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Old 07-18-2006, 03:12 AM   #1
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What's Your Conversion Story?

A couple of recent threads have got me thinking about this queston. What causes a person to " convert." I've gathered that several regular posters were once atheistic/agnostic and somehow became believers. Others of you were raised as believers but at some point in your lives "converted" to unbelief. Still others "converted" within religion from one faith tradition to another.

In all of the above, I'm curious to know, what made you take the leap? I believe it's a big one. . .to turn your back on a fundamental understanding of the world that you'd always believed to be true. What would make you do that? What gave you the courage to do so? Was there a proselyte involved? A person who convinced you by their arguments or way of living to make the switch? Was it a book? Was it a single, sudden defining moment of "revelation" or a slow, gradual process?

I raise this question for a couple of reasons. One, I was raised in a Christian environment and am still a Christian, so I've never made such a leap myself (and at this point, I don't think I ever will. I don't begrude anyone else their beliefs--or lack thereof, it's just I've not yet seen anything that makes me feel I'm missing something by sticking with what I've currently got. And was that a factor for those who have converted from unbelief to belief, or vice versa? Was something lacking in what you had at first?). So I'm really curious to hear about the stories of those who have.

Secondly, I find it interesting that so often we are so harsh against those on the other side of the line of belief. We marvel how they can be "so blind, so foolish, so arrogant, so misguided" and yet so many of us used to be on that other side. I think it might be good to remember what it felt like to believe (or disbelieve). For those of you with a conversion story, do you find that your former belief (or unbelief) makes you more or less understanding of those you've left behind?

Looking forward to your responses!
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Old 07-18-2006, 03:13 AM   #2
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Oh, and also, I think it would help us all understand one another better, knowing where we "came from".
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Old 07-18-2006, 04:53 AM   #3
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Canadian, from a mixed marriage Chinese/Caucasian, living in a predominantly white culture as an Asian looking male

Father is Buddhist, Mother is a Christian (I think United)

Grandparents mother's side Christian (Salvation Army)
Grandparents father's side Buddhist

I already posted some of this in the atheist thread but here goes. I was baptized as a baby under the United Church. The school system in my province was religiously denominational meaning protestants went to a protestant school and Catholics went to a Catholic school. I have no idea how this happened but I ended up in a Catholic school. I studied Catholicism in religion class like the rest of my classmates learning about the different Catholic doctrines as they had to learn all that stuff for Communion. I learned all the prayers, Our Father, Hail Mary, the hand gesture of the cross, but I never participated in the communion or confessions or anything related to the church. I remember staying behind in class reading while everyone else in the school went to the church ( which was next to the school) I remember counting the Hail Marys one year, I think they had to say 40 of them or something.

From Grade 5 to graduation, I ended up at a Pentecostal school. I was there cause it was the closest one to my home after we moved. This place had weekly assemblies where they asked you if you wanted to be saved. They showed videos about abortions, backmasking of music, the evils of the world, blah, blah, Basically, if you were a good church-going kid, you were in the clique. I wasn't, our family wasn't affluent which many of the families at this school were. I hated going to Sunday school as it appeared everyone there had money and we didn't so I hardly felt welcome. They had record burning thing back in the day. The pastor used to talk about the Second coming, Armageddon, etc. Basically, we were scared shitless most of the time. The same pastor was found out to be having an affair with a parishoner at the church. Both he and his mistress were married, I knew her son. They never allowed dances as this was considered wrong. My sister got kicked out of religion class in grade 3 at this school because she asked if Adam and Eve were the first humans, who married Cain and Abel if they were the children of Adam and Eve? I hated high school and the environment I was in but there was a group of us who weren't religious, one friend was Anglican, another Muslim and the other was United. None of us went to Church except my Anglican friend who participated in the Church Lads Brigade (CLB) I should have left that school, my sister left in grade 9 and she was very happy about it.

Sometime between grade 10 and 12, I started reading, watching, questioning everything going on. I came to the conclusion that everything we have been told is bull. I started reading and learning about other religions, ancient religions too. I came to the conclusion that religion was a tool used to control the masses and explain the unknown. If no one understood why it rained, they created a god to explain it. Need children? Pray to the god of conception! God of the harvest or goddess of the hunt, and so on. I think this is still happening today to explain the unknown, don't understand something? Whether it be death, a remarkable story of survival, or the origin of the universe, God is the answer.

