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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: March 17, 2005
Latest Update: March 17, 2005

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takata@uwp.edu

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The world goes on . . . despite my determination to hold it still each semester so I can get us through some theory before things start off. But the world goes on. This morning I read in the New York Times that Bush appointed Wolfowitz to the Presidency of the World Bank. So what? some of you say. No, "Oh my goodness" might be more accurate, if you believe that the developing countries just hit by horrible destruction from the tsunamis should have their debts forgiven, so that they could use whatever money they have to rebuild their infrastructures. Instead, wealthy politicians in those countries are claiming the land from which the villagers were swept in disaster, and refusing to let the villagers return to the land now to be developed for "toruists." And "debts" there and elsewhere are often delayed, but rarely "forgiven."

The policy and value differences are about giving the "poor" the tools and the proceeds from their own work to rebuild their own infrastructure, or keeping them dependent on the corporate infrastructure of the developed world. Beliefs. Beliefs help form our expectations. So Wolfowitz may be a fine choice, if you agree with the philosophy that we should control the world's resources. Wolfowitz may not be so fine a choice, if you believe that our future depends on helping others to their feet so that they, too, can lead independent lives and control their own destiny. Which choice would Jesus have made? Which choice would Mohammed have made? Which choice will Wolfowitz make? Which choice did George W. Bush make?

I want to take this opportunity to move us into some religious theory. To do that, I need to tell you my own religious beliefs, as well as I can understand them, because they color my expectations, my interpretations, and the perspectives I understand well enough to teach you.

Half of me is Irish, my mother's half. My father was as near as I could tell an atheist, which is fairly appropriate to a con man. My mother's father was the last of seven brothers (he might have been the seventh - I don't much of my family history), and he was the only one who didn't become a priest. His family was landed nobility in Ireland, so he was the last son to take the title or land or whatever. But he wanted to be a doctor. His father forbid it, for then there would be no son to take the land. So my grandfather took off on a ship the day he graduated with his medical degree and came to America. My grandfather was Dr. Curran.

So religion plays a dramatic role in my life story. It got my mother's family to this country and determined that I would be born in the United States. My mother was one of seven or eight children. A red head who worshipped her father and had little regard for her mother, and that's pretty much the limit of my knowledge about her family life. She married my father, the con man, though a very nice con man, and followed him to the South, where I grew up.

In New Orleans, I was sent to Catholic schools, and placed in a convent to live during the war (World War II). But I was never baptised Catholic, for in the South, catholicism can be a little different. As a four-year-old, I watched a woman in whose house we lived put little pins into a voodoo doll. I was fascinated. But my mother called them "pagans." The woman, was, of course, a practicing Catholic. As I child, I saw other things, like a woman, middle-aged to me, though I was very young then. This woman became hysterical that she had missed church one Sunday and knew that she would "boil in a vat of oil through all eternity" for having done so. Voodoo, again, I concluded with a child's wisdom.

I need to remind you that this was a long time ago, in the late 1930s. But such scenes are prominent in my psychological life space, folks. As a teenager I was permitted to study with my friends for communion in the Episcopal church. They bought us ice cream after catechism and we got new dresses. That was cool. Of course, the deacon told us that when the Eucharist was blessed it actually became the body and blood of Christ. I don't recall exactly how I knew, but I knew that statement to be incorrect, and challenged him. Finally, the minister supported me and told the Deacon he was wrong. I was already having trouble with the "arrogance of certainty" in organized religion; but I liked the dress.

These were my early lessons on interpretation, on expectations, on the difficulty of keeping any group of people on a common track as to what they "believe" officially. These early experiences form my appeceptive mass and they color what I recognize, how I perceive religion, and how I respond to organized religion. I always thought such things were private and personal, and saw no need to share with anyone else. But today, our religious beliefs have spilled over into our ideology and our politics enough that we need to develop clearer understandings of what we really do believe.

Next lecture: My experience with shamanism and fundamentalism, and then Karen Armstrong's experiences with all the same stuff.

My experiences in Africa color what I see when a photograph holds shapes I see as African and colors I associate with Africa. My experience with shamans colors how I interpret religion, as does my experience with my family and with the Catholic Church of the South.



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