Friday, September 9, 2011

The Holy Double Helix?

So in the first week of class, Sam told a story about spraining his ankle and going to a witch doctor/ shaman/ healer when he was doing research in an “uncivilized” jungle village in the tropics. Now this shaman didn’t speak any English or know anything about modern medical tactics, but with some paste made from plant roots and a very rough massage he miraculously healed Sam’s ankle by the next morning. In later research about this shaman and others like him, the discussion of God came up between the shamans and the academics doing the research. The surveyors asked the shaman to draw/ depict what they thought, “God looked like.” To the amazement of the researchers, Sam, and the rest of my Sociology 119 class multiple different shamans roughly sketched a double helix. Our amazement stems from the fact that these uncivilized somewhat prehistoric shamans have never taken a biology class, never watched Bill Nye, or never made a double helix model out of styrofoam for a 7th grade science project.

What is so humbling about these shamans vision of God is that without any education of the scientific or religious kind these healers recognize the connection between God and the human race. As a Christian I can’t honestly think of a more explicit explanation of the phrase “created in the image and likeness of God.” This is a statement of God being incarnate, that is one like us. The Christian believes that the main form of this incarnation and this notion of God appearing like a strand of human DNA is Jesus, the Christ.

A student in class asked the question does this depiction of God as a strand of human DNA help or hurt one’s religious beliefs?

For me personally, the shamans drawing reveals that God is human and to be human is to be one with God spiritually, physically, and emotionally.

For the longest time I did not believe in the existence of heaven or hell, whether that existence be physical or psychological. I considered myself a student of the teaching that the “Kingdom of Heaven” is among us and we are called to make our own heaven on Earth. This former belief of mine relates to the double-helix-God because if God is perceived as a double helix, then we should see God in every single member of the human being (in SOC 119 we ‘learned’ that human is not a race – defined as “ the physical or biological characteristics of a person or a group”- so the term ‘human race’ is incorrect). And if God is in the genes, the very chemical being, of each one of us how can heaven not be on Earth?

I love that this question was asked because it has such a strong connection to Race and Race relations. From a religious “golden rule” perspective if God is our DNA, then how can we discriminate? How can we categorize people as ‘black,’ ‘white,’ or ‘brown?’ How can there be any unknown number of races if our entire DNA is made in the image and likeness of God? How can we hate? How can we kill?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Back By Popular? Demand

So it looks like I can’t stay away from blogging...Or maybe PSU just loves blogging.

So last semester I had to start this blog for my LA 101H class that was rooted in rhetoric, writing, and communication. We were supposed to blog about things we were passionate about and of course in my case that turned into religion and social justice. Not saying that those will be the only topics I blog about, but for my Sociology Class, “Race and Ethnic Relations,” I am required to blog on World In-Conversation  and the topic of these blogs will revolve around the discussion of race.

Also another class I’m really excited about that uses social media, technology and incorporates blogging is my Presidential Rhetoric class! This class is dedicated to studying the changes and similarities of the rhetoric and communication styles of past presidents. You can follow my class’s progress on our class website Presidential Rhetoric in The Age of Obama.


Like most college kids, I benefit from the magical invention that is Netflix. My hallmate Paul’s newest addition to his queue is one of my personal favorites Thank you For Smoking. If you haven’t seen this movie I highly recommend it. The reason this movie is the topic of my rhetoric and civic life blog is because of the main character: a lobbyist.

In this movie, Erin Eckhart plays tobacco lobbyist, Nick Naylor, who smiles talks and argues his way into the hearts and minds of each and every person he meets.

Who is going to side with a sleazy grease ball who works for an industry that kills thousands of people daily? Exactly. But what is amazing is that with the power of rhetoric and argument Nick can convince anyone of anything. As the movie depicts the day in and day out of a lobbyist for big tobacco it also paints the portrait of a father compelled to teach his son every thing he knows and to show him first hand the intricate aspects of his job. Essentially everything he knows about rhetoric and argument. Nick tells his son to question statistics and always encourage discussion. As his son travels with him on trips to California and witnesses the not so nice aspects of “big tobacco” he also learns the power of convincing rhetoric and the art of relentless debate. Nick gets excited as he informs his son, “that’s the beauty of argument. If you argue correctly, you’re never wrong.”

Let’s take a look at that statement. “If you argue correctly, you’re never wrong.”

Is that the goal of rhetoric? To never be wrong? As a stubborn person myself, I know that my parents and friends think I take that statement to heart.

Aristotle defined rhetoric as “the available means of persuasion,” but can rhetoric be used as a means to justify stubbornness? Is rhetoric used to force your opinions on others?

Can you be wrong if you argue correctly? Can you ‘win’ and argument but still be wrong?

