A Call for Religious Literacy

Religious Literacy

In my earlier years, my straight-from-the-village Mom and Dad dragged me to St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church weekly. I remember finding the service painfully boring. To pass the time, I’d examine the way light bent and colored from the stained glass windows, stare at the luster of the golden candlesticks, and trace the lines of the icons. Most of the sermons were in Greek, and my limited vocabulary would never let me piece them together. My favorite part of service was when Father Charles back peddled down the aisles with a golden pot—when they burned the rose incense. I loved the smell of the smoke. After communion, which I only looked forward to for the relief of salty bread after a morning of fasting, I spent the bulk of Sunday school daydreaming about cute, twelve-year-old Greek boys.

For me, religion had always been a commitment—something I knew I had to do to please my rigidly traditional family. The joy that I received from God was superficial. I only called out to Him when I needed help finding my phone (which was, of course, always on silent). As for prayer and spirituality, I could not find Him within me. I was skeptical that He was even out there to begin with.

So when my liberal art school’s core curriculum religion professor asked me to write an essay on my religious beliefs, I wasn’t sure what to write.

Here’s what I found out:

The Greek Orthodox Church stresses the importance of inner life. Western Christianity teaches of an external God—one who exists in heaven. Practitioners of Greek Orthodoxy, on the other hand, believe that God is internal—that man experiences the will of God within himself. The Greek Orthodox God is personal. For this reason, the Orthodox Church insists on constant communication with Him. The goal is to form an intimate, reciprocal relationship with Him. This way, God’s company and love are eternally present in a practitioner’s daily life. As a result of these beliefs, individual prayer and spirituality are not only the most common means of worship, but also the most genuine.

So yeah, I’ll cut to the chase: I’m barely a practitioner of a terribly disfigured, botched version of Greek Orthodoxy.

In researching my paper topic, I found it sad that most of the facts I collected were unfamiliar. When I consulted my Catholic friends about the fundamental differences that caused the split between the eastern and western churches in Christianity, they ogled at me. Ogled. They, like myself, had no idea what distinguished their belief system from any other—and we collectively realized that neither of us had ever really wondered.

Greek Orthodoxy, like most other religions, is experiencing a decline in recent generations. Perhaps it is due to a combination of teen rebellion and the spirit of modernism trumping tradition. Perhaps the loss of faith is due to the rise of science in the Age of Technology. Whatever is the cause of the existential vacuum that millennials like myself inhabit, it should not be used as an excuse for ignorance.

Religion functions at the deepest level of human understanding—it tells people what is right and wrong, how to view life and death, and how to cope with our mortality. Religion gives purpose. It’s a blueprint to how an individual should live their lives.

So how can we, the adults of the future, hope to navigate and explore an increasingly factional yet globalized world without insight into the core beliefs of people different from us? How can we hope to ‘solve’ the legality of gay marriage, the dignity of women in bikinis versus burqas, or even the threat of ISIS, when different religions preach different ‘solutions’?

No faith is the right faith. No belief or opinion is wrong. We do not live in a world of black and white. It’s time our minds expand to fit the ever-changing colors of today—perhaps starting with your liberal arts school’s core religion course.