Religious Studies and Me
I started college at the tender age of 18 back in 2004. At first, I planned on majoring in theater. USF didn’t have a music program I was into, so I said, “what the hell, theater is cool too, right?” First day of class I went into the Black Box Theater and walked down the two steps to grab a seat.
Unbeknownst to me at the time was that there were two steps. I knew of the first, but the second step took me by surprise, so I wound up doing a spin and flinging my flip-flop across the room. I laughed it off and silently wondered if that would be a foreshadowing metaphor of my entire life.
When the first semester of college rolled forward, I had a good time for a little bit. The school had oodles of hot chicks (more than my highschool, which also had oodles of hot chicks), weirdos who drove unicycles while juggling, and a bunch of assholes who tried to tell women what they should and shouldn’t do with their bodies. After you read their signs, they wanted you to even sign a petition agreeing with them. Frightening.
Exit Stage Left
I can pinpoint the exact moment when it was time to leave theater. Out of two times I ever talked to an advisor at school (for academic purposes anyway) the first time I was informed I would have to take tech classes. I didn’t want to fuck around doing lights and sound. So, I quit the theater.
After that, I went to the music program and decided to be a vocal major. I can sing, but I really wanted to be an ass ripping, super shredding, guitar player. I mean I was in a band after all. I also knew a shit load of music theory. So I figured it was easy. And in many ways it was. But it was also a lot of work for an instrument I couldn’t care less about.
Summer of 2005, I was looking around for summer classes to take. Though I am not a hardcore book worm type who made all A’s, I didn’t like the idea of not having something to do that summer. One of the classes offered was “Intro to the New Testament.”
In 1990, my father and I moved to a town called Plant City. You might know it as the winter strawberry capital of the world. We have a festival called the Strawberry Festival to celebrate this fact. That said, I didn’t hate it there. I even came to enjoy it more in my later years due to how quiet it is. Sure, there’s a 24 hour Starbucks, a Panera, Applebees, and your usual urban sprawl there now. But back then it had woods where my friends and I would go camping and set shit on fire (no houses or anything like that, just dead foliage).
Plant City also has a fuck load of weird religions and a lot of Republicans. In 2000 I recall seeing children younger than I holding up campaign signs for George W. Bush. I found this disturbing for many reasons. I would have found it disturbing no matter who they were promoting. Doing your parents’ bidding like that takes the choice away from you as a child.
Besides the Republicans, there were also a lot of Evangelical Christians. In fact, Plant City used to have Pentecostal churches that practiced snake handling. I was baptized at age seven as a Catholic (courtesy of my second cousin who happens to be a priest). But I was deeply anti-Christian from about age nine and beyond. Despite the negative image I painted of my town, I can say that despite all the backwards people, it was also extremely diverse.
My teachers were some of the smartest people I met, as were my classmates. I am still friends with many of them to this day. I also knew who Muslims were from an early age because I had several friends who were Muslims all through elementary and high school.
Not only that, the first love of my life and woman who would take my virginity was an immigrant from Trinidad who was in Plant City by way of relocating from New York. Her mom is a doctor, she is now a lawyer, and together they would kick the shit out of me in the many games of Scrabble we played. Along with having a family composed of many races and ethnicities, my upbringing wasn’t that sheltered.
So when I saw that “Intro to the New Testament” class being offered, I said, “Oh this will be nice. I can use this to better argue with the morons back home.” The man who taught the class was a bald, Jewish guy called Dr. Schneider. If you were to cut his head off, the overflow of information pouring out of it would fill the Grand Canyon. He knew several languages, was a bad ass Biblical Scholar, and loved Judge Judy, and was (so he said) the owner of four DVRs due to his deep love of TV.
The class was intense. I had to read The Bible, write about it, and compare it to other things. We even read the apocryphal writings. All while doing our best to maintain our objectivity. Depending on who you ask, doing Religious Studies this way is either awesome, or fucking sacrilege.
After that, I took a very introspective class called “Life After Death.” We watched Groundhog Day and a bunch of other movies, and we talked about the afterlife. At this point I thought maybe this stuff isn’t so bad. My disdain abated somewhat. In the Fall of 2005, I met Dell deChant. He sold me on getting the degree. And he was a kindred spirit. He introduced me to racquetball by showing me the detailed records of a decade’s worth of games, talked to me about the religious dimensions of pop culture, and he even wrote a book on the subject. It’s called The Sacred Santa. Definitely a good read. And then I was sold on the degree. I stayed there ever since.
I took my required stuff, and stayed with Religious Studies until I graduated. Along the way, I started the USF Kettlebell Club which went along with my love of fitness. I started that in 2008, and around the same time I served on the Senate for the College of Arts & Sciences. This was actually a pretty awesome opportunity. As Senators do, we voted on matters concerning the budget, and which clubs got allocations of the Activities and Services fees from our tuition, and voted on other laws as well. So it wasn’t a title, we actually had influence. Besides that, I started teaching music. So all in all, college wasn’t a bad gig.
Alma Mater Means Nurturing Mother
So, now. Did I waste my time getting a degree? Moreover, did I waste it getting a humanities degree? Who knows. It helped me out in a lot of ways. I am more informed when it comes to election time. I can talk to people while acknowledging that their religious beliefs aren’t something to be feared. I don’t get sucked in to the deep throes of Islamaphobia the way many people do. Do I still think most religious beliefs are irrational, generally odd, and completely illogical? I do. But it’s not my right to give a shit about what you, as a person, believe or follow, as long as it doesn’t infringe upon or stifle anyone else’s growth.
Moreover, I got to experience partying, socializing, day drinking, weeknight drinking, and other fun shit.
So no, college wasn’t a waste of time.
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