The gods had to be kept happy so sacrifices had to made along with offerings. Their prayers to their gods sometimes ended up with the drought ending or the sickness passing in a member of the community. This just reinforced the behaviour of prayer to the gods. People misbehaving, better follow the rules or the gods will punish you and your family. Only the leader of the tribe who has connections to the deity can speak to the gods. So their was a benefit to having deities, the leader had power and influence.

Early man had basic needs, water and sun for gathering crops, they knew it came from the sky,hence, believing the gods lived in the sky which is why most cultures pray upwards. At some point, all these gods were just too confusing to keep track of and someone came up with the one god leading to the 3 major monotheistic religions of today. I feel this whole turn of events occurred over the entire history of mankind.

Another thing which puzzled me was the multitude of religions and denominations within each religion. It was a mess, even withing the same religion, people couldn't agree. As I mentioned earlier, I noticed religion existed in all cultures which only reinforced my views about early humans and their experiences with nature. And everyone thinks they are right and the other people are wrong, how could this be?

There are other reasons which made me feel that people just believe what they are told from the time they are born. Of course, my family was not religious which probably gave me less reason to stay connected to religion. I was a visible minority during a time when overt racism was still common. So these factors affected my views too. But for most people, they don't choose their beliefs, it is imposed or for lack of a better term brainwashed into them as children when you defer to the adult in your life. Most children would never question the existance of a god whether it be God or Allah since such a concept is beyond their understanding anyway. I notice a correlation between people's denomination and their favourite team in sports. Just as most people share the same denomination as their parents, most guys have bonded to the team their father or male role-models bonded with. I don't know very many people who stopped at one point in their lives and said hmm, I should stop believing in what I have been told my whole life and go believe something else. Same thing in sports, not to many people drop their favourite team in midstream and choose another one. It happens but not too often. Personally, dropping religion was not a big deal as it was never a huge part of my life but I can understand how difficult it can be for people with strong ties to the church or mosque to critically examine the doctrine or their own beliefs.

Religion is a good thing for helping people cope with stressful moments in life especially grief and tragedy. Again, the unknown. It gives people strength to achieve goals but I don't feel it is the power of god which does this but a firm dedicated committment to something, anything which keeps a person focused. I don't like when people thank God for successes like winning the World Series or an Academy Award, that really makes me ill. As if God cares who wins the World Series or Super Bowl, or did the guys on one team pray harder than the other team, it's foolish.

If you don't like what I wrote, I don't care. If you wish to criticize or start a debate, this isn't the thread for it. Maycocksean was asking about people's conversion experiences which is what I provided, some of the reasoning and experiences which made me an athiest. Please don't sidetrack his thread.
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Old 07-18-2006, 06:57 AM   #4
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My parents both had incredibly strict upbringings which I believe led to my irreverence. Mum's Australian, her parents Catholics. Dad moved out here from England as soon as he could (I think he was 21 or so), and his people are C of E. Mum went to ultra strict girls schools run by the most miserable old hags to ever walk the earth. They mercilessly drummed fear and violence into them, caning them for all sins and crimes, regardless of severity. They screamed hell, fire and damnation day in-day out. Godless, loveless, soulless, heartless cold nuns. Mum couldn't complain to anyone, as violence toward children was acccepted back then. Plus my dear grandparents thought they were doing the right thing. My grandparents are not horrible people who wanted mum and her sister to suffer. They believed their girls needed a good Catholic education. They trusted the church to take care of their needs during school hours.
My father went to stuffy horrid boys boarding schools which were run like prison camps (or so he'd have us believe), and the students had to do things like run through feet of snow all through English winters. Knowing my dad, who knows, though. lol. He also had the hard-arses. Some pompous old dick headmaster treated them like young cadets and they too were caned and abused and had religion rammed down their throats.
To this day I have not once witnessed my parents go to church. They do not profess a belief in, let alone a following, of any God or religion. We never went to church, never asked to, never had it at all as an issue in our house growing up. We were a happy godless family. My sister and I were christened, but only to please my mum's mother. Mum didn't care either way so we donned our little white frocks and had the ceremony.
In my adult life, I've since been told that my being (in theory) half Catholic and half C of E is a disgrace and I am in need of saving. I married a fellow half-caste who's parents mirrored my own - one being a pom and the other parent Aussie. We were supposed to pick one, dedicate to it and not intermarry.

