Traditionally creeds are communal texts read and repeated in worship to remind the faithful of common beliefs. Religious historian Jaroslav Pelikan describes a moment in the spiritual development of a people—speaking of the Massai of Africa—where they can no longer repeat the prayers and creeds of their teachers but must find their own words for their own context. In many ways, the same is true of college students moving away from family, neighborhood, and hometown and trying to find beliefs and a voice that is truly their own.
For this assignment, compose a personal credo that distills your unique approach to life into a short statement of no more than 200 words or shorter. We’ll have time to add flesh to this skeleton later, but for now you’re simply defining your belief as precisely as possible.
For this exercise to be meaningful, you must make it wholly your own. This short statement isn’t all you believe; it’s simply a way to introduce others to something(s) you value. In spite of the name, your credo need not be religious or even public. You may decide to focus on commitments to family, service, nature, education, political action, or the arts. As you look for a focus, try to choose concrete language and to find something that helps others understand your past, present, and future choices.
Credo Research Exercise. As you begin to articulate your own credo, spend some time reflecting on creeds that have shaped political, social, or religious movements you’re interested in. Spend fifteen to twenty minutes researching statements that have galvanized a group of people or shaped a movement.
Would you consider the Preamble to the Constitution or the Communist Manifesto as creeds? Do Amnesty International, Greenpeace, or other campus groups use statements of belief to identify themselves?
Can creeds be negative as well as positive statements, dividing as well as uniting people? In an interview on “The Need for Creeds,” Jaroslav Pelikan suggests, “in the darkest hours of life, you’ve got to believe something specific, and that specification is the task of the creed, because, much as some people may not like it, to believe one thing is also to disbelieve another. To say yes is also to say no.” Would you agree that human societies need creeds?
The Need for Creeds with Jaroslav Pelikan on NPR
Wikipedia introduces the creeds of religious, political, and social groups http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creed http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American’s_Creed http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scout_Promise http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodhisattva_vows