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Becoming Dr. King’s “Beloved Community”

By Rev. Katie Solter, Religion Faculty and Associate Chaplain

 Becoming Dr. King’s “Beloved Community”

Religious scholar Karen Armstrong writes: “Religions have functioned throughout human history to inspire and justify actions that range from heinous crimes against humanity to nearly unfathomable acts of compassion, courage, and generosity.”  In my role as a religion teacher and chaplain at St. Mark’s, dedicated to the work of building an anti-racist school, I strive to provide a balanced representation of religions. We must understand religion’s complicity in the “heinous crimes” committed often in the name of religion’s presumed superiority of the dominant group throughout history, while exploring the important role religion plays in fighting oppression and promoting the values of non-violence, social justice, and equality as part of the “unfathomable acts of compassion, courage and generosity” religion inspires. 

The Role of Religion on January 6, 2021

The events of January 6, 2021 serve as a poignant example of these contrasting ideas. That morning we woke up to the news of Jon Ossoff’s and Raphael Warnock’s historic victories in Georgia’s run-off Senate elections, with Ossoff becoming the first Jewish Senator and Warnock, the first African-American Senator elected in the state of Georgia. In St. Mark’s required religion class, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (JCI), we discussed the rise in anti-Semitism this year and Jon Ossoff’s run for senate told a familiar story of how Ossoff’s opponents deployed anti-Semitic tropes and stereotypes to undermine his candidacy. An infamous campaign advertisement, uncovered by the Jewish newspaper The Forward, exaggerated his features to make him look more stereotypically Jewish.  Yet, on this occasion, these age-old tactics failed as Ossoff achieved his improbable victory in a traditionally conservative state.    

At the same time, Rev. Rapheal Warnock’s election highlights the role the Black church continues to play in the political arena given the record turnout in Georgia for Black voters.  As Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale writes: “Since the end of the Civil War, the Black church has been a critical institution within the pro-democracy movement. Collectively serving as a general for justice, the Black church continues to be a refuge for the oppressed and a force with which to be reckoned on the issue of racial and economic equality through the power of the ballot.” Senator Warnock is senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist church in Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once served and his election represents  a victory for the work Dr. King and the Black church have played in promoting the spiritual and social justice principles of Christian belief.  

The election of these two candidates alone–as examples of the important role religious understanding plays in the current political landscape– provided pertinent discussion topics in a JCI class at St. Mark’s. As we all know, later that afternoon, this day of historic victory for Jews and Black Christians in Georgia, quickly turned to a day of infamy. The attacks on the Capitol building highlighted the role religion can play in perpetuating hatred and White supremacist ideology, with Christian flags and banners waving side by side with anti-semitic and racist ones. In just a few short hours, we have two milestone events in our political history that illustrate the sometimes divergent, even contradictory roles religion can play. My job as a teacher of religion in an historical and educational moment that calls upon us to create an anti-racist school is to finds ways to place these moments in a broader intellectual context so my students can have a more balanced and nuanced understanding of religion’s complex legacy. 

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Faith and Doubt: Emotion’s Place in Epistemology

By Daniela Ortiz, V Form

Faith and Doubt: Emotion’s Place in Epistemology

 In this paper, I will argue that faith is comprised of knowing God without certainty. I will argue that this kind of faith does more good in the world than absolute certainty in God. People of faith must face doubt to strengthen belief. Although this seems paradoxical, the outcome of continuously facing doubt is a stronger commitment to looking beyond one’s self and following through on a commitment to treat all other people with respect. 

Can we know God? Let us first define knowing. 

Knowing is split into two categories- the logical knowing and emotional knowing. Logical knowing is what is certain and can be derived from the senses. In this, I agree with Hume. Knowledge of this kind is about the physical world around us and is known through data of the empirical kind such as our sensory information. There are limitations to what our senses can have us knowing. If a person’s senses deceived them, for example, by seeing a fake oasis in a desert, then this knowing may be faulty. But a singular type of incident should not be taken to alter the whole principle that logical knowing is defined by what we can perceive and what we can think. Also, logical knowing is similar to the way mathematics is used to model occurrences in the world. The use of logic conduces one answer. When there is only one answer, we shall call this certainty. When there are multiple answers, uncertainty begins. The category of emotional knowing often resides with uncertainty because our emotions are hard to maintain a grasp on long enough for one answer and train of thought to be maintained from the impression of the emotion. In section 2, paragraph 12, Hume makes a clear distinction between our thoughts and our impressions. Ideas are limited only to what we can expand upon from our sensory information, or from our desires and feelings. The argument here is sound. In paragraph 14, Hume explains that every thought we have is copied from a similar, earlier impression. Emotions may be short-lived, but they are more vivid, and all of our ideas about the world are formed from them (Hume 2). To bring it to a point: although emotions are fleeting, the emotional knowing should not be discounted as our impressions are stronger and more vivid than the ideas they will eventually inform. 

