Friday, November 02, 2012

intersection points

My major in university was philosophy. For people who don't know me very well this often seems kind of odd, but people who do know me and my weird little brain often use this aspect of me as a defining trait. They introduce me as "This is Sher, she's a philosophy major" as if it tells people who I am. And it does sometimes say a lot about me.

I haven't been reading or writing a lot of philosophy lately, although often my head buzzes with the philosophical questions that pushed me into that major. Reading Salman Rushdie's autobiography lately has intensified this for me. Specifically it's the strange intersection between not identifying as a religious person and yet being so utterly interested in the meaning and history of religion.

The best explanation of why I majored in philosophy comes down to a deep, internal yearning within myself to understand existence. Why is the world? What caused it to be? What does it mean to be human, and to live, and how do those things distinguish us? What does it mean to exist within the world, and what all does that entail? Do we actually have souls, and if so what does that mean? Is there a higher power, and what is his/her/its existence like? What are its motivations, if motivations are even a word to be applied to it? How do all the bits and pieces of the world intersect together? Does consciousness only exist on a human scale, or can larger or smaller entities (like galaxies, or like atoms) have awareness of their own existence? Can they think? Why do they exist? And in this grand scale of existence, where we and our lives are nothing but grains of sand in the whole of eternity, does anything we think or do even matter anyway?

I'm pretty sure I'll never be able to answer all of those questions even if given a dozen human lifetimes. Maybe I wouldn't even be able to answer one of them. But isn't there still value in asking the questions and reaching towards possible answers? Maybe that's the whole point of being. Eventually maybe one question and one theory will lead to an answer on some of the essential human questions.

Philosophy wasn't the only path open to me that I felt would help me answer these questions. It probably isn't even the most likely path to yield any results. It felt the most right for me, though. If I were a religious person and somewhat sure in my beliefs, I would probably have embarked on either a personal or professional exploration of my questions in that context. If calculus didn't make me cry, I would probably have gone into physics. Philosophy for me marked the point where religion and science collide. It was a bridge between the concrete and the spiritual. Without personal faith I have always been somewhat weary about stepping too concretely into a study of religion (although philosophy of religion is the area I'm most drawn to), and so philosophy was the route I took.

What is it that draws someone with no faith into the study of religion? What makes me so interested in the inner workings of religion, and so pre-occupied with questions that by their very nature are related to religion. And how is it that while these questions drive me that I am without any concrete, discernible faith of my own? (Oh, I have my own ideas and even my own beliefs but they are rather vague and nebulous, and certainly don't fit into any religious framework I know of.)

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