I think my two biggest takeaways from Baldwin’s writing were that religion can be a tool for individual salvation without some of the church’s dogma and that true love, the love that Baldwin describes as necessary for a true human experience, takes effort.
I was not excited when we entered the religion section of the course. I did not do well in either of my theology classes while at ND and I rarely understood the extratextual material we read for these classes. I thought religious philosophy was not useful to the human experience and that institutionalized religion caused more harm than good in the form of some of its anti-homosexual dogma. But Baldwin gave me a better understanding of religion. It is an experience that is both individualized and communal, and the key to unlocking true religion is love for the world, those in it, and yourself. I do not pray often, but when I do, I often find myself praying for myself, which I found selfish. But Baldwin’s writing showed me that I should not suppress my own wants in order to achieve some dogmatic form of salvation. Salvation can only be achieved, in Baldwin’s eyes, through loving yourself, and additionally loving your community. This leads to my other big takeaway, which is Baldwin’s concept of love.
Before reading Baldwin, I was unsure if I have ever actually loved someone. The love that Baldwin describes, to me, is an active experience that one must continuously work at. There are certainly moments when loving the world and those in it is hard, especially during this hellish year that so many of us have struggled through. But walking around campus these last few weeks, contemplating life after graduation, I have tried to find the things that I love during this depressing time. I see all the bleakness, but I in an effort to narrow out the good. I love Notre Dame, despite several of the institution’s issues. I love the lake and the grotto; walking there brings me peace and joy. And while I certainly do not love all of my friends, I love a fair number of them, and I am going to make an effort not to let that love die after graduation.
This class was my favorite one this semester because of these two concepts of religion and love that Baldwin taught me. Often, I hear people criticize the English major and humanities in general because their content is “not applicable” to everyday life. But Baldwin’s teachings of love and religion are probably the most useful concepts I have learned this year; they are certainly more useful to my development as a human being than my accounting minor. So, I am very glad I took this course and very glad to have read so much from Baldwin. I will definitely be reading some of the stuff we did not get to over the summer.