Seminary Program

This is where we post the essays from many of our Universal Life Church Seminary students. When students finish a ULC course, they write a comprehensive essay about their experiences with the course, what they learned, didn't learn, were inspired by, etc. Here are their essays.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Religious Philosophy

ULC Seminary
Religious Philosophy   -  End of Course Essay
Rev. Nicholas Federspiel     ===============================================================
Recently on a major syndicated radio program I heard, "A country's economy can only be as vibrant as the average citizen's economic circumstances..."  I might adapt that to say: a country can only be as strong as its moral fiber and commitment and is proportional to each citizen's separation from hypocrisy as perceived by others while leading their lives, their family and business. Our government regulates many aspects of religion in America including sermon content; for example, the politicians and the IRS can publicly debate church and its social services and even sermons, but ministers can not debate them even within their own church facilities – only one way attacks are allowed.   What this current inane wave of separation of church and state as practiced today has accomplished is that the core values of religion(s) are not as omnipresent in family, schools and work place as was the case for the prior ten generations of America's founders.  The net result is our foundation is cracking.  What has my opinion have to do with ULC Seminary's"RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY"? Well, let me say this about that:

Numerous canvases produce statistical results that show that a decreasing percentage of America's population is "religious."  And what is religious? Lesson 7 says that during the early to mid-nineteenth century (1830-1860), the most common method to classify religions in use was an evolutionary mode(s) of religion. 
" … At the "low" end (i.e. more primitive) were animistic beliefs (everything has a soul; the whole world is "alive"). They saw cultures evolve from this primitive level progressively through polytheism (many gods) to eventually reach the "high" end (i.e. more advanced) of monotheism (one God). …"
But it is the (our) core philosophy that drives a converted devoted member of any religion to abide by and improve the social norms of their society.  Lesson 7 again: 
" … That leaves us with the final method to be discussed: problematic classification. The "problems" that this method is addressing are the "three primary problems of life:

·         how to 'get along with the physical world',
·         how to 'get along with each other', and
·         how to 'get to know ourselves so that we can make sense of it all'. …"
Lesson 13 was interesting in that it discussed religious functionality of the practices of religion – which goes hand in hand with my theory that religion provides a foundation for a moral and righteous society. 

" … Whether we realize it or not, each of these theories as to the reason we engage in religion … Consider this list:
·         mental projection reassures us that the "world makes sense"
·         psychological projection resolves the "great problems of life"
·         economic defense mechanism keeps our lives calm, and 'under control'
·         cultural transmission tool validates our personal values
·         physical–ideal reconciliation cognitive dissonance reduction
·         genetic predisposition biological necessity …"

If religion accomplishes the above functional things then those without it (religious commitment) are in a world of hurt and ANY society without is the worse for it.

What do other religions say of these issues?  Lesson 14 explores that.  I read years ago that all religions are essentially the same – not true, of course, but the "good nature" of most of them is very similar to 'good' Christian's ethics and morality. By example, from lesson 14:
·         "… You are the best community that has been raised up for mankind.  You enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency; and you believe in God." [Islam; Qur'an 3:110].
·         Consider the family of humankind one." [Jainism; Jinasena, Adipurana].
·         although there are northern men and southern men, north and south make no difference to their Buddha-nature.  A barbarian is different physically, but there is no difference in our Buddha-nature." [Buddhism; Sutra of Hui Neng 1.]…"

Lesson 17' is about "spreading the word" to the world.  Who wants to proselytize? Of course which word and what word and what is the truth and what is knowledge and why do we care to commit to any belief is the message of the evangelists of the world's religions. We know the Roman Catholic countries explored the world and spread Christianity worldwide along with claiming the new lands and riches for the King.  Were all the reasons the right ones in regards to the functionality tests of religion?  Based upon my study of history, certainly not.  Wars were fought and many times defined by the religion the aggressors professed. The barbarians, the Christians and the Muslims all crossed swords by the tens of thousands. Christianity might never have survived if Constantine did not raise his sword in the name of a religion that was at the very least a huge thorn in the side of the Roman pagan empire at that time – what image is shared by a cloud and a battle flag and one third of the world's population?  Is that a true and righteous religious philosophy – or brute force evangelism!

What is the end game for the pagans and the religious?  Lesson 18 discusses eschatology and apocalyptic faiths.
" … An eschatological faith is one whose theology or teachings are concerned in large part with "last things", the "end of time", and the general concept of "salvation".  … and is used in the field of philosophy as well as the field of theology … so, eschatology included the study of death, the afterlife, heaven, hell, purgatory, salvation, a day of judgment, et cetera.
an apocalyptic faith is one that is concerned with prophecy, or revelation. … Judaism is an apocalyptic faith. …"
I might suggest atheism as a religion growing in America is an apocalyptic religion as defined by common layman's definition of the word. Per Webster's:  "... foreboding of immanent disaster or doom…"   If one believes in nothing much but himself and today and religious functionally proposed by this course is true then what is the converse?  Might not doom be one of the functions of a not for me organized religious philosophy?

