Arts & Culture / Mosaic / May 28, 2014

Interfaith talks for campus enlightenment

A few weeks ago, students met for an interfaith panel on the intersecton of faith and sex. To their surprise, there were no arguments. Following the panel, students have reflected on new insights and how their own faiths developed.

Junior and Pagan Student Alliance President Tim Berner officially represented Paganism at the panel, though he identifies as a Celtic Reconstructionist and Theistic Satanist. At Knox he focuses on religious studies and classics. In high school he studied Islam.

“I was raised Catholic and I disagree highly but what I like to do is learn more about things I don’t really like and so I know a lot about Christianity and from there I started looking at Islam,” Berner said of finding his current faith. He considered becoming Muslim but decided against it and continued looking.

“I am naturally inclined to break rules and so I felt like Islam had too many rules,” he said.

On top of identifying with Catholic Reconstructionism, Berner settled on Theistic Satanism which he was exposed to through personal study of black metal lyrics of the Norwegian band Dimmu Borgir.

“I think that in order to understand someone’s self really well and others you kind of have to go through darkness and instead of suppressing darkness it’s something we all have and we should just be comfortable with it. That doesn’t mean you should let it consume you necessarily but you should be aware of it,” he said of his beliefs.

People tend to react poorly when Berner names his faith.

“I think it’s just the word [Satan] because most people in America are acquainted with a Judeo-Christian background … when people hear the word Satan they have all these sorts of horrible associations and that’s not what I mean so then I talk about it more … Then after the initial ‘holy crap’ looks they usually understand,” he said.

Benet feels that the panel and group discussion allowed him to convey that understanding. He was a minority among predominantly Christian attendance but felt comfortable sharing his thoughts and beliefs.

Among that majority were seniors Emily Park and Christopher Poore. Both are religious studies minors majoring in English literature and helped organize the event.

Park represented Protestantism and is the president of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). She grew up in nondenominational Christian household but did not  always fully agree with her faith.

“I struggled a lot with it [Christianity] in high school just because I’d grown up with it and when you grow older you tend to question what you grew up with.”

In her sophmore year she got more involved with IVCF.

“Having my own beliefs challenged and having to question it and seek for myself really helped solidify my own faith,” she said.

Park and Poore ended up in the same discussion group where Poore asked: “Is there a seperation between desire and love?”

“People were saying that in some faith traditions the desire is in the body and you hold back from desire to stay pure and that desire seems to be an earthly sort of corruptness and in other faiths it is so together — the spirit and the body — that there is no separation so desire and love are practically the same thing,” Park said. “I don’t personally have an idea about the separation between desire and love so hearing those perspectives was really interesting.”

Poore formally represented Newman Club though he identifies as an Orthodox Christian and is very familiar with interfaith discussion.

He noticed that many conversations continued after the panel ended.

“People were approaching these conversations with a real openness: a real mercy that I think is really characteristic of Knox but then also of religious practitioners,” he said.

In response to recent campus-wide dialogues, Poore feels that faith should be considered.

“We always need to realize that our conceptions of the world are too small and engaging in dialogues with other people from other religious faiths broadens our conceptions … To simply include God in other important discussions on campus … suddenly gives those discussions real depth and potency. The faith clubs on campus have a really important role in making sure the conversation does have that kind of depth.”

Camille Brown
Camille Brown is a junior majoring in English literature and double minoring in educational policy and journalism. Previously, she served as editor-in-chief of her high school paper and a reporter for TKS. She spent the summer of 2012 freelancing for The Peninsula Gateway and is currently pursuing an independent study concerning the media’s influence on education.

Tags:  catholic Christianity discussion interfaith intervarisity christian fellowship Newman Club orthodox pagan student alliance religion satanism

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May 30, 2014

I’m just curious how someone could be a Celtic Reconstructionist and a Theistic Satanist, as the world views are mutually exclusive?

Jun 01, 2014

Hi Camille,

Thanks so much for your article on the interfaith forum. I’m so thankful that you chose to cover this important event.

I wanted to mention the fact that in addition to Pagans and Christians, the forum drew quite a diverse group. In fact, both the Islamic Club and Hillel Club (the Jewish organization on campus) played large roles in putting together the forum. It was actually Jonah Frankel, the Hillel President, who initially assembled the clubs together. I found it fascinating to hear their perspectives; for instance, Rohail Khan provided a very interesting space in which to discuss Islamic morality– “rules,” as Tim calls them in his interview. It’s too bad that the article did not have the space to allow Islamic and Jewish students to speak for themselves.

Additionally, the interfaith forum welcomed people with no particular religious identity, people who were interested in discussing LGBTQ topics and the psychology of sex. The forum welcomed not just students; professors from multiple disciplines and Galesburg community members also joined the conversation. We even tried to ensure that no single faith path was “predominant,” and so during the first part of the evening, there was a panel discussion where five religions were represented– only two of them Christian.

Again, I’m so thankful for the article you’ve written. I hope that if there are any future interfaith forums, TKS will find time to attend the event.

Christopher Poore

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