Lessons from History of Architecture: What I Perceive As Truth May Not Be The Truth At All

A huge part of the beliefs ingrained in my subconsciousness is there because I live in the Philippines. I would have a different set of beliefs or truths if I live in Japan or was born in India.

What if I grew up in a Muslim environment?

Taj Mahal, India
Taj Mahal, an example of Saracenic Architecture

If I was born in a Muslim family, I would most probably be a Muslim too and I will grow up going to mosque that are adorned with abstract patterns. Because for Muslims, any form that depict human or animal figure on or in a mosque is considered as idolatry. Hence, their places of worships are always decorated with abstract art. So, if I grew up in that kind of environment, I will consider human or animal statues in a place of worship as idolatry.

What if I grew up in Japan?

If I was born in Japan, I will grow up being surrounded by Shinto shrines wherein statues of animals (like kitsune and shika) stands on the site of the shrines. If I grew up in that kind of environment, I do not consider that I am committing idolatry because I do not worship kitsune and shika. Kitsune simply serves as a guardian of Kamis while shika is a direct messenger to sun goddess, Amaterasu.

What if I was born into a family whose religion is Roman Catholic?

If I was born into a family whose religion is Roman Catholic, I will grow up going to a Catholic Church every Sunday and being surrounded by statues of Jesus, Mama Mary, and other saints. My belief would be that even though there are statues in our church, we do not commit idolatry because the statues serve as a visual reminder and a way to connect. As BBC writes, “Catholics do not worship Mary or the saints, but ask them to pray to God on their behalf. This is known as intercession.” We are not committing idolatry because we know that we are worshipping God.

So what does this all mean?

This essay will not answer the question, who’s beliefs are more right or more wrong because as I was studying the architecture of different countries, I began to realize that what I perceive as truth may not be exactly the truth at all but it is only considered as truth because its what a collective group of people in my area believed in.

My current truths are shaped by the people and the built environment around me. But it may not be the truth at all.

So what’s the truth? Honestly, I don’t know and I have no intention of wasting my energy on finding out what’s the real truth.

But I am writing what I noticed here today because I know that having this kind of awareness—that what I perceive as truth may only be a truth because that is what most people in my location believed in—makes me more empathetic, understanding, and open-minded to other people who do not share the same beliefs as I am. The people who do not share the same beliefs as I am, they grew up in an environment that told them that this is what’s right and what’s wrong, just like how I am, hence I do not have the right to judge them for that because what I believe in may not be even the truth at all.

Culture shapes architecture and the built environment, in turn, is what shapes the beliefs of the future generations of that land. For instance, the Shinto shrines of Japan are established by people who are now centuries dead. But Shintoism is still practiced because the tangible idea of what they practice in the past is still here in the present and hence, they continue to shape the beliefs of the Japanese people.

We are largely shaped by our environment and sometimes, it makes us a bit more kinder if we have that kind of awareness every time we interact with someone.

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