The course discusses regional identifications with numerous religious philosophies defining them as the Eastern, Western, and Southern faiths. Included but not limited to were:  Taoism (China); Confucianism (China); Shinto (Japan); Ainu (Japan); Ch'ondogyo - Ch'ondogyo (Korea); Cao Dai (Viet Nam) … and others. The lesson references them to the three paramount problems religions seem to address:
  • " … the Eastern Ecclesiastical Religions emphasized the social problem;
  • the Western Ecclesiastical Religions emphasized the natural problem.
  • the Southern Ecclesiastical Religions emphasize the psychological problem. …"
These three problems were treated by each doctrine and within the lesson's conclusion offered this: 
" … The social problem, however, was of tremendous importance to these people. We are talking about an area with one of the highest population concentrations in the world. China is the numerically largest country on earth (with roughly 1.3 billion people). Japan, although having a much smaller population, is also limited to a group of Pacific islands that are incapable of providing adequate food or resources for the population. Similar obstacles face Korea, Viet Nam, and the rest of the Far East. As a result, it became tremendously important that these societies learned how to "get along with each other" (i.e. to solve the social problem). …"

Perhaps the agnostics and atheists and terrorist fanatics need to READ scripture and quit listening to those who expound upon it for their own self serving purposes – false prophets abound!   But read what? From lesson 11:  

" … Religious scriptures are intended to permanently codify the doctrines and beliefs of the religion. Once something is committed to writing … however, as scriptures often must be "interpreted". What does that mean? Why did they say that? Did they really intend for us to do this? The Holy Bible is scriptural to Christians, the Qur'an to Muslims, the Tao Te Ching to Taoists (photo), et cetera. Some examples (not intended to be exhaustive) include:
·        Holy Bible Christianity
·        Qur'an (Koran) Islam
·        Tanakh Judaism
·        Avesta Zoroastrianism
·        Tao Te Ching Taoism
·        Analects Confucianism
·        Book of Mormon , Pearl of Great Price Mormonism
·        Science and Health Christian Science
·        The Vedas Hinduism
·        Dhammapada Theravada Buddhism
·        Adi Granth Sikhism
·        Book of Certitude Baha'i
·        Heart Sutra Mahayana Buddhism
·        Acarangasutra Jainism
·        Nectarean Shower of Holy Doctrines Seicho-no-Ie
·        Ofudesaki Tenrikyo …"

Lesson 21 provides an impressive comparison of many of "our" world religions.
Of course, there is always the issue of God the creator, be He good (Judaism), offering salvation (Christianity) or somewhat evil (Gnostic), etc. Lesson 22 refers back to lesson 6 discussing the four types of religions:  Individualistic, Shamanistic, Communal and Ecclesiastical.

My favorite theological subject is examined in lesson 23:
" … Fundamentalist Christians look to science to serve as the material proof of their scriptural injunctions. Archaeology is seen as revealing the evidence that the stories contained in the Christian Bible are historically accurate; and, when archaeology seems to dispute one of those stories, it is seen as either erroneous or incomplete scientific investigation. It may seem strange for a group to accept science as a valuable tool in proving what is already accepted as truth when it agrees, and demeaning it as a false tool of apostates when it disagrees; but, that is often the approach. …"

I authored the ULC Seminary course on Biblical Egyptology and my wife Kathy and I traveled to Egypt this year to confirm my research.  Indeed I was doing exactly what the above paragraph implies – looking for tangibles to prove the foundations of a faith.  I refer to the religious trilogy of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as all three build upwards from The Old Testament story in Exodus of Moses.  I found it! Dig and read and ye shall find!

The facts are the Old Testament is an extraordinary history book not withstanding its moral and philosophical messages.  To me the core message is this: if one has nothing of value inherent in a religion that is apparent to others, and religious functionality is a truth, then those people have an enormous unfilled void (darkness?) and the overall society is at a lesser state and it is. 'God' then destroys corrupt regimes for such are adulterous to the purposes and image of His creation so let there be light.
Finally, lawyers in charge of us all today need to heed the lessons within this course as those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it (as we are now?).  From lesson 24:
" … The Religious Past. A number of nations around the world experienced some sort of revolution during the twentieth century. Frequently, those revolutionary leaders formed their government based on the teachings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (e.g. Vladimir Lenin in Russia, Mao Tse-Tung in China, Babrak Karmal in Afghanistan, and Fidel Castro in Cuba). In doing so, they adopted Marx' view that religion was "the opiate of the people", a mental and social drug that served only to dull resistance and perpetuate the class inequities that they saw in the world's economic systems. For that reason, the new governments of these nations nearly always adopted an "officially atheist" position. …" 

The lesson points out that these atheistic regimes all feared religion and compromised it in some cases exterminating the faithful, and yet each failed in short order.  Religion is returning to them - sort of like the sequence of events in the Old Testament!  Perhaps the message is as simple as the need for religious philosophy is instinctive and as inherently human defining as our DNA and thus, in due course of events, it trumps ignorance and imposed despotic and heretical self interests. Like in the old Westerns the bad guys loose in the end to those wearing white hats.

So what many ask is: who cares? – why me? – why church?  Those that do not have a religious philosophy at heart and soul need to acquire one – pick one. Obviously, mine is Christianity, but the course offers up all the options.  If one doesn't not know which to choose, then take this course.  ULC Seminary's Religious Philosophy one exemplary summary and well worth the investment in funds and time and, in my case, a sermon producing field as well.  



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