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Patrick M. McCarty World Religions, An Intro January 24, 2010 Professor Waldmeir Final Paper Through this class I was able to come to a better understanding about the religions outside my denomination of Christianity. Growing up Catholic in small town Iowa meant that I rarely met someone who wasn¶t Catholic themselves, and therefore my knowledge of other faiths remained quite limited. It wasn¶t until I came to until high school and college that this knowledge began to grow and I began to look at the specifics of my own faith and compare them to others around the world. World Religions has opened up my mind to the ideas of many of the core religions that exist today, but more importantly it has challenged me to grow in my own faith and understanding. Through our readings and daily discussions we were able to see how different these religions were, while at the same time revealing several of their similarities. It is my personal opinion that all of these religions contain some common truth and are striving to get us to the same ultimate goal in the end. This idea of Omnitheism has emerged in our lives to challenge the specifics of religions today, and move to a more general spirituality. As stated in our final presentation I believe it is this general and personal spirituality that unites all of us, keeps us humble, and gives us the compassion that is just one of the common themes of all religions. Keeping that in mind I will be comparing the Zen Meditation Center in Madison, Wisconsin and St. Mary¶s Church of downtown Dubuque and their respective religions of Buddhism and Catholicism/Christianity. This paper will strive to shed a light on the key
components of these two sacred spaces that make them different, but also try to show the similarities that exist between the two as well. On our first field trip outing we visited St. Mary¶s church of Dubuque. This church was built in the 1800¶s and was predominantly a German Catholic church. It was a gothic style church rich with paintings, statues, pictures, relics, and symbols. Central to this church and the Christian religion is the belief in Jesus of Nazareth as the son of God. One doesn¶t have to go far into the church before this simple carpenter is acknowledged as a dominant theme. The side altars, Stations of the Cross, murals, and statues all show Jesus throughout his life, death, and resurrection. This theme is so important because it plays a major role in differentiating from the similar religion of Judaism. In fact Christianity is a sect of Judaism differing in their views on God and having a second and newer testament to the Holy Bible. This bible is the holy scripture of the Catholic faith and is read from in all churches at mass. The theme of Jesus as our savior is further emphasized by the tabernacle, the crucifix, and the formation of the church. The tabernacle is the gold box that holds the consecrated host which has become the body of Jesus Christ. This tabernacle is the churches axis mundi because it is at the core of the faith. This religion teaches us to listen to Jesus¶ stories from the bible, follow his example, and worship him. It is only fitting that the box which is believed to hold his very essence should be respected and honored so highly. At mass Christians receive the body of Christ as a reenactment of the Last Supper but also as an acknowledgement of accepting Jesus into our lives/bodies. Going along with this idea of acceptance is the crucifix which shows Christians the suffering and the Messiah endured for our sins. It is by Jesus¶ example that Christians try to form their lives and the format of the church further emphasizes that point. The church starts with its entrance and leads into an area of pews. In the Catholic faith we must toil with other Christians here on earth
while desiring to be closer to God. At communion we process to the alter and receive God in the form of consecrated bread and wine which represents our faith development as we come closer to God. Eventually in life we die and make our way to heaven. The steeples of the church point the way for us and it is this straight and upward line which is another key characteristic of Christianity and all faiths. Two themes came up in our analysis of the 5 core religions. These two themes were that of a line and a circle. Christianity falls into this idea of a line because this faith believes that there is one path to follow with a desired common goal at the end. Essentially we all start at point A at birth and we all want to end up at point B when we die. However some religions, primarily the eastern religions, believe in the theme of reincarnation and multiple lives. This gives way to the concept of a circular flow of nature and life, but this will be discussed more later. It is purely my opinion but St. Mary¶s seemed to be a great example of a problem I struggle with in regards to this religion. St. Mary¶s is a large church full of rare relics, intricate statues, and stain glass windows. The church is one of many Catholic churches and is now closing due to insufficient funds for upkeep and poor attendance. The problem that I have is with the sheer amount of money that must have been spent on this church and the endless churches like it. Why when Catholics and Christians believe in loving one another and the last being first would we waste so much money on building these churches? Surely the Christian God is not obsessed with material houses where people worship him/her while there is so much other suffering going on outside the doors of his/her house. I believe God calls us all to do our best to help others and I do feel because I am blest that I should try to financially assist those less fortunate, but I do struggle to accept this seemingly hypocritical idea in my own faith.
The Zen Meditation Center in Madison, Wisconsin was quite the different experience than the Catholic Church. Where St. Mary¶s would have had statues and vibrant colors this center had mostly bare walls and simple cushions to sit on. Where Catholics had elaborate alters and symbols everywhere this Buddhist center had a small table with a statue of Quan Yin a master of Buddhism. Symbols and idols are against the religion of Buddhism and Quan Yin is not worshiped nor is Buddha, but they are intermediaries of the faith who help to guide this religion¶s followers. Much like Mary and Jesus were intermediaries in the Catholic churches we visited. This religion¶s focus was much different than the shock and awe factor we received with the Catholic Church and the Hindu Temple. Instead the focus of this religion and its center was on the life we live rather than the specifics of how we practice. Granted all religions have its beliefs and this one is no exception, and yet at the same time Buddhism seems to be the exception to the 5 religions we studied in class. The state of mind that Buddhists work and strive for is much different than the mindset of a typical Christian. This religion focuses on clearing your mind and becoming one with yourself. This may seem like an odd statement but the truth is that in Buddhism a lot may seem strange to an outsider. This was exemplified through the book we read in class called The Empty Mirror. The axis mundi of the center had to be the small alter with the calligraphy on either side of it. At the same time though, I couldn¶t help but think that the axis mundi for Buddhists was inside each person. The theme of this religion seems to be that of detachment and living in the now which is for each individual to work towards. It seems fitting then that each person in this faith possesses their own axis mundi and is striving to become one with this essence. Going along with this idea of individual struggle is the theme of a circle mentioned earlier. This idea comes out in the Hindu and Buddhist religions and differs from the theme of a straight line. In these religions a person can have multiple lives and in the
Buddhist religion they try to adhere to the eight fold path to break this circular flow. This theme believes there is not one way but rather several ways to reach the ultimate goal. While Buddhists do not confirm the idea of god they do not deny it either. This seemed very profound to me because they did not try to describe or prove something they did not and could not understand. Instead their focus was on how to reach heaven, or in the Buddhist faith enlightenment to the utmost degree. I also noticed a sense of peace in the meditation center. As we sat there and meditated for 10 minutes I could not help but peek at the leaders of this faith. They seemed very content and when they spoke the spoke with purpose and with joy. Doing what you are doing well and with all your focus along with reflection in the form of meditation were two great things that I took away from our visit. It seems that all the religions we explored in our class spoke to me in some way. Granted that may sound corny to someone going on a simple educational trip to a Muslim mosque but its true. While we learned the basics of the various religions I¶m sure we were only scratching the surface of what it means to be truly Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. In a way this basic level of learning was good for my understanding of religion and spirituality. If the specifics which so many fight and kill for could be acknowledged and accepted for what they¶re worth then religions could coexist together in peace. There could be a move from this black and white belief to a more general spirituality. This is not to say that religions are bad and should be abandoned, but I do feel that the specifics of religions get in the way of a greater community and the ultimate goal.
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