Interview 10: Robert

HELLO AND HAPPY 2015! This year is going to be a good one, y’all. I can tell. Let’s get to our first interview of the year!

Funny story, I met Robert on Tinder. Except I kind of already knew who he was when I found him, because I had seen his picture on Facebook. He’s my sorority sister Katie’s brother–and I knew how awesome Katie is (seriously awesome), so I thought, hey, I can swipe right on this guy! He’s a real person! And so our friendship began. (My relationship with Tinder was much shorter–I’m done with that craziness). Robert and I haven’t hung out a ton, but when we do we just talk and talk and time flies by. He’s a fascinating individual and seems to burst with energy–his lust for life and  thirst for knowledge are unparalleled–which will soon become apparent, as you read through the interview. As I could have predicted, the interview ran long and we went off on tangents a few times–that’s the nature of our conversations–but I hope you read it all, it’s worth it.

Interview 10: Robert

“It’s not for me to say “I comprehend how this works”, it’s for me to say “I’m Catholic, and these are mysteries that I understand as they’ve been revealed to us.””

Me: [Would you] tell me what your own spiritual journey has been, over your life so far?

Robert: So…I’ve had a kind of up and down relationship with my personal religious spiritual beliefs. My family is Catholic, I was raised Catholic – a lot of people don’t realize that Catholicism is a much larger universe than just the Roman Catholic church downtown, for instance. So although I was raised Roman Catholic in the sense that most people think of when they hear the term, my father’s family, being Lebanese, was originally Maronite Catholic, Maronites being one of the twenty-three branches of the Eastern Catholic Church—not Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic. In a nutshell—I’ll try to keep myself from giving the explanation that I have practiced—there are numerous rites–sort of like sects–that recognizes the primacy of the Pope, and recognizing the primacy of the Pope is essentially the defining factor of what we call Roman Catholic. So the Maronite Catholic Church, the Maronite rite, is one that uses Arabic as its vernacular language and Syriac as its liturgical language. It has a different background, a different set of traditions, a different focus than the Latin-speaking church has. The Latin speaking church has a stronger tradition of rational philosophy, the Eastern church has a stronger tradition of mysticism, of looking for symbols in everything.

Me: Which would make sense, given the traditions of Arabic cultures. There’s more of a proclivity towards mysticism, I find, in the Middle East.

Robert: Yes, I don’t know to what extent this is oversimplifying things, but to me it seems like the Latin church has inherited a lot of the Greek philosophical tradition, and the Eastern churches have retained a lot of the more native Semitic religious influences, which are always quite mystic. Catholicism itself—Christianity itself—is mystic Judaism, so that’s present all throughout any branch of Christianity, but in the Eastern rites especially. In any case, that’s only to say that I was raised Roman Catholic and very early on found myself questioning the strictures of the Church. I was essentially agnostic probably from ten on, for four or five years. You know, I’d grown up reading the Greek myths and you’re not going to tell me that Zeus isn’t real but this guy up in heaven is, I’ll listen to ya but you’re not making any rational arguments. Um… Lillie’s making a great face of agreement right now. (laughs)

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Me: That’s almost exactly when I decided I was agnostic. When I was like 10.

Robert: Exactly. I specifically remember, I had this whole mythology—not really mythology, this whole explanation worked up when I was really young, Dad still talks about this, I was like eight or something? Because we would go to Sunday school, and we would get all these lessons, and I’m listening to all these lessons and stories and I’m thinking, “This is mythology.” But I loved it, I was like, this is great, this just fits in with what I already know about mythology, about the Greek myths—and they were like “No no no, those aren’t real.” So I would go home and I would explain–I had this whole “Hercules is Jesus” thing going on. It all made sense in my head. But when I realized that there was so much pushback from people, from kind of the official church itself: (changes voice) “No, you can’t believe that, Zeus is fake and God is real”, and I…headed out. When we came back to the states—did I tell you we lived in Germany?

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Interview 7: Neiloy

My freshman year of college, I lived in the Honors Dorm and took several Honors classes. One such class was Honors Calc II, or, one of the worst mistakes I have ever made (okay, that’s a slight overstatement). While I was woefully unprepared for the class, I am still grateful that I took it, because it gave me some of the best friends that I had in college: my Breakfast Club. After class or recitation, a group of us of would head to the dining hall, grab some of the “food” that they served there and talk about whatever we wanted. It was more often than not an incredibly nerdy conversation, but come on, we were taking Honors Calc II at Georgia Tech, I don’t know what you expected. After that first semester, most of Breakfast Club disbanded, but Neiloy, our friend George, and I kept meeting for breakfast (along with various others) for the rest of college. Sometimes I would feel completely alone and down in the dumps, but with Breakfast Club I always managed to forget whatever was keeping me down and laugh until I cried. I knew I could always count on them.

Neiloy is one of the best people out there. He actually helped me move once–and you know you have a true friend if they help you move (seriously, I have no idea how we would have gotten my bed out of my apartment without him). He is probably one of the (if not the) smartest people I know, but he is not arrogant. He is kind and thoughtful and when he moved away for work, I missed him very much! A couple weeks ago I found out he was back in town temporarily for a project, so Breakfast Club reconvened–and I realized I had never known his religious beliefs, so I asked if I could interview him. Of course, being the kind of friend he is, Neiloy had been reading my blog, even though I didn’t know it–and he even had a bone to pick with something specific I had said, so he was reading closely (Neiloy disagrees with my assertion that Georgia Tech was intellectually un-stimulating, so now, public, you have another opinion). I thoroughly enjoyed interviewing him and found that, despite our differences in culture, I very much agree with much of his core belief system. I hope that y’all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed listening.

Interview 7: Neiloy

“We are all intertwined in a single divine nature.”

Me: So, Neiloy, first off, I’d like for you to actually tell me what you believe because I realized that I have no idea, and I’ve been friends with you for quite some time, so I’m kind of shocked we haven’t talked about this! If you wouldn’t mind, give me a basic description of your beliefs as they stand today.

Neiloy: Okay, so first I’m going to comment that it’s not exactly surprising that we haven’t talked about it actually. There are two things that kind of inform a lot of discussions about my beliefs. One is that when you’re talking about religion here, most conversations that I’ve been in, in the US, that talk about religion, you’re talking about Christianity; and if you’re not talking about Christianity you’re talking about Judaism; and if you’re not talking about Judaism you’re asking me why I don’t wear a turban; and then you get to talking about, for example, Hinduism, which is the belief system that I most closely subscribe to. The other thing that informs discussions about my beliefs is the way I was raised. I was born to two immigrant parents from India, where it’s difficult to separate religion from culture, which means that religion is just something that permeates. So as a result of that, when they came to the US and I was born and they raised me, one of the things that wasn’t really consciously on their mind was religion, so I grew up in not quite an agnostic household, but in a household where those questions just didn’t arise often. And when you’re three and four years old you’re not necessarily asking those big questions unless someone is telling you to. But yes, I subscribe to Hinduism.

Neiloy

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