I was raised in a family that didn’t practice any faith and rarely even discussed religious or scientific understandings of the world. Growing up, most of the people I knew in school and outside of my family highly valued a scientific and atheistic view of the world, and so I grew to equate the two. I also knew a few Christians who largely believed in a non-scientific view of the world, denying evolution and preferring creationism. It was not until much later, in college, that I began to question these extreme binary either/or relationships and whether they were being artificially imposed on the data at hand. I also began to question whether empirical and reproducable evidence was the only valid method of examining and understanding the world in which we live.
The Real Beginning
I started by investigating just about every religion I could find information on without traveling farther than the areas I’ve lived in. Because I’m far from rich, traveling was out of the question, so instead I scoured the books I could find at the library, the internet (starting with a website I’ve grown to appreciate over the years:www.beliefnet.com), alternative bookstores, and individuals I met along the way. What I discovered was a smattering of religions in this world with vastly different approaches to understanding humanity’s existence and purpose (some religions don’t even believe we exist, others believe we have no explicit purpose).
This process filled about five years’ worth of time, a period of time that included me getting a degree in Natural Sciences (that is to say, a BA with foundational knowledge in biology, chemistry, and physics, along with extended study in two of those three fields which included independent laboratory research). By the end of that time period I’d completely worn myself down with the search for the meaning of life and had yet to find a religious view of the world that reconciled well with science, but which also “spoke” to me in that deeper way that religious people always described when talking about their faith. I was at the end of my rope and no closer to experiencing that special faith experience that seemed so easy for so many others.
Personal Prejudices Illuminated
It was at this point when I met a Catholic priest, a spunky elderly man who completely changed my outlook on this search for faith. He was quite possibly the only person who could have gotten through to me one very important fact: I’d allowed my prejudices against Christianity to color my faith journey in such a way that I never seriously considered the Christian faith as a viable option. It was through dialog with him that I discovered that not only can science and religion be reconciled, but that there is a diversity of opinions on the matter even within Christianity.
And I reached another conclusion as well, via discussions with this priest: life is something to be valued. I had accepted as truth this notion that abortion was merely the removal of some unwanted cells which might lead to human life at some point in the future if allowed to remain in place. But the argument of when life begins was one that I lost ultimately, when I realized that even if we never do know for sure when human life begins, if we value human life, we must take the more cautious approach and refuse to discard a “clump of cells” that we know be the product of conception. This conclusion for me was the most life-changing. I’d always valued life on a theoretical level, and on a grand scale, but I’d never really internalized what it meant to value life on a personal level. That for the grand-scale value of life to happen, the individual valuing of life must occur.
Within months of this conclusion, I’d come to the realization that if I wanted to find a religion to belong to, one that I could whole-heartedly believe in and be a part of, it must be one which values life not only in rhetoric, but in actions and intent. And as I further explored the ways in which God and science could be reconciled, I found a richness of history and wisdom in the Bible and in the Christian faith.
The Challenge of Valuing Life
You’d have thought that at this point the decision to convert would have been a straightforward and simple one. I doubted myself at this point, however, because once I realized that the valuing of life was of utmost importance to me, I began wavering back and forth between conversion to Christianity and a commitment to another faith system that valued life. It’s not that I had a particular faith system in mind, I just really didn’t want to be Christian. Being Christian is difficult. It’s full of opportunities for people to make fun of you, and such a conversion would have challenged every aspect of my existence from my career path, to my choice in significant other. It was simply too much too soon.
So I wavered. I kept searching, looking back through my old notes, and doing fresh research on alternative religions. It was painstaking research, and though I’m sure I’ll eventually get questions about my ultimate decision, I won’t bore you with the details here. Just suffice it to say, that I repeated my previous five years of research with another few years of research, both on alternative religions, and on the various Christian groups. My research on alternative religions was always on how they viewed life, death, marriage, sex, and families. But my research on Christian groups was always on politics, and on how much I’d be expected to change my current way of life in order to belong. It wasn’t the wisest of research, I grant you. But it wasn’t without reason, and I’ve learned a great deal from it, both about myself and about the various dividing lines within Christianity.
