This morning I was not all that surprised to find an email in my inbox requesting that I participate in some grad student's research survey about religion, spirituality, and personal beliefs. Since I'm still on my counseling grad program's mailing list, I often receive these types of requests and usually go ahead and complete them in the name of research and helping a poor student out. But only if they seem interesting or I am really bored. Today was a combination of the two.
The survey stated that it was a study of the personality traits of non-religious people, and it was looking for both subjects who consider themselves to be religious and non-religious. I had to do it.
The thing is that I got way more than I bargained for, because in order to explain what you believe to someone, you kind of have to know for yourself. I've talked in previous posts about my background and childhood, so those of you who already know me probably know a bit about it and those of you who only know me via the blog can read some old posts to catch up (try "Hippie Friends", "That Time I Got In-School Suspension", or "Reality TV" for starters). In short, I grew up in an environment that was completely filled to the brim with Southern Baptist beliefs and practices. We didn't just go to church on Sunday. We went to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday nights, etc. I was home-schooled for many years with textbooks about creationism/Christian "science" and Christian history. Then I went on to attend the strictest religious school around for several years, graduated from a Baptist high school, and spent my first year of college at a private Christian university. All of my friends, family, and schoolmates were Christians. I only came across "sinners" at the store, at jobs (once I hit 16), etc. ;) I was on the Bible quiz team for several years, played in the church orchestra, sang in all the choirs, volunteered for AWANA's and vacation Bible school. My life was pretty much all church all the time.
I really never doubted my beliefs, because it was what I had been told since I was born, and what had been reinforced from every conceivable angle throughout my life. I would no sooner doubt Christianity than I would doubt that my parents were indeed my biological parents. It was all I knew. Upon entering college however, I knew I was ready to finally meet some people from other backgrounds and cultures, to learn about evolution (gasp!) and study other belief systems. To do that, I left my bubble and enrolled in a public university. I had never seen so many people from so many different walks of life--gay, lesbian, straight, black, white, mixed, Muslim, atheist, Catholic, Republicans AND Democrats--Oh my!
I fell in love with diversity and culture. I wanted to pick everyone's brain about their beliefs, way of life, understanding of self, relationships, everything. I was hungry for it. After lots of long conversations with people from other backgrounds, I started moving further and further away from the principles and beliefs of my youth and started developing my own understanding about spirituality and what it means to me.
At some point, I kind of came to the conclusion that formal religion really wasn't for me. I never felt a connection to myself, nature, and other people like I felt just sitting quietly staring at the ocean or lying on my back on a warm summer night staring at the stars. I knew there was a connectedness and a feeling inside me that I call my spirit. But God? Jesus? the whole heaven vs. hell deal? I really started feeling more like those things were an interesting way to conceptualize our journey through life and little more. There--I've said it. I'm an agnostic.
Anyways, sorry for the rant. Back to my original thoughts--so when I got this survey this morning, I jumped right in. One of the first questions asked me to write out what I believe happens when you die--what happens to your body (or spirit if you believe in that) while you're dying and after you're dead. Wow. Since going it alone, I had never been asked to put pen to paper and actually DEFINE what I believe. It was kind of difficult and made me think a whole bunch...what DO I believe? I mean for real. I recognized that I had kind of constructed 2 scenarios--1)what I found to be the most comforting and therefore what I wanted to believe in, and 2) what I really truly could look into the mirror and tell myself.
Does this make me confused? I'm gonna go ahead and say "yes". The weird part is that I didn't even really know that I didn't know until today. Time to start thinking, reading, and listening to my heart.
If anyone has good suggestions for books or articles on the topic, please recommend them to me!Let the exploration begin...
**picture by communities.canada.com