I could not convert.
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Old 07-18-2006, 04:19 PM   #5
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I was raised in a fairly non-religious home even though my father was raised in the Episcopal tradition, and my mother identifying with the Russian Orthodox church. The most tangible religious influence came through my Catholic friends and my experience in Catholic school (I was sent there for academic reasons, but I had to figure out on my own all the “rules and regulations” that went with the experience). What depresses me about my upbringing, especially my time in Catholic high school, was that no one ever spoke of faith in Jesus. Heaven was all about keeping up specific traditions, rituals and rules regarding personal behavior (my favorite was the ranking of sin based on sexual conduct – from handholding to oral sex (which was always a fatal sin)).

By the time I finished college and was on to law school, I was your typical self assured, high expectation individual. I could get what I wanted and was smart enough to achieve my goals – all based on my own ability. Looking back, I realize that God had different plans for me. I was charging through law school near the top of my class and I had a beautiful girlfriend who I knew I would marry one day. She had a quirk though – she was a Christian. Fortunately, she did not bug me about going to church, but she did give me a true presentation of the Gospel. Along with the message came a verse from 2 Corinthians 6. As a believer, she could not marry an unbeliever and felt she needed to end the relationship. She walked out the door, never to be seen again.

Now this was devastating on many levels. A close personal relationship dissolves and my ability to control what was happening in my life was taken from me. Even though I should have felt anger for this wrong, it wasn’t there. I sensed a peace, a love I had not felt before. I then started to read the Bible (or re-read; I had studied it cover to cover in high school). The pieces began to fall into place and I went through a transformation that I see as similar to Mary’s experience in John 20 – going from seeing and not understanding to seeing and understanding in an instant. God wasn’t about tradition, rules and regulations. It was all about God’s matchless gift of Grace. The years of studying the bible as a text came to life as the living Word of God. That all happened twenty years ago, and I continue to grow in my understanding of God’s Word through daily reading, prayer and study.

As I look back, I realized I had embraced all the world has to offer to protect and sustain my self-esteem. God stripped that all away and gave me something far more powerful that what the world offers – the ability to see myself as a child of God. As His creation. As one who is loved by Him.
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Old 07-18-2006, 04:35 PM   #6
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Thanks for your replies, guys. And I second Trevster. . .while I enjoy debate as much as the next person, that's not what this thread is for. So far, so good.

Nbc, I had a question. Do you feel that you were ever a true non-believer, i.e. an agnostic/atheist or did you always have a sense that there was a God of some sort? Did you believe in God but not think much about him, or were you certain there was no God or God's existance could not be known?
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Old 07-18-2006, 04:48 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by maycocksean
Nbc, I had a question. Do you feel that you were ever a true non-believer, i.e. an agnostic/atheist or did you always have a sense that there was a God of some sort? Did you believe in God but not think much about him, or were you certain there was no God or God's existance could not be known?
No, I was fairly hard core non-theist, master of my domain type. Never had a sense of God's existence through high school. Christianity made for a nice story (I still remember the picture Bible from a doctor's office) - I would think of it as a cultural exercise for some.
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Old 07-18-2006, 04:59 PM   #8
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I was raised, mainly by my maternal grandmother, in a strict Methodist family. We walked to Sunday School and church every Sunday. I was active in the Methodist Youth movement as well. I really didn't like any of this stuff. I did it because I was forced to, not because I wanted to. There was alot of racism in my church. This annoyed me no end. I thought it was hipocrytical. So, when I was fifteen, I quit the church. I became an agnostic, and read alot of philosophy books. All my favorites were agnostics and atheists. I liked Gibbon because he was such a skeptic. I started attending Wiccan rituals at a friend's house. Then, one summer I went to Iona, Scotland, the birthplace of Scottish Christianity. I still can't remember exactly why I chose to go to Iona. I just did it. I came back and got into a real blue funk. I was really depressed. One night I was watching the news with my mother. I looked at the books on the shelf right beside the sofa. I picked up a volume of St. Augustine, of all people, and started to read "Confessions". Before I knew it I was looking for a Bible. I felt called to the Catholic faith. I called the diocesian education department and got referred to the nearest parish church. I felt a peace, a relief from all of that pain, after I was accepted as a catechumen. I became a Catholic that Easter Vigil, and I'm still practicing.
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Old 07-18-2006, 07:10 PM   #9
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I'm not sure that I have a "conversion story," per se, but I'll explain the origin of my religious philosophy.

