Tag Archives: faith

Harvard’s Religion Problem

In Pinker’s view, human progress is an evolution away from superstition, witchcraft, and idol worship—that is, religion—and toward something like a Scandinavian austerity and secularism.

“I very, very, very much do not want to go on the record as suggesting that people should not know about religion,” he told me. “But reason and faith are not yin and yang. Faith is a phenomenon. Reason is what the university should be in the business of fostering.”

A university education is our greatest weapon in the battle against our natural stupidity, he said in a recent speech. “We don’t kill virgins on an altar, because we know that it would not, in fact, propitiate an angry god and alleviate misfortune on earth.”

~Steven Pinker, a Harvard University Professor of Evolutionary Psychology

All quotes were taken from a Newsweek Article, entitled “Harvard’s Crisis of Faith”

Background: In 2006, a few faculty members tried to get a requirement for students to take a class in an umbrella group called “Faith and Reason” There would have been religion classes, but also others as well. Yet Steven Pinker lead the charge to shoot down the proposal.

Currently Harvard has no professors who teach solely religion classes, in a solely religion department.  There are classes that study religion, but are taught by Anthropology professors or other departments. As a result the classes are listed in different places in the catalog. Students who express interest in religion are pointed in the direction of the Divinity School.

It irked me to read that this professor equated religion with superstition and sacrifices. It’s like he grouped everything associated with religion – the good, the bad and the in-between – and dismissed religion because of the bad. Like throwing the baby out with the stale bath water…

Personally, I disagree with Pinker’s generalizations (that’s what I’m calling his logic!)  I know we can study religion academically, I’ve done it twice and once was with my own religion.  I would recommend it to students, but I know just recommendations aren’t going to get the kids into the classrooms. Harvard really should require its students take some sort of class that would satisfy the faith and reason category.


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Religion Class Part II

For Thursday’s religion class we needed to read Andrew Sullivan’s column from 2003 about leaving his Church.

There were a lot of emotions in the class, but unfortunately we only really discussed the article for about a half hour. We had 3 presentations and had to do class evaluations as well.   I was not the only one who was shocked, angry or depressed after reading the column. Mr. Sullivan was unable to reconcile being gay and going to Church after his parish asked a gay couple to leave the choir when they went to Canada to get a marriage license and had a newspaper article written about it. This couple had been members of the choir for over 25 years. It brought up the way Vatican has handled gays over the past few years. Pope John Paul II met with the man who tried to kill him, but he wouldn’t meet with openly gay Catholics.

I really sympathized with Andrew because I could feel his anger and pain. I could imagine that going  from attending mass weekly at the same parish for your whole life (Andrew says 40 years…) to being unable to enter a church because of all the anger would be very painful. I wouldn’t be able to handle not going to church because of the strong connections I’ve made.

But the biggest question that reading the column brought up for me was whether you are denying part of yourself when you sit in the pews and are gay. I think your sexuality is between you and God. Period. God knows what you do and who you like, but God loves everyone equally (and probably couldn’t care less about your love life…)  But I’m reminded of what happens with a Bishop finds out when a politician voted Pro-Choice. He’s denied Communion, asked not to participate in mass. I can only imagine what would happen if those same bishops who would deny Communion to people who voted for Pro-Choice politicians found out there were gay Catholics in their diocese.

Gay Catholics are out there. There’s an organization called Dignity USA that celebrates all LGBT Catholics. I looked at the Boston chapter and learned they worship in an Episcopalian church. They don’t receive any support or resources from the Boston Archdiocese.


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Taking a Religion Class on Your Own Faith

This semester I’m taking a class on Catholicism, which is quite interesting. It is not a theology class, but almost everyone in the class has been exposed to Christianity or Catholicism in particular. I am not the only practicing Catholic in the class. This past week we have tackled very big problems in the Church. For Tuesday we had to read the Apolistic Letter by Pope John Paul II regarding the ordination of women.

The class reaction was generally one of disbelief. Most in the class couldn’t comprehend why the Vatican would deny women the chance to become Priests. I for the most part agreed with them, but I wasn’t nearly as vocal in the class as I could have been, because I already discussed it with my professor.

