I was reading a post on The Ethical Warrior about young people and their beliefs. The writer asked several young people some basic questions to see if their beliefs were forged from experience or just come from someone else. He concluded that most young people simply believe what they have been taught by others. I agree. Most people stay the same religion as their parents.
What I enjoyed most about the post was that he challenged people to explain why they believe what they believe. It is good to talk to others about our beliefs and ask about theirs, if only because in trying to articulate your beliefs you will come to understand them better.
So I will take the challenge. I will use his questions as a starting point, but I will probably go off on several tangents.
He begins with the basic question: why do you believe what you believe? I will answer that one last.
Next, he began asking about life experiences.
Have you been married? No.
Have any children? No.
Had a real job? Yes. I have worked as a digital print specialist, a graphic designer, and done some photo restoration.
Lived in a foreign country? No, but I would love to.
Been exposed to another culture? Yes. My family is part Indian, Cherokee, and white. My mother married a Cheyenne. They are very different Indians. Also, in my decade of prison, I spent time with blacks and Hispanics, not to mention that prison has its own, very distinct, culture. It is almost a foreign country.
Been to a religious service not my own? Yes. I have been to Sun Dance, where I participated as a runner. I have also been to several Protestant services, which may be Christian, but they are very different from a Catholic Mass. (I seem to have bad luck in that every single time I go to another denomination, they trash Catholics or something we believe.) I have also been in a Wiccan circle.
Well read on other faiths? Yes. I have read many Hindu sacred texts, as well as studied the various paths of yoga. Studied Buddhism. Read what I could on real Druidism, not Wicca that’s different. Of course studied Judaism, though I admit it was ancient Judaism. I have read many Christian texts from all the different lines from the gnostics to the Jehovah Witnesses.
Why do I believe what I believe? I grew up in a nominally Christian family. My mother was sort of Methodist, but since my father was an atheist, we never went to church. My grandmother taught me some Indian beliefs, and these really were the only things I knew about spirituality. I knew Jesus was born on Christmas and came back from the dead on Easter, but I had no idea who He was. As a teenager I was very depressed and full of angst. I hated God for making the world and for putting me in it. I did however, have one religious experience at this time. I was on LSD and I had a vision of angels. Through them I could since the absolute gentleness of God. Then I went to prison. No, not for drugs. This is when I hit bottom so to speak. It finally broke my pride and made me have to face God. We had to wrestle quite a bit, but eventually I realized I had screwed my life up pretty miserably, and so I decided to give His way a chance. Now at this point I considered myself a Christian. I read the Bible, didn’t like it. It expected to much out of me. Didn’t go to any services or anything because I didn’t want to be a part of the jail house religion. A friend of mine played guitar in the Catholic service and so I went to go see him play. When I got the pass to go, they gave me one for all Catholic functions. Well in Texas prison they don’t have air conditioning, and it gets very hot in south Texas. They had A/C in the chapel. So I went to everything they had. I didn’t participate in the rosary, I just watched. I listened to the teacher for RCIA, which is a class on Catholicism. I had a ton of questions. They had some answers, but weren’t afraid to admit when they didn’t. That was a plus. They didn’t expect me to throw away my intellect. They taught the first part of Genesis as teaching stories, not historical fact. But it was mainly centered on the teachings Jesus and how we could apply them in prison. The volunteers were all very intelligent, patient men who I could Christ in. I started seriously considering becoming Catholic. So I began to read. I am not going to join any organization before I learn about it. I already knew the history of the Church, as I am a huge history buff. I read the Catechism, which is a summary of everything the Church teaches. I read the writings of the Church Fathers. I reread the Bible to see compare and contrast. I also began to pray the rosary with my cellie every night. That was the hook. I love the rosary. So I got Confirmed Catholic. But that was only the beginning. Later I was asked to teach a class on Christian meditation. So I studied meditation. I read the writings of the mystics St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, the Cloud of Unknowing, and others. I began to focus on prayer and meditation. All while still in prison. The peace I found in prayer kept me strong while living in the darkness and chaos of that place. I worked as a janitor on Death Row. The evil in that place is oppressive. I taught men about prayer and meditation, and believe me, nothing teaches you more than teaching others. After a few years they decided to bring the Franciscans in. I studied with them for two years and realised I had found my true home. On the 800th anniversary of the founding of the order, we had our profession in the Polusnsky Unit, the unit that houses Death Row in Texas.
Why do I believe what I believe? My beliefs have been forged in the fire. I screwed my life up and ended up in hell, but while there I found God and His Church, and He saved me. Not in that watered down, trite, bs way. He brought me back to life when I was dead. Since then I have lived my life depending on God. I know I can’t do it myself, He has to do it with me. He supports me. He protects me. He love me.