Starting from the age of five, I had 12 years of private, Roman Catholic education. The first six are reminiscent of what you'd expect out of a Christian fundamentalist. The seventh was a bit of a culture shock, as we got our introduction to evolution (as the Church officially endorses scientific evolution, in the form of "theistic evolution"). In many ways, I consider that to be the first year of substantive religious education, which continued through high school. Probably my favorite religion courses were the ones in church history and world religions.

My religious beliefs, however, were always a bit unconventional. Until I hit college, it was my belief that the Catholic Church was progressive. When I was in college, I met my first group of "Young Earth creationists" (ironically, they were science majors), and I was frankly baffled that such people still existed. I thought that they were a relic of a time gone by. This was, in many ways, a testament to my enduring belief that faith and science was never incompatible.

Inevitably, I became to realize that the Catholic Church was the furthest from progressive in most ways, and after listening to two to three years of crap spewing from the Vatican, I finally gave up on it. It was not a decision that I took lightly, and it's still one that I wish never had to happen. But, as I had learned through Catholic education, your conscience is your utmost moral authority, even if it meant excommunication (a stance that today's church certainly tries to hide).

As an aside to all of this, I've had my moments of "sensing God." It's why I chose to stay the course, rather than becoming an atheist when I got angry at the Catholic Church. It's also why I have strong theological opinions. I believe that God, foremost, expresses Himself through science, logic, and reason. It is through study in all three that I came to reject the idea of original sin. The power of free will is one that comes with equal power of goodness and evil. For us to be incapable of evil would mean that we would not truly have free will. I also find things like theoretical physics to be endlessly fascinating, because of the possibilities it opens. Perhaps surprisingly, you might find it odd for me to say that I think it is possible to find evidence of God through science. However, considering that there is much that we currently are unable to confirm in theoretical physics, it may be a matter that "God" exists in an inobservable dimension. But who knows what we could uncover in the future, and I'm willing to concede that much of theoretical physics right now is probably too difficult to test in the present.

The other end of that is why I get quite angry when I see blatant pseudoscience like "intelligent design." These are theories that are more interesting in proving the Bible correct than it is in looking for evidence of God. I see "theories" such as these to be a complete waste of time and energy, not to mention a distraction. If it cannot be observed through secular science, then it is not worth looking at. Of course, I have no problem with faith, as long as there is no illusion that it has anything to do with science.

Melon
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Old 07-18-2006, 09:48 PM   #10
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Originally posted by maycocksean
others "converted" within religion from one faith tradition to another.
I think I fit into this category--moving from Orthodox to Conservative Judaism probably wouldn't sound like a "conversion" to most people, but within the Jewish community...well, let's just say things get heated enough sometimes that certain ultra-Orthodox factions have been known to spray-paint swastikas on their "heretical" brethren's synagogues and forbid any social contact whatsoever with them. More extreme than anything I ever experienced, fortunately--but it's broadly indicative of how bruising the recriminations can get.

I grew up in a fairly traditional Orthodox family, a few towns down the road from the rural Mississippian Orthodox community we belonged to, at least on Sabbaths. Most families in this community, like most everyone else's in the area, had been there for generations. My parents hadn't; my father was born into a highly assimilated and educated Dutch Jewish family in Amsterdam, my mother into a poor and ultratraditional Greek Jewish family in Thessaloniki. Their families were deported while they were both still children during the War, all their relatives were killed, and through various twists of fate they wound up emigrating here as teenagers, going to college then grad school where they met, and eventually winding up in Mississippi with five kids. As to the Jewish community I thus grew up in, while it was highly observant and all that, like you'd expect an Orthodox community to be, it otherwise wasn't much like the stereotypical Brooklyn shtetl-nostalgia portrait you might see in a movie or something; our rabbi went by "Bubba" and generally wore overalls and a T-shirt, and we all went to ordinary public schools, as there was no way anyone could've afforded to fund a private yeshiva. The rabbi, my parents, and several other couples from our synagogue had been very active in the Civil Rights Movement, and the earliest modern Jewish "icon" I remember learning about was Abraham Joshua Heschel; my parents had up in our living room a photo of him marching arm-in-arm with MLK Jr. at Selma (King was actually on his way to a Passover Seder at Heschel's house when he was assassinated).