If given the chance, I would want to go to the Seminary. (There’s a reason why I still serve Mass whenever I’m home – I love being on the altar) I saw the shortage of Priests in the US, and in my archdiocese and thought the ordination of women would solve the problem. But now I realize it wouldn’t make a difference. The way my professor explained it to me, the Vatican made even discussing ordination of women off-limits because they’re only seeing a priest shortage in the US. In their mission countries across the world: in Latin America, Africa,  and India, Vocations are thriving. There are already some international priests serving in the US. I have heard my grandmother complain that she can’t understand Father Martin because of his thick accent. I present to you the future of American Catholicism. In a reversal of fortune/fate, the US will become the mission country, with Priests being sent from other countries to the US to keep parishes open because there are no domestic priests to run them.

For the next class, we have to read a column by Andrew Sullivan, about being Gay and Catholic. I’ll post on Friday about that class.

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Twitter’s Religious Diversity

I remember there was this poll on twitter, created by Pigeon Poll, that asked about religious diversity. I voted Catholic but was surprised about the number of atheists and agnostics who were on Twitter. (the poll wasn’t that great of a poll as it was user created but it was still interesting.)

Now, there’s a trending topic on twitter that is No God… it all stemmed from somebody tweeting the saying “Know God Know Peace… No God No Peace!”
I was surprised to see it in the trending topics so I clicked on it. A lot of the tweets are atheists/agnostic but there are some faithful who are responding to. I actually did as well: ‘I do not believe there is No God. I was raised to believe in God and I will keep on believing’

I think that phrase could easily be revised to Know a god, know peace. No gods, (then usually not as much) peace. (It’s so hard to make it PC.) And to know a god doesn’t necessarily mean to follow a religion (blindly or not). Lots of people susbcribe to no religion but still consider themselves spiritual.

But I do think my belief in God makes ,my life fuller. From my personal experience, I have called on my faith in hard times and have been rewarded: I know my strong connection to my church in Charlestown did help me get through my Major Depressive flare three and a half years ago. Before I got sick, I was contemplating leaving my Church and going to my mom’s Episcopalian church but then O got really sick and took comfort in the community at my church. So when all the dust cleared I realized that I had such a strong connection to the church that I wouldn’t be able to leave it, not until I move away after school.

I realize I have pretty strong faith for a 20 year old going away to college. If I didn’t get sick in high school, would I have fallen out? Yeah probably. I would have been like most college kids who were raised in a faith but don’t practice once they’re on their own. But I’m not.


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Another bit from the Globe.

The magazine interviewed Professor David Wells real quick (in their segment they call ‘First Person’) about his work studying evangelical Protestantism.

What struck me was his comments on the new generation of evangelicals. They’re breaking away from what their parents did and believed in. They’re not so tied up with the Republican party any more because they can see through hypocrisy. —  Wow if that’s not a comment on the political state of this country then I don’t know what is! Even they (the evangelical Christians) realize the system’s broken.

The other thing is that Wells says there’s a difference between being an evangelical in Massachusetts verses in the Bible Belt. Here it is a choice whereas there it might be following a family, or convention.  — I think that’s pretty interesting. It’s one of the many things that sets MA apart.  There’s so many different things related to religion in MA that sometimes I’m on the outside, trying to look inside, but other times, I’m on the inside.

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Guess the Catholic Church doesn’t believe in the Placebo Effect

Another quick post tied to a news article.

There is a Japanese hands on healing technique called Reiki that is all based on energy. It has seen alot of growth recently. (Because proponents says it reduces stress and anxiety)  So much growth that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops banned the practice in Catholic hospitals because they see it as neither faith (Catholicism) or Medicine.

While I was reading the article, I kept thinking about the placebo effect – if you think it’ll work then the odds increase that it will. And to my surprise the Globe got a quote from a director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is ambivalent. Guess the jury is still out: the question remains whether the healing associated from Reiki comes from the science or the placebo effect.

The last quote is awesome though. The women who had a Reiki clinic associated with a Catholic Hospital says “Galileo was denounced by the Catholic Church. I don’t mind being in his company.’’ She still practices upon request.

So my response to the Catholic bishops: don’t knock it until you try it.

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