A Mormon, a Presbyterian, and a Hindu walk into a library…
The first World Religions Forum at Southern Oregon University kicked off with a combination of speakers that kept students rapt Thursday in Hannon Library.
Guest speakers represented Presbyterianism, Mormonism, and Hinduism.
SOU’s theme for 2010-2011 entitled “On Being Human,” observes some of the universal questions all people are faced with, such as, “what does it mean to be human?”
Last week’s session began with words from Rev. Constance Wilkerson from the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland.
Rev. Wilkerson presented the general tenants of protestant Christianity, outlining particularly how one is to interpret their humanity or their identity with respect to God.
Rev. Wilkerson stated that God created the universe and humankind, but did not give explicit details of the Christian creation account.
“Humanity is a shared experience because we are all made in the image of God,” Wilkerson said.
She elaborated by explaining that humans, while all created by God, all also have a relationship with him. She explained the notion of sin (the disobedience of the law of God), and how all people experience sin and though this disobedience has consequences, humankind has salvation for these sins through Jesus who took the punishment upon himself that man could be forgiven if they acknowledge Jesus Christ.
Rev. Wilkerson said she believed that while humans are the product of a divine creator, they still have freewill in this world.
“We’re not puppets on a string. We’re not told what path to chose or what work to carry out in the world. Whether we choose to have good relationships with a divine being is ultimately our choice as human beings and there is no cohesion…each of us has to find our own path,” Wilkerson said.
Following Rev. Wilkerson was the brief presentation for Mormonism by Scott Shumway, the current Bishop of the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints church in Ashland.
Shumway summarized the idea of the human experience, or the purpose of our humanity to a single line from the Book of Mormon. “Men are, that they might have joy,” he said.
Shumway claimed this to be the human condition, describing how Adam, the first man as described in the Biblical book of Genesis, fell so men might come to be in the world, so that they in turn might experience joy.
Shumway referenced Rev. Wilkerson’s testimony at several points of agreement between their beliefs, especially the idea that God is the father of humankind and this ties them together.
However Shumway’s presentation diverged from the Presbyterian viewpoint when he began describing the nature of God.
Mormonism accepts that God is a physical, manlike being “with flesh and bones,” and furthermore that he is a single entity, as opposed to archetypal Christian view of the trinity where God exists as three beings in one— father, son, Holy Spirit.
Shumway shared in detail how humankind existed together in with God as spirits before their existence on Earth. Human life on Earth, Shumway states, is a test for people.
“So the human experience is not just seeking joy and being obedient but also recognizing that God will test us,“ Shumway said.
He concludeed with the Mormon view of end-times, Shumway described their idea of universal bodily resurrection, final judgment and eternal bliss with God for those who were good and faithful.
The session closed with Dr. Gokul Gokani, a Reiki master and spiritual counselor for the Ashland area speaking on his beliefs in Hinduism.
Gokani opened and closed his talk with some jokes concerning the minds of politicians, claiming, “life is a joke itself.” He then immediately jumped into the idea that Hinduism is not a religion at all, but is rather a way of life.
“On being human, this is the only opportunity for us to realize God. That brings us the question, what is God? We think God is somewhere in heaven playing on the harp,” Gokani said. “God is the creativity in the whole existence, totally.”
“You and me, as humans, this is the only possibility to realize God. Hindu’s don’t say you believe in God, they say you realize or you experience God.”
Gokani went on to talk about the difference between experiencing the spark of God within oneself as opposed to believing in God.
“God is not a hypothesis,” Gokani said.
This quest to understanding God, Gokani said, starts with understanding who we are.
Gokani went on to explain that in Hinduism, there is no limit to who or where God is, so it is paramount for people to experience the spirit or god in themselves. He illustrated this idea with the metaphor of a person as a car, a car who must know who its driver is.
This first session saw the views of three world religions, each with their unique perspectives on God, but all striving for a similar goal: to know this God or gods, and to pursue happiness in him or them.
The Forum on World Religions will continue every Thursday for the next five weeks at noon in the Meese Room of Hannon Library.