I do have some memories of unpleasant religious-associated incidents growing up; there was a fair amount of anti-Semitism in the area, some of it of the "religious" "Christ-killers" type, some of it more racist in nature. There was also quite a lot of racism of the more stereotypically small-town Southern sort, some of it interwoven with religious "justifications," some of it not. It never really occurred to me to see any of this as broadly symptomatic of religion somehow, perhaps because pretty much everyone there--black, white, Jewish--was religious to some degree or another. Perhaps this was naive; I don't know. Anyhow, as far as home life and synagogue, I really have no bad religious memories to speak of; being Jewish I just experienced as a basic and normal fact of life, not something that "happened to" me or anything. My parents were firm believers in the value of a classic liberal education as well as a Jewish one, and supplemented both types at home; after school or on weekends, we might study Talmud with my father one day, then read from Herakleitos or the Iliad with my mother the next as part of our Greek lessons. All pretty unremarkable, really. I don't recall ever feeling any disjuncture between the two at that age.

My father died when I turned 16 and not long after that, I began to get quite interested in Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah). Initially my interest was probably partly psychological, partly also because I'd been attending a Catholic high school, where I'd read St. Teresa of Avila and Thomas Merton, both of whom impressed me very much. At the same time, I'd begun to feel dissatisfied both intellectually and experientially with the inherent anthropomorphism of the conventional Abrahamic conceptions of God, and found it very exciting to have access to this new vocabulary and conceptual system through which to better articulate what had come to seem intuitive to me. Other than that, life, grieving, religious and secular education, and the brave new world of mundane teenage humiliations plodded on as usual.

Like a lot of folks I guess, it wasn't really until college that I seriously began to grasp the notion that all the ideas I came into contact with might conceivably be pointing me towards anything beyond the confines of the world I'd grown up in. This was where I encountered for the first time a lot of the thinkers who I'd today consider profoundly influential on my worldview. 19th-century German phenomenology; Kant; Kierkegaard's Christian existentialism; American pragmatism; Gadamer's hermeneutics; and for that matter the atheist existentialism, utilitarianism, and empiricism of (respectively) Camus, Mill, and Hume were all particularly formative in one way or another. At the same time, in the course of preparing myself to better grasp the cultural backdrop of my chosen field (Indian politics), I took a few courses in Indian thought, and found much there to extend and deepen my grasp of certain aspects of Kabbalah which had most interested me, above all in the area of Advaitic epistemology. Although my formal Jewish education was over by this point, on the side I read a few modern Jewish thinkers who also weighed heavily into the mix, most importantly Heschel and Buber.

At the same time, attending a large public university with classmates from all different walks of life, each of them seeming as familiar and natural to the people who walked them as everyone else's seemed unfamiliar and arbitrary, I started to take a critical look at the world I'd grown up in from a no-longer-immersed perspective--not just its theological outlines, but its social and cultural ideologies as well--and I did not like much of what I saw. Why can't women be rabbis, when nothing in the canonical literature forbids it? What is it that's so contaminating and dangerous about historical source criticism, that our rabbis aren't even allowed to teach or write about it? Why do we say Well yes, admittedly the Oral Law does give rabbis the right to, and guidelines for, reinterpreting and even abrogating laws...but nonetheless, we hereby arbitrarily declare that all worthy uses of that provision were exhausted by the end of the Talmudic period, hence no more? We don't bar adulterers or slanderers or "rebellious sons" from our synagogues, so what exactly is the problem with openly gay people being there? There certainly wasn't anything bold or revolutionary about these questions, and indeed my parents had asked many of them; but I'd never before considered them fundamentally challenging to my place in the future as I'd always, and perhaps carelessly, imagined it.

