Dr. Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D,B.C.S.A.,DAPA.

Dr. Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D,B.C.S.A.,DAPA.
e-mail: batushkad@yahoo.com

Friday, June 12, 2009

MY ENCOUNTER WITH RELIGION

MY ENCOUNTER WITH RELIGION
by Dr. Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D.
Professor of Comparative Religion and Human Services
Founder, International Center for Humane Psychiatry


When I was 4 years old, I had my first encounter with the realm of religion. I was dressed in white shorts with matching white dress shirt and tie. I accompanied by great grandmother to the services at First Baptist Church in Apollo Beach, Florida.
I went to a summer camp at the YMCA in Town N' Country in Tampa for a few weeks. This YMCA later burned down and the land was boughtr by Buddhists who turned it into a Temple. When I was 18, I visited this Temple with my mother and brother. We were treated with much warmth and compassion by a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who offered us food and conversation.
My next encounter would be at a Lutheran summer camp that I attended with my cousin at my mother's insistence when I was 7. Even though I was only 7, I can remember to this day being disturbed by their frequently sending envelopes home with me asking for donations. This was on a weekly basis. I did not enjoy this camp, maybe even though a child I could read something about the insincerity of some of the people there. It was not until 13 that I attended any other religious service. A family friend with Lou Gehrig's disease invited us to two different groups he attended, one was a Messianic Hebrew congregation, the other a Full Gospel Church. This family friend was a man with a great heart, so I decided to attend with him. It was during this time, I encountered my first time seeing persons 'slain in the spirit' and 'prayer in tongues'. I did not find anything spiritually uplifting about what I saw at all but was actually terrified by what looked like a person having a seizure. I had some Reform Jewish friends at school, and after my exposure to the Messianic Hebrew Congregation, I wanted to see what authentic Judaism was. I attended Congregation Har Shalom in Fort Collins and participated in a summer course on learning Hebrew. I found many friends at the Temple, but felt in spite of this that there was some exclusivity because of my not being born and raised in a Jewish home. I spent two years attending the Temple, but finally decided that I did not fit into the Jewish community, though I had respect and admiration for Judaism. I was studying about the Middle East in Middle School, I was 15. As a project, I decided to interview some individuals at the local Islamic Center. It was here I encounterd Ali, a kind gentleman from Saudi Arabia. He later invited me to his home for dinner and introduced me to others in the Muslim community of Fort Collins. I spent another two years studying Islam, learning the Qur'an and Hadith. To this day, I still remember how to recite Surah Al Fatiha, Surah Al-Ikhlas, and Surah Al-Kauthar as well as how to chant the Adhaan. I began working for a man, Ahcene, from Algeria, and every Friday attended the congregational prayers with him.
Islam was a simplistic religion based on the oneness of God, however I must admit I was distressed and remain distressed about the militant nature of the religion. My friend, Margaret, was a Mormon, and she often asked me to come to chuch dances and services from time to time. However, I never could accept the ideas of Joseph Smith being the restorer of the 'true' church or Jesus visting the Native Americans. I find them family oriented people, but their beliefs were too unusual for me to embrace. I recall meeting a man who was a Bah'ai and was interested in how they seemed to be sycretistic and read from many different scriptures. I attended Methodist, Episcopal, and Lutheran churches on various occassions with friends when invited. My family moved back to Florida. When I was a child, there was a YMCA that was in my neighborhood where I went swimming. and down the road from us was a Roman Catholic Church. I began volunteering there, and became involved in a ministry for the physically challenged. I was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church after a period of study and inquiry. When I left for college, I remained an active and devout Roman Catholic, however I began to take great interest in the Eastern Rite. In Gainesville, there were no Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, so I attended the closest thing, a Greek Orthodox Church. I was enthralled by the beauty of the Liturgy and at the time was reading Eugira's diary, a 4th century account of the worship of Christians in Jerusalem. The worship I saw took me to that time and place. I began having discussions about Church history, Church Fathers, etc. with a group of Catholic and evangelical friends. We began attending Orthodox services. We formed into a campus mission and were eventually received by the Russian Orthodox bishop. I continued my degree in Religion and later petitioned to an Ukrainian Orthodox bishop to become a deacon in the Church. I was ordained to the diaconate in February 1996, only being 21. A year and a half later, at 22, I would be ordained to the priesthood. Prior to all this, while in college, I would be given the assignment of writing on a religious group for a class that we had never encountered before. There was a Hare Krishna temple in the area, so I chose to visit there. I remember entering a room and seeing a wax statue of Swami Prabhupada. Behind a curtain was an image of Krishna. The room was full of incense, bells were rung and food and flowers sat in fron of the image of Krishna. A small accordion was being played and bhajan being chanted. After, there was a meal and discussion on the Bhagavad Gita.
After my ordination to the priesthood, I visited monastic communities and lived monastic life for a time. I remember enjoying visting a small chapel in Tarpon Springs, FL. However, over time, I began to dislike the hypocrisy and authoritarianism within the Church. I recall many infightings and political disputes. I was particularly disturbed by the ethnic quarrelings I witnessed as well. Too make a long story short, I made my depature from active ministry, and began simply serving as a chaplain to the elderly. For a brief time I served as an interim pastor at a United Church of Christ, a group somewhat divergent from what I had been involved in, but compassionate people lacking a pastor at the time. Through my experiences, I came to some conclusions- first, that my initial desire to explore and embrace religiousity was based on a desire to be benevolent to others, however religion does not always teach benevolence, religious people are not always benevolent, and that one does not need religion to be benevolent. I also began to see how that religion is used by some as a means of oppression. I witnessed many who went through various rituals because it was 'what they were supposed to do' but it lacked any real sense of meaning for them and in many instances these rituals lacked any real sense of rationality. This was the other conclusion I came to, that religion often lacks any rationality, it plainly at times makes no sense. I find it interesting how new religions can be criticized as "cults" by the 'mainstream' religions, yet these 'mainstream' religions belief systems can ofen be seen as rather 'far out' though because there is a vast number adhering to it, it has become accepted. If we talk about body thetans, we are looked at strangely. If we talked about talking bushes and virgin births, we are not. To me, if we are to discuss "God", then it would be all the physical laws and our own innate potential as humans to be benevolent to one another. I have found that people often are looking to escape from life, to reject their own nature, and to try to alter nature. Rather than live joyfully, they live in drudgery expecting some idealized future existence. And often fear and rewards are employed to 'keep people in check'. Religion may have served as purpose in a time where people were distressed and sought meaning and stories and myths provided them comfort. But now, when we have the ability to explore our world far beyond previous eras, and we have more vast tools to be rational and make sense of our world, then religion becomes less of something that individuals should need to turn to. However, it remains because many in power impose it, families impose it on their children, and some retain it because for social reasons, to benefit themselves, or because they cannot find meaning in rational ways. Often rather than seeking to help and support one another, or looking to tranform ourselves and our society, we await something from above to come and do everything for us, so we never take any real action, or we rattle of our laundry list of requests (or sometimes demands), hoping that they will be heard, and when nothing changes, we think, well maybe it was not the Divine will.

1 comment:

sfauthor said...

Nice posting. Do you know about this edition of the Gita?

http://www.YogaVidya.com/gita.html