My whole life has been, in some ways, a journey into understanding belief, particularly as it is defined within religion. Perhaps in spite of how it is defined in religion.
When I was young I lived in a small town and in my earliest years attended a small church of the Pentecostal faith — tent meetings, laying on hands, speaking in tongues, the whole thing. However, my mother felt I should explore other religions so I attended Lutheran and Methodist and Catholic churches with my friends, particularly liking the latter because I could wear cool hats and scarves (forgive me, I was young). However, until I moved away from the small town, I stayed with the “bible thumpers”.
(And the members of this church were exemplary examples of their faith — once I left twin kittens with one member to care for while I was away. She left them outdoors during a cold snap and they froze to death. When, at the tender age of 12, I displayed grief and anger at their loss, she stated that after all, “…they were only cats.” And when the minister of the church who basically built the church with his own hands admitted to making a mistake and having an affair and asked for forgiveness, his flock had him disbarred from his church and literally drove him out of town.)
When I moved to Seattle, my quest for “belief” in the nature of religion continued, except I started to follow more esoteric paths.
I tried out Yogi, primarily because I was such a Beatle’s fan. I stayed in Salt Lake City for a few months and learned about the Mormon faith. I also sat quietly by the side of a close friend as she rediscovered her Jewish roots, and watched, enviously, as she gained such inner strength from her newly refound faith. How incredibly ironic that she fell in love and had a child with an Iranian. Perhaps he and she found a common thread in their mutual beliefs. Or perhaps they just fell in love.
I tried out the gentle beliefs of the Wicca as well as the way of Peyote with Carlos Castanada.
My most interesting path followed was my tenure in the infamous Children of God, known today as the Family.
It’s difficult to have freedom of belief when your every move is watched, your every utterance listened to, and carefully corrected. A senior member would be with me always, including when I went to the bathroom. I was literally never alone.
Once I wrote a question about what I was hearing in my lessons in my Bible, only to have the head of this particular group sit beside me, open my bible, and proceed to tell me that the Devil always seeks to make us question our faith. Considering that I was in my teens, impressionable, and at the time in love with this particular person, I was profoundly impacted. My belief was firmly molded.
The only thing that saved me from the cult was one day when I was called into the main office to take a phone call. I looked around the room as I was speaking (with my father, who was not happy with my decision), and saw the loot “donated” by the members of the flock, piled so high it reached the ceiling at one point.
Didn’t Jesus throw the moneychangers from the Temple?
Once a crack appears in a belief, unless the belief is founded on solid ground, it crumbles quickly.
Do I believe there is a God? There is a soul? That we are on earth for a purpose?
I believe in all religions, and I believe in none of them. I believe we have a soul, and I also believe that what we are is what we have today and nothing else exists. I believe in all of these things, contrarian as they are, because I have the ability to believe and the freedom within me to practice my belief as I prefer…
…in the privacy of my own mind, body, and whatever I hold to be “spirit”.