While proceeding on to grad school I pursued these questions on the side, fuming and bumbling my way through thousands of pages of rabbinic reponsa on these topics. I didn't arrive at final convictions on all the questions I had, far from it, but a few things slowly began to crystallize out of the muddle, and perhaps the most important one was the realization that I simply did not and could not belong in Orthodoxy any more, either spiritually or intellectually. Where else to go...well, Reform Judaism, despite my deep respect for its founding thinkers, left me cold with its categorical dismissal of the place of observing Jewish law in life. Through all my other dissatisfactions and upheavals, the touchstone of spiritual discipline and Jewish identity that had always provided, much like yoga or meditation (though I do those too), had always kept me centered and, paradoxically, more limber in the best sense of that term. Atheism never really even occured to me; the experiential, if inarticulable, understanding of God I'd arrived at by that point suited me just fine, and I wasn't much troubled by the ultimate inexplicability of the universe or the problems of mortality or the like: Judaism has no hard-and-fast doctrines about the potential nature of the afterlife or its relationship to human life and actions, nor any overarching impulses towards Biblical literalism, so I really saw no reason to feel threatened by such matters, anyhow. That left Conservatism, whose simultaneous commitment to preserving an observant life, coupled with an essential receptivity to re-engaging Talmud Torah as that had always been done--through debate among those who had devoted their lives to realizing its precepts--had come to appeal most to me all along, as I slogged through all those responsa.

My siblings and most of my Orthodox friends were all quite supportive of this decision; my mother, on the other hand, was deeply upset for a couple years, and I did lose a few not-so-sympathetic Orthodox friends over it. Which was all right; I was in my mid-20s by then, and sturdy enough to handle that, though I do regret the hurt it caused my mother. But considering the anguish all around I've seen some families go through over such things, I really was very fortunate. It's funny how one's general personality, in addition to all the other factors, enters into the big picture with these kinds of decisions--my younger brother, who was still just a teenager when all this took place, is now an Orthodox rabbi, though on the far left end of that spectrum. Intellectually and spiritually, he really has so much in common with me, and we agree--often right down to the fine print--on so many of those same questions I had (including, in some cases, agreeing on not having a clue what the best answer really is, lol). But for him, the admittedly true fact that a great many Conservative Jews, unlike most of the Orthodox, are in practice cheerfully hit-and-miss about the finer points of observance is an obstacle he just can't get around: he would rather lead a congregation of resolutely scrupulous, if hard-left-leaning, "fringe" faithful, and as the price, put up with having some (very) nasty enemies in the Orthodox Rabbinical Assembly. Whereas for me...while admittedly unencumbered with his responsibilities...I really am not much bothered by the particulars of how observant the people I attend shul with are, so long as I feel that I'm among friends theologically.



Thanks, maycocksean, for starting this thread, and everyone else for some really intriguing stories.
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Old 07-19-2006, 12:51 AM   #11
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Mine's kinda boring since there wasn't one "moment", but a few important points along the way where I really changed in various areas.

My parents were both raised Christian Reformed. In our community, everyone is Dutch, so if you looked at Dutch Protestants in Groningen circa 1890, that's how most of the people here still are today. However, my parents were never really strict about religion. I went to a private school because the public ones here are absolutely terrible, but otherwise I was free to think and choose as I pleased.

At present I'd classify myself as a staunch Calvinist with moderate to liberal political views, a slightly more optimistic worldview than my fellow Calvinists, and a preference for more traditional (not conservative) theology and worship style.

I can think of three important moments:

1) I can't remember when exactly this was, I think I was about ten years old or so. It was a time where I was still a young kid, but old enough to start resenting going to the same church as my parents and finding it all very boring. I have no clue how this began, I think I was listening in on a conversation. It was my aunt who I'm closest to, my mom's older sister. She was talking about this one time when my great-uncle Art was preaching in church. I think she was talking about this because uncle Art had died of an aneurysm, but she said he was just giving his sermon like normal and the light outside began to shine in through the stained glass really bright and then she said she swore she saw a white angel form above uncle Art.

It was a powerful moment for me because even though I didn't see the angel, my family has always been quiet about the more personal aspects of religion and we're NOT the type of people to believe in angels and devils and such. But to see my aunt, who is like a second mother to me, telling this story about great uncle Art with such sincerity was moving. It also made me feel like this religion was so boring after all. My own uncle Art had an angel! To this day, when I'm in church and the message isn't particularly interesting, I look up and think about that story and how you just never know, you just can never know or fully understand God and that makes it kind of fun.

