Thursday, September 07, 2006

It comes down to Religion...

I’ve been quiet the past week. Processing. Reflecting. Breathing a sigh of relief. Same difference, right?

Despite dire signs and some not-so-subtle “words of encouragement”, I did, indeed, pass. Yes, hallelujah, and praise all that be, for this young man will no longer be a student. At least, not an Architecture student. And, at this point of time, I find great solace in knowing that. I had kind of hoped I would feel differently.

In the end, the results do not surprise me. In fact, were I a betting man, I’d have made quite a few bucks on guessing who’s work from our class would end up on the receiving end of a shiny gold star. It was evident from March, who was on track and who wasn’t. I knew I wasn’t.

I could have taken a different route. It would have been challenging, and I’d have learned something, I think. And I’d have definitely faired better. But, despite that, I am glad I stuck to what interested me, what I wanted to do. Because, ultimately, that’s why I came here; it wasn’t to adopt another’s ideology, it was, hopefully to develop my own.

That is the hardest thing, I personally believe, about the experience of architecture within an academic setting. Without knowing it, you’ve entered a battlefield, armies on all sides, landmines scattered as far as the eye can see. You’re constantly under pressure to pick a side, define your stance. And, sometimes, it ends with you wandering across that battlefield alone, blindfolded.

There is a “with us or against us” mentality that pervades much of academia. And it makes sense. After all, the professor has the position because, for one reason or another, his/her ideology, you might call it religion, has been singled out, been deemed significant. And the studio he/she teaches, the lectures he/she holds – well they are the pulpit from which to preach. The mission, then, as a tutor, professor, is to teach others, enlighten them to the falsehoods that have littered their minds. To maintain relevancy, the professor needs to have a captive audience, a congregation. The professor needs to convert.

I grew up in Salt Lake City, a town dominated by a single religion, Mormonism. Hell, I was a part of the religion, being that I grew up going to church, Sunday school, the lot. But, ultimately, while I appreciated the values I was brought up with, the childhood I had, I never became a believer. While I was surrounded by the devout, I myself remained a skeptic. You might say I never had the faith. Or, that I had too many questions.

The problem I find with religion, be it the spiritual kind of my upbringing or the ideological kind I have found in academia, is that, for many believers, blind faith is enough. And, when confronted with contradictory evidence, challenges to the fundamental tenants of their personal religions, open dialogue is rarely the result.

When you believe in something, to the point in which it shapes the way you practice your profession, or your life, you have faith in the ultimate “rightness” of your beliefs. And, I find, the stronger the believer, the more rigid that definition becomes. And soon, rather than engaging others who might have different definitions, you ignore them, perhaps argue against them, maybe seek to destroy them. Why? Because they threaten your values, your definitions, your belief system. They threaten the life you live because they live a different one. Thus, the war; you must stand your ground, defend your relevance, prove your worth. Diplomacy is usually the last resort.

I don’t thing this has to be the case. I just think that it often ends up that way. It was evident at my undergraduate school. It is evident here. So, as I prepare to take my leave, perhaps both literally as well as metaphorically, from this place I have spent a long, hard year, I find myself facing a situation I encountered once before, a long time ago.

As a kid, I moved school districts twice. First for junior high school, second for high school. So, at each point, I was the “new” kid, squeezing into an established community. The first time, in junior high, was quickly mitigated by the fact that I had nearly all my classes with the same forty kids. So, whether we liked it or not, we got to know each other pretty well. By the end of junior high, I felt confident to call most of them good friends.

When I switched districts for high school, I still kept in contact with quite a few them. And I remember, running into one, at a party. It had been a year or so since I had moved schools, and while we caught up on what had been going on, he mentioned how glad he was that we were still in touch. How much he thought I had changed from that first year we met. How different I was from the rather headstrong seventh-grader who swore a lot. How much more…well…Mormon I was.

Mind you, this is paraphrasing, and no, it didn’t sound as condescending as it does right now. But, in a way, it was. He had, in effect, admitted to distancing himself from me, because of my non-Mormon behavior; the difference he perceived between his religious beliefs, and what my behavior in seventh grade led him to believe were mine, had prevented us from having a significant, meaningful friendship at the time. But I had changed, and now we were compatible. I was worthy, now.

That was the conundrum I found myself in here. I didn’t buy into the religion of this place, and ultimately, I was judged unworthy of real investment. If I had changed, that might have changed. But, this time, I didn’t. I took a path, stepped out alone, and to my surprise, survived. That, for me, has to be enough.

No, it isn’t what I had hoped for – the dream of open dialogue, learning from the exchange of different ideas, different opinions. I put my ideas out there, only to be cut down, to be made an example of. I hoped for feedback, for constructive criticism, for ways in which I could mix my hypotheses with the tenants they so dearly valued. Instead, I was told I wasn’t working hard enough, that my project lacked ambition and rigor. But, I guess I did enough. And, at this point, I’ll take it and mosey on my way.

In the end, I didn’t develop an ideology. But, I think I have a good idea. And, perhaps, in that respect, I not only reached my goal, but exceeded it. Because, you can always change an idea; and after all that I’ve been through, that, I think, is more important than anything else.

Bonus points to those who get that reference.


Anonymous tom zabriskie said...

happened upon your 'comments' and find you are from SLC. I grew up on a small ranch near Utah Lake, in Utah County. graduated the UofU in '63 & '64 have been an architect since. lived in Boston (worked for Paul Rudolph) and now in New York City - been here along time, but just want to wish you well and good luck. glad you are in London ? travel all you can.
Oh, I was raised as a mormon, but have been an atheist for most of my life, and happy to be. don't hesitate staying in touch: if you wish - as to religion or architecture or travel. Best wishes.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if you call mormonism a religion...

12:07 PM  
Blogger the silent observer said...

"Religion is a system of social coherence based on a common group of beliefs or attitudes concerning an object, person, unseen being, or system of thought considered to be supernatural, sacred, divine or highest truth, and the moral codes, practices, values, institutions, and rituals associated with such belief or system of thought."

- wikipedia

I'd say, yes it is....

3:26 AM  

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