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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Religious groups should be given own space

Published: March 28, 2014
Section: Opinions

I missed my usual Latin Mass in Newton last Sunday morning, so I had decided to go to Father Cuenin’s service at 7:30 that night. instead. As I walked to the Bethlehem Chapel to go to Mass, I passed by the Protestant and Jewish chapels. Out of the three chapels, only one was dark on a Sunday night. Not the Jewish chapel,however, as one would predict. The Protestant Chapel laid dark, barely brighter than the night. I remember wondering if it was ever used. In my three years at Brandeis, I have never seen anyone ever in the Protestant Chapel worshiping. I have seen dancing, a cappella groups performing and every so often a person practicing the piano, but these activities are not worship in themselves. Yet I have seen people in the Jewish chapel outside of Shabbat services, and I have been in the Catholic Chapel outside of Mass to pray.

A few weeks back, the Hindu and Protestant communities had a falling out over that space. Hindu worshippers on campus do not have a designated prayer space to have services. They planned to share the Protestant chapel by establishing a Hindu murti (statue of a god) in the chapel. At the last moment, some Protestant members felt uneasy with the murti and the plan did not come to fruition. The situation shows the innate religious tensions that happen at Brandeis as well as the lack of religious knowledge and understanding on campus among the non-Jewish religions.

Religious illiteracy is a growing problem in America and needs to be addressed on campus. Why? Because religion motivates everything everyone does. Just look at the Supreme Court and Hobby Lobby. The entire case is based on religious objections. If members on campus would criticize the defendants for having those “erroneous” beliefs and not understand why the defendants have those beliefs, they are no better than those they criticize. They are both ignorant in each other’s eyes, in different ways.

I want the Hindus to worship on campus, as it is their right. Brandeis grants us the ability to worship as we please. Not being able to do that is against all the founding principles of this university. The Hindu community on campus needs to find a place to worship that is their own. It will have to be in an existing building, but it cannot be in the Chapels. All the religions present in those chapels see the murti as a hindrance toward their worship rites, and they have the right to refuse whatever they believe to be against their faith in their respective chapels. I believe the Hindus on campus need to worship in a place in Usdan or possibly the Airplane Lounge, which remains vacant for most weekdays. That would be a realistic and practical solution to the problem. Brandeis University would not lose space nor have to dole out money to build a new building. Hindus could worship there as soon as possible.

I do understand the Protestant uneasiness toward the situation. Martin Luther and other Protestant Reformers believed that Catholics’ ancestors worshipped the statues they criticized. To some Protestants, the Hindu murti seems unorthodox in that it utilizes idol worship. It seems to contradict the entire 500-year separation between Protestants and Catholics for them to have a murti in their chapel, believing and knowing it to be only a statue. To Hindus, it is the god it represents during the worship. To them, there is no controversy. The statue is only God during the service and leaves the minute after the service is done. Knowing this fact, when I went to a Hindu temple a few years ago, I was able to appreciate the devotions more despite being an outsider. I neither believe in Hinduism nor Protestantism, but by studying both, I learn more about the religions of my friends and family.

In the real world, not everyone is Jewish. Not everyone is Hindu. Not everyone is Protestant. Not everyone is atheist. When I graduate next year, I will be on the path where I will meet thousands of people, all with diverse faiths. Brandeis gave me a great opportunity to learn as much as I could about Judaism and other faiths so I could understand. In a school founded on activism, we must learn as much as we can in order to act. And our perspectives can change. That’s fine. Our beliefs can be and should be challenged. It is exactly as Aristotle said, “The most intelligent minds are those that can entertain an idea without necessarily believing it.” And that includes religion. We need to learn about religion to understand the world, and we learn by discussion. I know that many are here to listen. They are willing to do so, provided you learn from them too.