2) Swimming in Lake Victoria, January 2005. I had been very sick for over two weeks, some bad water I think, but I'd lost 12 pounds and was alwaya nauseous and exhausted, especially since it was summertime in East Africa. One afternoon, someone randomly suggested we try to find a road down to the lake, so we did and this beach was so clean. There were to guys netting fish and some school kids cooling off. Before we'd left, the Health Services did this whole lecture and insisted we never swim, but I already had a parasite from the water and just didn't really care about anything anymore, so I went in slowly until I was all the way in and just swam around for a while. I can't really say what this has to do with my religion because I'm still sorting it out, but something changed in me then and I am a different person as of that moment.

3) My sophomore year of college one of my best friends had cancer again and it was not looking good. She was in the hospital a long time. She had had an 8 lb tumor removed a year before and they thought things were fine until they found cancer spots all over her abdomen, lungs, and other lymph areas. She died the week final exams started. The whole experience made me a very, very, very bitter and angry person inside because Amanda was the sweetest most innocent person ever and she never once complained about anything. Her entire town was praying for her and pulling for her. Basically, I felt like prayer was stupid and worthless because the only person more pure than Amanda is Christ himself and while everyone prayed, she got worse and worse.

Then for a class I was assigned to read this piece by Friederich Schleiermacher. It was a piece that explains the purpose of petitionary prayer. Even before Amanda died, prayer has always been a struggle for me. This piece was the most enlightening thing I've ever read, as far as my personal spirituality is concerned. It reconciled the beliefs I wanted to believe, but couldn't because of my bitterness with my challenges with prayer.

After that, the bitterness left and thus I was able to finally let go of that and let go of Amanda so I could remember her for who she was and not my bitterness.
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Old 07-19-2006, 03:03 AM   #12
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When I left my religion at sixteen, it wasn't with much rancor. In a lot of ways, I enjoyed myself there. It was pretty heavy on Bible study and I was always curious, although often asking inconvenient questions. (I aced my Dante course in college, being apparently one of the few students who could pick out the Biblical references )

I left because I outgrew it. I had too many questions it could not answer. I saw a dark side to God and knew my religion wasn't going to help me resolve that. I left because I accepted the dark side of God. I left because my perceptions, my observations and my reason conflicted with what I was being taught and I knew that I couldn't be defined by what I couldn't believe. I would have to carve out my own belief system and make my own peace, carve out my own relationship based on my understanding.

Two small incidences freed me, I think. Lying on my back in a pool, looking up at the stars and thinking possibly that one of those stars didn't exist anymore even though I was seeing its light. I felt very small, comfortably so. And I understood what a small speck I was, how small my time of existence would be. And I surprised myself then by not connecting to God with that, but with nature.

The other came when I was walking in New York and thought suddenly, there is nothing after this life for me. It shook me to the core then. It doesn't shake me anymore. I just don't know and can't pretend that I do.

At varying times, you could call me a Christian, a humanist, a naturist, a pagan, a Deist, an agnostic and all of those would be right and wrong. I stopped defining my beliefs and found by not holding myself rigidly to any belief, I could clarify what I did believe. I'm not always comfortable with it and honestly I sometimes wish I did have a specific belief structure, but I don't think I can go back to it.

Do I believe in God? Probably. Do I believe a relationship with God is what I've been taught? No. Sometimes I think doubt deepens faith, sometimes I think it shatters it. For me, it's a process of crawling back to it again and again. The constant prodigal child. But even in the crawling, I sense somehow that with free will, God made man equal to him on some level.

maycocksean asked if I became more or less understanding of those who believe the way I used to. In all honesty, I can't answer that one way or the other. In some ways, I have become more understanding because I recognize that desire for sureness. In other ways, less so, because I don't understand not questioning. Contrary to some posts in the skeptic thread, I don't question to hear myself talk. I question to understand. I just may not accept someone else's understanding.
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Old 07-19-2006, 01:58 PM   #13
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What a great thread maycocksean! Man, there are some great stories in here!