Somewhere in this process I stumbled upon something called “Apologetics.” It fascinated me, and eventually it also wore me down because I devoured it during every free moment available to be. I discovered a great deal more about theology and history than I had ever found in my research before. Mostly this is because of the great proliferation of apologetics online, as well as the invention of podcasts. You simply can’t find this sort of stuff readily accessible in bookstores without some knowledgeable searching. And though I’d researched a great deal, I would hardly have classified myself as knowledgeable. And lets face it, to the uninitiated, the word “apologetics” doesn’t sound like anything more than some fancy method of apologizing for something, and the last thing I wanted to read was a book about that!
What happened once I discovered apologetics and started listening to the well-reasoned arguments for God, for Jesus, and for Christianity was a profound experience in my life. Suddenly, I had no reason not to believe. All the objections I’d had fell away. Every argument I could come up with or find from others had a reasoned counterargument that actually made sense to me. I sat with this new belief for awhile, let it soak in and I rested. I stopped trying to figure it all out, and just let my mind relax a bit and focus on other things for awhile.
What Apologetics Couldn’t Do
When I came back to the question of belief, I discovered before me a vastness of possibility in the Christian religion, but rather than amazement at the diversity of this faith, I was overwhelmed. My husband’s family is Methodist, and I didn’t want to choose a denomination based on familial expectations. I’d had some experience with the Catholic church, so I began researching that a bit more again, and I found that their apologetics experts were asking an important question: WHICH Christian denomination/group is the one that Jesus established? Of course, they also had an answer, and tired from fighting through nearly a decade of research at this point, I was all too ready to accept this answer. I even began the conversion process. What I discovered, however were simply more nagging doubts. And these weren’t doubts about the truth of Christianity, but rather about the truth of Catholicism. I’ve been on the fence about this quite a bit in the last year, in fact. And apologetics couldn’t answer my questions for one reason–each apologist had a different answer which not only told me whether they believed Catholicism was the right denomination, but also one which implied that THEIR denomination or group was the correct one.
Finding My Way Home
This is probably a good place to point out that I have nothing but gratitude for the Catholics in my life and for the institution that existed to put them there. This is not going to be an anti-Catholic blog, nor a pro-[insert denomination here] blog, but in the spirit of honesty, I have to tell you I came to a vastly different conclusion than I’d expected. After a decade of research and half of that decade of moving in the direction of what I thought was Catholicism, I decided that Catholicism wasn’t for me. I made this decision only a few months shy of baptism and confirmation, and I walked away just like that.
I believe now that all Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ, but the conclusion I came to, one which the Catholic Church readily admits as well, is that salvation is attainable in non-Catholic denominations. I also found enough objectionable activity occurring within the Catholic Church that I could not simply join. Had I already been Catholic when I found these things out, I would have likely stayed and forgiven, but as an outsider choosing whether to join or not, I had to seriously consider whether my joining would be the same as condoning. I’m still on the fence about that one, honestly. But as long as I’m on the fence about it, I must find contentment elsewhere.
In this final process of figuring out which denomination or group was right for me, I explored every one I could get my hands on. What I discovered, however, was that the Wesleyan Quadrilateral was something I intuitively did while processing the information. For those unfamiliar with it, John Wesley was an Anglican preacher who came to America early on in our history and founded what was at the time a Methodist movement which eventually became its own church (Wesley never did intend to create his own church, but it was needed). The movement upon which this church is based is formed around a method for studying theology called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. I’ll post more about it at some point.
While it many ways, I was still spinning my wheels trying to figure out which denomination to belong to, and griping often about what I was finding, I was discovering more and more solace and understanding coming out of what were distinctly Methodist methods. Recently, I decided that Methodism simply made good sense, the local Methodist community here is kind and active, and unlike other denominations, there’s not an exclusivity of belief. Though I resisted for reasons which weren’t necessarily good ones, eventually I came around.