I’ve asked several of my friends from different religious backgrounds to share the stories of their spiritual paths through life — what they believe, and why. This is the response of my friend Luke.
Despite having looked into many religious movements as part of my graduate studies, I find writing about my own spiritual journey remains a challenge. I don’t profess a faith, though I remain sympathetic and responsive to the efforts people make to introduce me to their beliefs and/or attempt to convert me.
This suggests a curiosity on my part about things like spirituality, faith, and religion generally.
I have been told by missionaries of multiple religious movements “we don’t know how to help you…we usually work with people in crisis.” Some religious practitioners have expressed their frustrations to me, pointing out that because I seem very interested and genuine it is perplexing as to why I don’t join.
Certainly I can list several sociological explanations which would predict that I would not join a religious movement, one might think of the models of Iannaccone (http://www.religionomics.com/old/erel/S2-Archives/S21_Publications.htm) or the theory of religious-economics put forth by Stark and Finke (http://books.google.com/books?id=N4p9eiXV6dMC&source=gbs_navlinks_s) to suggest that my so-called “social capital” is too diverse or too valuable to make the social (and religious) capital on offer from any given religious movement at all attractive.
To be sure, the social-economics of religious conversion is not without its problems, it may misread a whole host of other, hard to calculate, values that people attach to religious experience (see Steve Bruce’s review (http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft0102/reviews/bruce.html) of Stark and Finke). Lofland and Skonovd, for example, propose six “conversion motifs” (intellectual, mystical, experimental, affectional, revivalism, coercive) which extend the social/affectional motive for conversion. My experience among aspiring witches speaks to the first motif. In my case I was sent off to read reams of literature and take exams before being allowed anywhere near a coven — thus thoroughly diminishing the affectional motive (e.g., attraction to friends/practitioners).
I might also speculate as to whether my personality is right for conversion (cf. Paloutzian; Richardson; and Rambo. 1999. Religious Conversion and Personality Change. Journal of Personality. 67(6):1047-1079), but lacking the results of any personality test makes this a bit troublesome.
Maybe it is an emotional thing? Several religious practitioners have offered knowledge about how I should interpret my feelings. LDS missionaries, for one example, have suggested that the presence of the Holy Spirit can be detected as “a warmth in your chest…like that feeling you get when you fall in love with someone.” I will readily admit feeling such things whilst speaking with LDS missionaries. Yet, I have had the same feelings when a self-described witch said I was being called to a decidedly un-Christian deity. Furthermore, members of Campus Crusade for Christ have warned me that accepting such feelings as evidence — in either case — may in fact be the work of the “evil one” (by their rationale even walking into the middle of a forest and having my own Joseph Smithlike experience should not be cause for adopting anything but what they are already teaching). Should I credit feelings in the direction of faith or should I consider such things suspect? The downside of hanging out with lots of different religious people is that these sorts of dilemmas constantly remain at the fore.
I think when it comes down to self-reflection concerning spiritual questions I rather enjoy not knowing. From my perspective I see my spiritually interested yet uncommitted status as an upside. Shall I explore further religious movements…perhaps the divine craves the uncommitted and the independent? I was once told by a Greek Orthodox priest that I am in danger of developing the worst kind of extreme apophatic theology. I think that completely misses the point. I am not opposed to positivist definitions of God, faith, or spirits. I really want to know whats out there. In that sense I am more curious about, rather than worried about, what would happen if I dropped dead tomorrow without having made a salvation covenant, been called to a deity, hit upon some alleged piece of enlightenment, peeked into Moksha…or so on and so forth.
On the one hand, I don’t consider myself a skeptic — I do harbor a feeling that their is a truth out there somewhere. On the other hand, if a shimmering being were to descend from the ether and come to rest beside me on the couch and say “hey there, you are doing everything right, God wants you to remain uncommitted” my knee-jerk reaction would be to ask, “so why should I believe you?”