I gave little background about conversion a few weeks back. I used to hate Christians and Christianity. I thought religion was for the intellectually weak – an “opiate for the masses” if you will. Most of the Christians I knew were no different in their attitudes and actions than any other person I knew.

I was baptized Catholic – but I did not grow up in a practicing Christian home. However, my grandparents were fairly devout Catholic. My grandfather was a highly intelligent, successful VP at a major corporation. He was a chemical engineer and I had the most difficult time understanding how he could have been a believer.

In my late teens and twenties – I was an adamant follower of Ayn Rand’s Philosophy “Objectivism” (which it turns out, was anything BUT objective). Her disdain for Plato made me wonder what he said to make her hate him so much (he believed in God), so in college I took a class dedicated his masterpiece "The Republic." Awesome class! For the first 3 years of college I majored in Philosophy and English Lit – and I slowly began to see how big a part God played in the greatest minds. And when I took Astronomy and Physics, wow, my mind was opened to the possibility of God.

It was in reading Plato’s book Phaedo – that I finally intellectually accepted there was a God. Now, I was on the quest to understand what kind of God he was. There was still no way I was going to accept the Christian version – it had been tried, discussed, and left behind. I wanted something new and fresh.

Through my college years I waited tables at a local resort. I made a good friend who happened to be a Christian. One night while I was discussing Plato with him, he mentioned that Paul addressed the Greeks at Mars Hill in the Book of Acts. Then he challenged me to read the book of Romans from a philosophical perspective. I was open minded enough to give it a re-read. That night, as I read through Paul’s amazing letter, I realized how this was the best philosophy I had ever read. It made perfect sense! That night, I accepted Christ into my heart.

Still, there was NO WAY I was going to align myself with mainstream evangelical Christianity. I thought the Fallwells, Swaggarts, and Bakers were the best examples of this lunacy. Off and on I went to Catholic churches, and I also explored various Protestant denominations.

I eventually came across the Gnostic Gospels and I thought I was reading a new, future, mystical version of Christianity. I was entranced by this. It was right up my alley – I could have faith in Christ and not be associated with the rest of the idiots!

But ultimately, the more I read the NT – the more I realized how “goofy” the Gnostic Gospels really were. There was no conspiracy to exclude these books from the Bible, they excluded themselves because they teach something completely different from what Christ taught.

When I met my soon to be wife, she invited me to her Southern Baptist church (I live in Northern California, not exactly a hotbed for Baptist churches). I decided to be open minded and go (and of course, she was hot!). The sermon was on Second Corinthians chapter 4 – and I was mesmerized. The church was ugly, the music was horrible, the congregation was filled what I would formerly consider “commoners” – but that sermon was right on.

I started meeting with this pastor and he kept throwing books across his desk at me. I soaked it all up like a sponge. This man was wise, calm, intelligent, courageous, and loving. Within a year, I joined the church and enrolled in part time in seminary. I have gone on to teach Sunday school and Bible Studies and even led a Young Adult Ministry for over a year. I feel called to either be a pastor or teacher. I will also transfer from being a National Guard Infantry Officer to a Chaplain somewhere down the line.


Looking back, I was about as skeptical and unbelieving as they come. But through God’s grace and patience – He slowly chipped down the walls of my hardened heart and eventually reached in saved me.
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Old 07-19-2006, 02:38 PM   #14
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Great Thread.

Let's see I was baptized Catholic and I am still Catholic. The past 5 years I have though have been me questioning my faith. I don't see the point of going to church when Jesus said god's kingdom is in all of us. So I have not gone to church, where there are statues, etc... What I do is go to Half Moon Bay and go to the forest and beach and use my photography as my way of communicating to god.





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Old 07-19-2006, 03:02 PM   #15
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Originally posted by Justin24
Great Thread.

Let's see I was baptized Catholic and I am still Catholic. The past 5 years I have though have been me questioning my faith. I don't see the point of going to church when Jesus said god's kingdom is in all of us. So I have not gone to church, where there are statues, etc... What I do is go to Half Moon Bay and go to the forest and beach and use my photography as my way of communicating to god.
Justin - these photgraphs are amazing! The one on top (with the trail) is one of the best photographs I've seen ina good while. Perhaps it should be U2's next album cover
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