A Question of Faith

How stories of belief define our lives

| March / April 2005

If there's one thing we have in common when it comes to God, it's that we all have a story.

When I was 20 I was engaged to marry a soon-to-be-ordained Lutheran minister. While he was preparing to devote his life to being a spiritual leader in one church, I was in college and just beginning to study world religions, large and small. Learning about different traditions leads some people deeper into their own faith. Others find reason to convert, or to reject God or religion altogether. For me, delving into the ways people express their connection to the sacred, or map their understanding of the universe, made the world bigger and richer and more exciting than I could have imagined. It also changed my love life.

Testing the waters, I asked my fianc? how he would feel if I decided to become, say, a Buddhist.

'If it's right for you, I would respect that,' he replied. I was happily surprised and relieved by his response. But I was even more surprised at my reaction after he asked, 'The question is, will you still respect me if I remain a Christian?'

That was a humbling moment, one that proved to be a crossroads in my life. I found I couldn't immediately say yes, and I was mortified. I respected the faith of this person I loved. It was the faith of my family, of the community in which I was raised. It was my faith. But right at that moment, I realized I was capable of -- even prone to -- a potentially radical departure. Buddhism had been the easy religion to bring up. But I was also attracted to Islam, Paganism, and Hinduism. And I was intrigued by the agnostics, and even the atheists, I'd met who seemed to me richly spiritual. I suddenly realized I didn't know where I'd land, but it was certain that my fianc? and I were embarking on different spiritual paths. And so my life took a turn.

When the December tsunami devastated Asia, we at the Utne offices were researching this issue on the future of God. For weeks we had been reading religious books and magazines and finding story after story about war and conflict. Then after listening to the news coming from the Indian Ocean where so many lost their lives -- including an Utne staff member's relative who died in Sri Lanka -- I was looking for solace. I picked up Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi, which had been on my reading table for years. Skimming the introduction, I read the line I have a story that will make you believe in God. I knew I'd found the next story I needed to read.

5/19/2012 11:02:31 PM

At a time when so much violence in the world is perpetrated in the name of organized religions why are so many so surprised that some of us are questioning the validity of these institutions? From the Crusades,to the Jihad, to the boarding schools the Naive American children were forced into in an attempt to eradicate their culture so many atrocities have been caused by one religion or another thinking it was the only TRUE one, so called organized religion has brought a lot of grief to a lot of people. Who are you to say that my belief in Creator is any less valid than yours? Because I don't read from the same book you do or pray the way you do I'm wrong?Because I made up my own mind what to believe instead of blindly following what I was told my beliefs are invalid? I though being an American gave me the right to worship as I pleas. Did hat change when I wasn't looking?

Robert Johnson
5/18/2012 6:14:15 PM

Thanks for mentioning the book. I just added it to my wishlist at amazon. It sounds like you're classified as a "none" since you're spiritual but not religious. Have you ever looked into Deism? Deism is simply belief in God based on the application of your reason on the laws and designs in Nature. Deists believe the designs point us to our Designer. Deists also reject unreasonable claims like God chose the Jews "above all people that are upon the face of the earth" (Deuteronomy 7:6), that Jesus walked on water and raised the dead and that an angel gave the Koran to Mohammed. A great book on God, Deism and religion is Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason, The Complete Edition and the book Deism: A Revolution in Religion, A Revolution in You. Progress! Bob Johnson www.deism.com

leigh copeland
5/18/2012 3:04:11 PM

This is the usual post-modern arrogance hiding behind a show of openness and humilty. In order to take the position that all religions are true you have to be standing on ground higher than any one of them. The tragedy of the cautious, conservative goal of victory withn your own "small clearing" is that having won you will be forced to see that it has no meaing by itself and even that will be taken from you. About a truth that you have created for yourself you will perpetually and non-negotiably hear wispered from the background, "You made it up!". The only truths that will survive are those forced upon you in the confrontation with something radically other than you.

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