and spiritual depth has not been processed out. I have a fear that this philosophy class may be like mental and spiritual squishy white bread when I really crave whole wheat kernels and rolled oats baked into a crusty brown bread illuminated with seeds and crunchy bits of insight and challenge. I'm going to give it "the olde college try" because I want to find out more about ceremonial gardening and dancing and other religiuous practices. Since we'll be studying the living ritual aspects of religion, I wonder if he'll talk about the way the Inuit Shamans used ceremony and masks to call in animals to hunt. I have a book about that which I read 12-14 years ago. It was intriguing, and sad that when missionaries went to Alaska at the beginning of the 1900s, they destroyed most of the masks and did everything they could to destroy the native culture, language, rituals and religious lives of the people there. The history of that religion was brought back to life through anthropological research and interviews of very old Inuits.
In Anthropology, I'll have to learn some anatomy. Evolution is the name of the game in that class. Our professor, on the first day, talked quite at length about why science and religion can co-exist and that evolution is a scientific theory with empirical evidence to back it up, while creationism is a myth or belief system without empirical substantiation. I think it's ridiculous that a science professor should even have to justify her subject matter because a few zealots believe she is going to hell and dragging her students along with her.
Did I ever tell you about one of my 3 freshman year rommates at MSU who belonged to a religious group called Maranatha? At that time, I still strongly believed that Christianity was THE final word on how I should live my life. However, I understood it very differently than the way Jean and her friends did. Jean had a boyfiriend who she was engaged to. He determined what classes she could take, when to eat, what extracurricular activities she was allowed to participate in, and who she was allowed to be friends with (he hadn't yet figured out that my Christianity was not the same as his).
I once asked her why she allowed him to dictate her life to her. She replied that the bible said that women are to be completely obedient to men. I asked where. She said that in Genesis, God created man first, then woman in order for her to serve him. She said that she knew this was a true story because our bodies still bear the proof of it, after all "men have one less rib than women." My mouth dropped open, my eyes popped out and I stammered, "if you really believe that, you need to take an anatomy class." She was surprised and unconvinced that men were not short one rib.
Less than a week later, her fiance directed her to move out of our room and never have contact with me again. She complied with his God-given directives to her. I still feel sorry for her.
Anyway, as I sat in my first two evolution of bones class, I thought of Jean and I wondered, twenty two years later, if she still believes that men have one less rib than women. I wonder if she and Sarah Palin took the same Natural Science class. It must have been called Palintology: A Dogmatic Justification for Chosen Ignorance Through Complete Denial of the World as God Evolved It. (Or, Palintology: The Study of When Man and Dinosaurs Walked the Earth Together and Women Followed After.)