PS: I highly recommend the movie.

His Story

What is or what “defines” history?

In my American History class junior year of high school our teacher asked us this question on the first day of class, and also on the last. She challenged us to ask ourselves why we personally and societally determined certain things, people, events, and information as historical. Is history up to personal and societal interpretation? Is it about strict factual information or is it “his story?” If so, who is he?

I shutter to think that a quote from Adolf Hitler backs up my point, but when I was reading Mein Kampf for my “History of Nazism and Fascism” class I came across a quote stressing the confusion over what history really is.

“Few teachers understand that the aim of studying history can never be to learn historical dates and events by heart and recite them by note; that what matters is not whether the child knows exactly when this or that battle was fought, when a general was born, or even when a monarch (usually a very insignificant one) came into the crown of his forefathers…To ‘learn’ history means to seek and find the forces which are the causes leading to those effects which we subsequently perceive as historical events.”

Hitler’s definition is not a concrete example of what history is, and I don’t think a tyrannical anti-Semite would be the best source for a concrete definition of history. But what is important is that we realize the importance of interpretation and rhetoric in history. The line “which we subsequently perceive as historical events” is extremely powerful because it acknowledges perceptions as a crucial part of history. Factual information, decisive battles, and non-biased facts all attribute to the creation and documentation of history, but I feel the beauty of history is lost in those dates, numbers, details, which we all seem to remember.

We often forget to textually and contextually analyze the events that led to this “history.” It is crucial we understand the perceptions, biases, and opinions of the people in these events and the people who document them. We have to ask who is the “his” in “his story?”

Would the stories of “Jim Crow South” be the same stories if they were told by a person of color viruses a white southerner? Would an impoverished protester and President Mubarack view the current unrest and revolution in Egypt similarly?

It is crucial that we understand the importance of perception, context, and societal interpretation when studying history. Through critical analysis of the people, places, and events in our past we can better understand what we personally and socially define as history, and make efforts to change it in the future.

Friday, April 22, 2011

This Week

With Easter coming up and Passover being this week, the discussion of religion, the commercialization of religious holidays, and the cultural rituals associated with religion has been very popular among my friends and I.

I think what makes the best discussions the best discussions is the variance of opinion. For this blog post I asked a few of my friends to give me an anecdote of what this week means to them, whether it be Passover, chocolate bunnies, or Catholic liturgy.

“Judaism in general, has deep ties to its history and traditions. After being persecuted time and time again, tradition is deeply rooted in our rituals. If we had not held onto some of these key traditions, it is quite possible that Judaism would not exist today. Passover is a prime example of the rituals we have developed and continue to practice today. We come together around the same time every year, ask the same four questions, eat the same unleavened matzo and hope that next year, we’ll be in Jerusalem to celebrate. The repetition of these rituals never gets old to me. In fact I find comfort in knowing that while the world around me changes, I know that during Passover, and for that matter all Jewish holidays, the rituals and the traditions stay the same. So each year, however trivial it may seem, I dip parsley in salt water not once but twice, and sit with a pillow behind my back to remember my ancestors that came before me.”

“Springtime for me is not defined by matzos for Passover, or church services for Easter. My sister and I were raised in what you may call a “secular” household. My mom chose not to include religious leanings in our childhood, but instead our holidays revolved around school breaks and fabled figures. Easter for me was simply a time to celebrate the hopping of a giant bunny, literally. The end of my spring break was defined by dying Easter eggs, and leaving out our Easter baskets for the Easter Bunny. Jelly beans and chocolate bunnies (not that I like chocolate) were something I looked forward to Sunday morning. Until I was older did I actually realize that Easter had a different meaning besides candy. But even then, the thought of a resurrection seemed unrealistic, much like the Easter Bunny. Religion depends on the personal beliefs of each individual, and these beliefs are greatly influenced by family relations. Being raised in a household that never mentioned Jesus, or his death, I do not associate Easter with any type of religious distinction.”

“Ever since I was young I have loved the Easter Season especially Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter Sunday. Throughout Lent I take more time out of my life to improve my relationship with the Lord while at the same time attending the sacrament of Confession more frequently. I attend the services of Holy Week on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, which focus on the events of the Last Supper and the Lord’s Passion. Holy Week prepares me for the celebration of Easter Sunday with the Catholic Community. I find it upsetting that many Christians have become “Easter-Christmas” Christians who only attend Church on those two days each year. All I can do is better myself to make the world a little better place and the Easter Season is a beautiful time to grow spiritually.”

Is this week equally as important to all three parties? Are their commitments to ritual just as strong? Is the fact that this week can have deep significance to multiple people but for different reasons, what makes this week so special?