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Survival With God: On Piers Paul Read’s Alive

By Lindsay Davis, IV Form

Survival With God: On Piers Paul Read’s Alive

Alive by Piers Paul Read, a survival story of a plane crash in the Andes Mountains, recounts how the survivors’ trust in God influenced their resilience during a crisis of life and death. In 1972, a plane carrying Uruguayan rugby players and other Uruguayan citizens crashed in the middle of the Andes. While the travelers suffered many injuries or died from the crash, the fight on the mountain came most from their will to survive and the actions needed to outlast the miserable conditions of the Andes. The rations of food, sleeping conditions, injuries, and pre-existing relationships affected the mental status of each survivor. Their bond with God helped them to make life at the Fairchild fair and optimistic. The survivors who boarded the Fairchild came close to death in the Andes, but their hope for survival and reliance on God pushed them through the mental pain and helped inspire their faith in physical recovery.

The survivors ate the flesh of their dead companions knowing that was their only way to survive. God had inspired the courage to engage in repugnant cannibalism. Over the course of the seventy-two days, while the survivors’ mentality fluctuated, food supplies ran out and the concern of starvation became apparent. The injuries and losses suffered by some of the Fairchild passengers would not matter if they could not feed themselves. Although most of the boys were expecting the point at which they would need the protein of their fellow dead friends and passengers, Canessa was the first to discuss aloud with the group. After eliminating the idea of eating the seat cushions and digging deep for grass, the bodies that surrounded them on and in the snow were the last plan. (more…)

Siddhartha: Children’s Story

By Lina Zhang, IV Form

Siddhartha: Children’s Story

Editor’s Note: In Reverend Solter’s religion elective “The Quest,” this was the prompt for the assignment: Write a children’s story about Siddhartha’s quest for spiritual enlightenment.  Your story must include 1. 10 quotations from Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha–distilled to a level appropriate for children (the quotations should follow Siddhartha’s journey along the Noble Eightfold Path); 2. Illustrations–you can use images from the web or your own illustrations; 3. A teaching on understanding the basics of Hinduism and/or Buddhism.

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The Epistemological Theories of Descartes, Hume, and Kant As Well as The Implications for the Existence of God

By Lora Xie, V Form

The Epistemological Theories of Descartes, Hume, and Kant As Well as The Implications for the Existence of God

Editor’s Note: This is the assignment from the Advanced Religion course–“In whatever way is most helpful to you (prose, outline, diagram, drawing), tell the story of Descartes’ Rationalism, Hume’s Skepticism, and the Kantian synthesis. You will share this in class and also hand it in. You will be graded both on the effectiveness of your method and on your evident understanding. 

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Link to Slideshow:

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1-usiBKsrTmdWRX_Zzk1GDdzXFtaOc_NWRJnUj4Nqwd4/edit?ts=5bc653e0#slide=id.g43a807e277_0_746 (more…)

Reflection on Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih

By Lora Xie, IV Form

Reflection on Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih

Both Haneen and the Imam are important religious leaders in the village’s spiritual life. The-Wedding-of-Zein_2048x2048While Haneen, a Sufi master, represents the mystery of Islam, the Imam represents the traditions and doctrines of Islam. However, both of them bring God into the village life.

Haneen enjoys unanimous respect from the villagers because he is ascetic, enigmatic, and accredited with the year’s miracles, the most prominent of which being stopping Zein from killing Seif ad-Din and turning Seif ad-Din from a wastrel to a pious Muslim. Haneen also correctly prophesied Zein’s marriage with “the best girl in the village” (64). The marvels’ magic cause even the secular people, such as the “gang,” to admire in awe. Through his unpredictable, spectacular, and uplifting miracles, Haneen gives the humdrum village life a heart-warming magnificence that can derive from nothing but a loving and powerful superior. He strengthens people’s awareness, appreciation, and awe for God by becoming a vessel for the higher power’s love and greatness himself. (more…)