First interview! Meet Colin Bradley
School: University of Vermont,
Studying: Religion major, Economics and English minor
ME: Can you describe your personal religious background?
COLIN: I was born as a Protestant Christian, I would go to church every Sunday with my parents and my brother. We would always misbehave (laughs), we would be laughing in the pews so hard that they would vibrate. Mom didn’t like that.
I really didn’t get anything out of it as a kid, we would have church school after the service and I couldn’t connect with any of the kids, we would do all of these weird activities and me and my brother really didn’t fit in.
In 9th grade I had to be confirmed, and at that time I was kind of a professed atheist. I couldn’t believe any of the miracles or supernatural stuff. But I still had to get confirmed because that meant I wouldn’t have to go to church or that school anymore, and I was really pumped about that.
Later in my life in college, I became more interested in myths and ancient religions. I took a religion class with a 70 year-old with a Orthodox Jewish professor, and he really got me into philosophy of religion. Largely because of him, I became a religion major.
So just to get this right, in 9th grade – that was the point that you convinced yourself and made the conclusion that you were an atheist?
Yea, around that time. Going to church had absolutely no connection for me. Obviously God doesn’t exist, there’s not some man sitting in the clouds. In college I was interested in the meaning behind these religious stories, some kind of higher truth that you can access through religious texts. But all of the miraculous claims, religion at face-value, I kind of denied all of that.
Okay. For you, God may not be a man in the sky. But when I say the word “God,” what does that mean for you?
There are two ways that I can rationalize the idea of God.
One is the personal God; for example, praying. Back home I had a routine, I would wake up every morning and pray. I would say, “hello God, these are all the things I am grateful for, this is who I want to help today, who am I working with today.” In that way, God helps me bring together things that are meaningful to me.
God is like the sum total of everything that exists, everything that’s positive. God is my way of addressing the everything – there are an innumerable amount of infinite connections in the world, and I have been given everything I have. God is like an interconnectedness of every event and everything that happens.
Everything wants to be connected, whether it be gravity or human love or atoms and chemical reactions. It all works together.
You do believe that there is some kind of higher power, a higher force, that exists above the human dimension?
No, I don’t think so. When you say “higher,” do you mean up?
Just something outside of yourself. Outside of the human consciousness. It’s hard to explain. But when you say pray, who do you pray to? Or what do you pray to?
I think there is a level beyond what our sense can perceive. I really believe that the attitude has a profound influence on what happens. When I address God, I’m channeling a positive attitude, and I’m actually trying to make a direct connection with everything outside of myself. You could consider that as a higher power, an infinite otherness in the world that is outside of the myself.
Great. Now let’s jump to another term that is loaded with different meanings – Religion. What do you think of when I say “Religion”?
(sighs) Yea, a lot of religion classes start with trying to define this word. You could say it’s an institution, a personal feeling, etc. What people are trying to get at is a kind of coherent world view that transcends what we take as non-religious. The term religion now can only be understood in relation to the number of people who are not religious.
In many ways, religion is a lifestyle. It’s something that’s developed historical. You can call one “religion” and another “capitalism.” They’re collective mentalities.
But the point of religion is that it connects everything. The concept of God is that there is one connecting force in the cosmos. Non-religious world views do not have this same claim. Religion asks how we can deduce value from the fact that everything has a certain interconnectedness to it.
If I’m reading you correctly, you’re saying that religion has very strong cultural aspects. For example, Jews; many may not believe in all of the theological principles, but they are all very connected in their cultural values and lifestyle choices; what they eat, where they go to school, attend Shabbat, traditions like that.
Yea (nods head).
Okay, let’s talk about Denmark. Do you see religion in Denmark, its effects? How do your first few weeks in Copenhagen differed from your experience back home, in terms of religious life?
There hasn’t really been much difference. There are definitely more Muslims here than where I’m from, so in that sense religion is more prominent.
But for me it really doesn’t matter if someone is religious or not. God and religion and all those words are just words. What matters is how that ideology affects how you act in the world. I use God as a way to connect with things, but I don’t think me and an atheist fundamentally disagree. Do I care objective what claims he’s making? No. I care how religion makes people act, not the written theological arguments about what matters.
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