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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Thursday, November 03, 2011

ULC Religious Philosophy

Master of Religious Philosophy - Final Essay

Out of all the courses I have taken for the Chaplaincy program, this is by far the most interesting and close to my hart subject of all. I have truly enjoyed this material, and it has spawned my interest and studying of additional subjects raised in this course. That is why it has taken me quite a bit longer to complete it; as it has sidetracked me many times.
I just re-read the complete course and I have just realized how I have grown since the first time around, through my side studies, discussions with many others, and philosophizing.
Over the last few years, before I started my chaplaincy program and also during, I have found myself more and more of a “universalist”, and now even more I call myself an “amalgamist”.
Lesson 8 – “the Five ‘A’s”, really hit home for me. This lesson put into words and structure for me what I had come to realize over time. This is the subject matter I most often discuss with others, of many different faiths and denominations. It has gotten me “into trouble” several times, where people leave the dinner table, argue, or just do not want to discuss any further. I now realize that they are stuck in the first “A”: awareness and cannot even get to the acknowledgement step.
However, I have had many good discussions as this starts people thinking.
I make it very clear with every discussion that I am not proselytizing or try to doubt their own faith. However, I do believe that to strengthen their own faith they need to listen to others and use their own reasoning.
In order to go deeper into understanding the “religious philosophy” I have contacted local clergy, including one of my neighbors who is a Mormon Bishop, in order to discuss their point of view and how they interpret their faith vs. others. 
One of the concepts I still am trying to grasp is when one faith truly beliefs that when you are not part of their faith you will not be saved, how to they interact with another faith who beliefs exactly the same.
On a related note: twice now I have had a great opportunity to really get into other beliefs and learn more. Earlier this year I was working on a consulting project in Montreal Canada, and was part of a team mainly made up of North African Muslims. Now, just like Jews, you can be Muslim by birth or Muslim by faith. I had many discussions with both, and was able to ask more “intense” questions to the more moderate Muslims.
I was able to understand much more about Islam and the general foundation and beliefs of it.
The second thing that happened was that I have become involved as the president of a local non-profit organization called “International Festival”. Our mission is through events and an annual festival to promote understanding of the different cultures in our town (we are not focusing on the religious aspect but of course we have the Hispanic Roman-Catholics, the Somali Muslims, and the original Lutheran white population). Through that I have become very close with the local Somali Muslim population, and built a true friendship (their initial suspicion really goes away when I recite the Shahadah or parts of the Qur’an in Arabic—I am studying that as it really helps me understand that religion). This summer I was invited to the local mosque, together with the mayor, city manager, chamber of commerce, county officials and local clergy to discuss with the imams and Somali leaders how we can improve relationships between the Muslims and the original local population—I was very honored to be included in that discussion.
This has now lead to where I am actively planning with the Somalis and some Christian friends a series of “Common Word” discussions in town. I have attended some of those in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and I believe this “movement” which is spreading worldwide helps understanding.
I also like to term “anthropologist of religion” as mentioned in this course. It kind of defines me who I am. Even though I have become of faith some years ago and consider myself close to God, I can use the philosophical aspect or religions to understand, and to explain to others how I feel and how others believe and feel.
Also, eventually in my role as Chaplain, I think it will help me guide people who are “seekers” to a religion or faith that they would feel comfortable in.
I can go on and on but that has been the story of my life lately… Several times when discussing with others, and running out of time, we mention it would be great to do for a week on a camping trip into the wilderness (with lots of coffee) and discuss and philosophize about religions and faiths.
I have already made the decision that once I finish the chaplaincy program I will continue my religious studies in the philosophy direction.
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Rev. Peter Paul

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