Andrew McDonald shares how his perspectives on religion and humanity have shifted through the course of time. His journey chronicles an inner struggle to pursue knowledge and seek external understanding. He is an intern for MALA for Spring 2017.

It started with anger; the sort of anger that you can feel bubbling up, simmering in your bones.  I was about thirteen years old, and looking around at a world that I didn’t like–or understand.  My gaze was drawn to the role of religion in society, a role that I increasingly saw as malevolent or dominating.  I was lost, searching for a way to make logical the things that were seemingly illogical.  In my mind, if science could challenge or disprove religion, then it was wholly illogical.  Case closed.

I really struggled with this for some time.  Whether it meant inciting arguments with religious relatives, or rolling my eyes entirely too aggressively when my mother dragged me to synagogue, I was combative given any chance.  I felt I was enlightened, capable of critical inquiry that religious folk simply had no capacity for. One day, after a particularly bad argument, my mother looked at me and said, “Are you really going to walk through life with the opinion that most of the people on this planet are morons?”  That shook something loose.  Over the next couple of years I reflected on this question; while I softened a little bit, I could not let go of the binary of science as truth, and religion as myth.

During my third year of high school I found myself outside one day with my biology teacher, Jon, pulling weeds from the school’s garden.  While we worked, the topic of religion came up; Jon was curious about my Jewish upbringing and let on that he was a devout Christian.  I was somewhat taken aback.  Here was a man who studied and taught biology, a man who accepted the theory of evolution and the Bible unequivocally.  “But, we know one of those theories is more factual than the other,” I offered.  Jon though for a second and responded, “I think there’s truth in all of it.”

This was one of the most important realizations I’ve come to, that just as all truth can’t be found in religion, it cannot all be found in science either.  From that moment I decided that I would dedicate myself to learning about religion–If a force could inspire such passionate frustration, certainly it was worth studying.  When I got to college I spent my first year trying to understand as much as I could; I read the Bible, studied English translations of the Qur’an, and even spent time with some Buddhist and Hindu texts.  I continued to follow the instinct that told me to seek knowledge about the things that were confusing or frustrating.  Of the different religious traditions I came across, Islam remained the most puzzling; I looked around and saw a particular ugliness in the way Islam and Muslims were portrayed and regarded by American culture.  I felt it was my duty to help build understanding in any way that I could, to bring people together, not to shake my head and watch them splinter and divide.

Flash forward to the summer of 2016: I am in Amman, Jordan, sitting around a table with the family who has hosted me for the past two months.  We are drinking tea after lunch, and getting ready to go to mosque.  My host mother reads Qur’an while my host-brother, just eight years old, coaxes me to practice reciting a prayer with him–he’s written it down in Arabic and phonetic English so that we can both read it.  In this moment I think of how far I’ve come.  My journey has not been one of exotic travel or life and death predicaments, but rather a struggle with myself, a struggle to understand, and to confront frustration and confusion with knowledge and the pursuit of a more peaceful world.

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