Interview 3: “To me, it’s like watching a TV show…you essentially ‘subscribe’ to the church”
School: Skidmore College, Junior
Studying: Business major, English minor
ME: Could you describe your religious background? How were you raised?
JAKE: Sure. My dad is Jewish, he is bar-mitzvahed. Mom was raised Catholic, though her dad was Jewish. Neither of them is very religious, although my dad celebrates all of the Jewish holidays with my grandparents and other family members.
But I was never really religious or raised religious. I wasn’t bar-mitzvahed like my dad. I didn’t go to church or temple as a kid, but I do celebrate Hanukah and Rosh Hashanah with my family – even though I don’t know any of the Jewish prayers or what they’re called.
You’ve got an open floor. What are your thoughts on religion? Can you elaborate on your personal beliefs?
Personally, I would consider myself pretty close to atheist. Religion is not important anymore; it was a way to get through life for our ancestors. I think religion is somewhat good – it teaches morals and what not. But now I think it has too much power. It’s taken too seriously. It shouldn’t have any influence in government or politics.
But if people want to be personally religious, I have no problem with it. To me, it’s like watching a TV show – it’s just something to do. You essentially “subscribe” to the church; you give it money, attend services every so often, join the community.
What about all of the theological aspects of religion? Jesus Christ, Mohammed, other big figures…
I think the Bible is full of a bunch of short stories. They teach very good lessons, and it’s important that people know right from wrong. At first, these stories were used in good faith. But it’s been taken a little too far. Everything has its origins, and there’s some truth to the stories. There’s some truth in faith. But for the most part, it’s pretty ridiculous.
Let’s go abstract – how do you relate to the world? What’s the meaning of life? What’s the purpose? Why do you do the things you do?
The most important thing in life – and its meaning – is relationships. The people you’re surrounded by, your friends and family. And to me that’s the meaning – building great relationships, meeting people, having experiences with them. There’s not one central thing or person that I fall back on, like people do with religion. I guess it would be nice to have something consistent like that. But I think relationships are the most important thing, without a doubt.
How do you cope with things? A lot of people say that religion helps people cope with death and mortality, and it gives them hope. How do you cope with the chaos of life?
Honestly (laughs), I don’t really think about it that much. I know we’re all going to die one day, right? And I just don’t really think about it. Once we die, we die.
My mom, though, is super spiritual. She’s been telling my lots about it. She crosses herself and sees spirits.
So she’s spiritual, not religious – what’s the difference?
She doesn’t go to church or practice anything. It’s not organized – it’s individual. I find it really interesting. My mom is an interesting person. She told me the other day that my dog died – he was 16 years old, a great dog. I was talking with her yesterday, and she said she saw a spirit in the death. She’s been getting into it a lot more recently.
I don’t know if I completely believe her; I do believe here because she’s my mom. But it’s hard to believe that she sees spirits…The human mind is a powerful thing.
So you say relationships are the highest purpose for you. But do you actively think about that, about the higher purpose of life and relationships? Or is it just something you do?
I’ve been thinking about it more recently, but it’s more something I do, because I just enjoy it. I did see this one movie I watched for class which was pretty inspirational. Life is where you take it. Everything in life is created so that humans can exist happily or with purpose.
Most people I’ve talked to in Denmark and our kollegium seem pretty similar to you. Not necessarily atheists, but simply not practicing Catholics or Jews. And a lot of them have been students. Do you think people will get more religious as they get older? That they turn to God as they get closer and closer to death?
I think that’s definitely possible. It’s easy for me to say I don’t believe in God because I’m young, hopefully I’m not going to die soon. I don’t know though. I think our generation is turning more away from organized, practicing religion.
Can you give any examples of that trend?
A lot of my friends are not practicing, and they usually consider themselves agnostic. Also, my girlfriend comes from an incredibly religious family – Irish Catholic. Her parents were not allowed to leave their mother’s house until they got married, that’s how religious they were. She had to go to church every Sunday, but when she was 18 she had the choice not to. So she comes from a very religious family, but is personally irreligious.
Do you think this trend is sustainable? That our generation is not only irreligious now, but that it will remain irreligious as we get older? What makes us different from our parents and grandparents?
First, there’s just so much more to do in life now. As I said before, I think religion was just something to do for previous generations – an activity to get them involved in their communities.
There’s just so much that human beings can do to fulfill their lives right now besides religion – traveling, getting a job or career, relationships. Religion does take up a lot of time, and people are less willing to do that now. Also, people are less willing to believe in the Bible or strict doctrines; it’s just not real to them. And people are starting to believe in the sciences more – they’re getting more factual and real.
Denmark is often seen as this irreligious utopia. Everyone talks about relationships, and how they’re supposed to be the happiest country in the world. Do you agree with that? And do you think they should be a model for America in the future?
Yea, I think Danish society is pretty removed from God – though I haven’t talked to many Danes about this issue specifically. I’ve heard that there are many churches that don’t get used, they’re empty. I think Danish society has really progressed and is Sahead of the rest of the world. I feel like America has always been right behind Scandanavia in general – like with women’s rights, health care. They’re always one step ahead of us.
(for a related report in The Economist, read the February 2nd print edition: The Next Supermodel. http://www.economist.com/printedition/2013-02-02)