Monday, November 1, 2010

What DO I Believe? And Other Great Questions

First things first-throughout the course of my childhood and teen involvement in church and religious schools, I have developed close friendships with people from a variety of belief systems. This post is in no way meant to be hurtful OR to arouse a gang of "I'll pray for you"'s or whatever. These are just my random thoughts about my personal journey with religion and spirituality. Here goes nothing:

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


Shannon said...

I totally agree with you. Being raised Catholic and then being excumicated from the Catholic Church when I was married in a Christian church really upset me. I went on and made the kids go to church with Mark and I and they were baptized when they were old enough to understand what was going on. Tyler was all for it. He carried around a box that had Jesus on it with all his treasures and a bible. I thought he was going to be a preacher for awhile. (yeah, now not so much). Tory on the other hand I think was mortified when she was baptized, getting dunked in a cold tub of water with the whole church watching. Now I think to myself, "Why did I do that to them"? Well at least Tory. She was not comfortable at all with it. No matter what I really believed I still had it in the back of my mind that these kids should be baptized just to be safe. Silly, I know. I went to a Catholic counselor and she asked me if I believed in God. I told her that it is hard to believe in something that I can't see or feel. She said "Well look outside, you cant see the wind, but you can feel it". It is there. In the end as much as I have went over and over it, I am agnostic. Religion and spirituality is just something to believe in to get you through tough times and sometimes just even the day. Which is great for some people. If my Grandmother did not have her faith, I don't think she would make it. That is my belief, but I to have a hard time wondering what happens when when we die. If you receive any good suggestions for some good books to read on this subject, please pass it on. Thanks!

kcpin22 said...

Hi Erika-- love you girl! I'm not one to blog or comment, but this one concerns me. There is one verse that stands out in my mind:
Romans 1:20
"For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."

It's frustrating as a Christian to see the errors of the "Christian way" - namely, the blame game we play, the judging, rules, rituals, etc. that can turn people against God/religion. This was not God's intent to have a people with this nature, it's human nature that screws everything up! If you study what the Bible says about Jesus (after the cross)-- after the veil was torn so we could be free to live our lives - it's very liberating and encouraging.
I'm trying to put myself in different shoes to think about how I would feel if I didn't believe. I admit it would be a pleasant thought to think that there are would be no consequences for our actions, that we merely exist to seek pleasures and do what we want in this world. You are a smart girl and I can see that in a scholar's mind religion would not make much sense. I believe in my heart, not my head.
It takes faith to believe, that's why it's a challenge and so many will be doomed. I would ask you, for the sake of "just in case" this religious stuff in not bologna, to pray that God would reveal to you the truth, to really seek it out and let God speak to you. Please do not let the mistakes of so many Christians make you question the existence of a supreme being :)

Erika said...

Thanks for your heartfelt response. I'm not trying to suggest that I have all the answers or that I have entirely rejected the concept of "God".

I really appreciate your insight, and will include these ideas in my search. I had to smile at your comment about no consequences for our actions--I'm about the most straightforward boring chica of all time (especially these days)and even though I'm still sorting out what I believe in, being able to do whatever I want with no consequences is hardly a concern ;) For me, it's not about feeling free to do this or that. My lifestyle is similar now to when I was practically living at church. In fact, I'm probably less "rebellious" now because I don't feel pressure to be any certain way.

For me, it's more about seeking out truth and being able to feel it in my core. You know? Anyways, I just know how touchy an issue this is for everyone, esepecially those raised in the Christian faith, and I really appreciate you reaching out.

PS: I'm not sure who you are KCPin 22. Thank you for your genuine care :)

kcpin22 said...

sorry, I wasn't trying to be a mystery. . . I'm your ole SBU friend Casi : )

Erika said...

Casi! Hi :)

Tiffany said...

Even though I am a religious person I understand your wondering and such. I was born, baptized raised and still am a Catholic. I went through a period of time when I was about 19 similar to how you feel. I stopped going to church, I became a little agnostic myself. I wondered if I really believed what had been engrained in my mind. Like someone else said I had a difficult time believing in something I couldn't see. I tried going to other churches even. Mainly just the non-denominational kind. Each of them was a good learning experience but felt a little weird. Then some things happened in my life (too long to go into detail about) that brought me back to the Catholics. I'm happy and comfortable with this.

I think this is a great post. We all have our own belief systems that make each of us unique. I think you're an interesting person and I give you props for trying to read up on the whole picture so that you can form your own thoughts and ideas.

Anonymous said...

Hiyya Erika!

I got to your blog from a comment you left on my Co(ersed)-Sleeping post from Offbeat Mama. Firstly, thanks for commenting; it's relieving to know that I'm not the only one out there :)

But I just had to stop and comment on this particular post of yours because I spazzed while reading it. Why? It was like reading something I had JUST posted a week or two ago. I'm from a Muslim background and am essentially just Agnostic now.

You're post put it much more eloquently and I'm really glad I came across it!

Erika said...


Thanks. It's crazy how so many people who don't know each other can be feeling the same thing at the same time :) I think I've read some of your posts before...I'll have to check out your entire blog!
Always glad to find a new offbeatmama friend :)

Christina Halatsis said...

Hey Erika, I watched an interesting movie called One: the Movie I hope this link works. The interviews these filmmakers were able to land was quite impressive and I think it sort of paints a picture of God in a way that is not only Christian but spiritual as well. Im not sure, but there were definetely some things in here that in my mind are taught wrongly in the Catholic church. That God is a person, in the sky, or that nature is a separate entity...not sure, but I hope it intrigues you.

Erika said...

very cool. thanks tina!