As a student at a liberal arts college, I have been trying to take advantage of the opportunities of my liberal arts education by taking classes outside of my major and minor that I find interesting. This semester I decided to take Religions of the Book, a class that compares the three Abrahamic religions. Since it seems that the majority of Lighthouse members have taken that class and have given it overwhelmingly positive reviews, I figured I’d better get with it and see what was so great about it. Plus, it sounded like information that would be useful in my life and give me a greater scope of understanding of people and culture (being the Psych major that I am).
On the first day of classes, the professor asked each of us to share what we thought that we could individually bring to our discussions and why we signed up for the class, which unavoidably turned into everybody sharing their religious background. Almost unanimously, each student said that they wanted to know more about Islam and how it is similar to and different from Christianity and Judaism. From my own perspective, Islam seems like such an unfamiliar, mysterious religion because of its lesser prevalence in the United States and the misconceptions surrounding it in the aftermath of 9/11.
So while that class dynamic was not particularly surprising to me, what I did find interesting was the amount of students who came from various faith backgrounds in search of information on these religions. A decent portion of the class grew up in Christian households and wanted to know how the other two traditions related to Christianity (like yours truly), but there was also a large population of kids who grew up without any type of faith and simply wanted to know what it was all about.
I can’t help but wonder if those students’ experience of the class will differ from my experience. All of us are in the same boat in terms of exploring uncharted religious territory, but at the end of the day, myself and others will likely continue on with our traditional faiths, which are familiar and safe (although hopefully with new ideas and perspectives on different types of faith). But when I read that the story of Abraham, at least in conjunction to Jewish faith, is not to be taken literally because of various historical and chronological indications, but rather that it should be interpreted as a human construction of faithful obedience to God in narrative form…what do I do with that?
I might be wrong, but I would think that those coming from no faith background with a completely objective view of religion would read that and think, well duh, it doesn’t make sense to interpret the Bible literally, all sorts of weird and impossible stuff happened. What’s the big deal?
Maybe it’s not a big deal, and maybe I’m the crazy one for believing in talking snakes, people surviving being thrown in a fiery furnace, and a zombie savior. It sounds crazy, right? And it’s only the second week of classes! What else am I going to read that’s going to send up red flags in my brain?
What I can say at this point is that I hope that I will indeed be able to contribute to class discussions in a way that is helpful and enlightening for others, and I hope that others will be able to do the same for me. Because I not only signed up for the class to learn about these religions, but to learn about the ways that the people around me think and function, so that I may better understand and interact with them. Hiding in my shell of comfort and safety is not going to help me grow, and is honestly rather ignorant of me. From these preliminary indications, I’m not going to have an easy time in this class, but I’d rather take the chance because I think doing so will eventually lead to the strengthening of my relationships with others and with God.