With summer vacation staring me in the face, I figured I’d start learning what I could. Since at the time I believed in reincarnation, I thought I’d start with Buddhism and Hinduism.
A brief study of Buddhism quickly revealed to me that it was more of a philosophical system, and in its purest form, not concerned with the existence of a deity at all. Since it was my clear experience that there was a God, and the whole point of this excruciating search was to grow closer to Him/Her/It, I left Buddhism to its own devices and turned to Hinduism instead.
The problem I found with Hinduism stemmed from its origins. The majority of world religions have a particular individual as the founder. Buddhism had Siddhartha Gautama, Islam had Mohammed, Christianity had Jesus, and Judaism had Abraham, Issac and Jacob. For these groups, there is a way to find what the original intent of the religion was. You can read what the founders themselves had to say, and glean information about the theology from that.
Not so with Hinduism, which grew from the religious practices of immigrating tribes. Hinduism wasn’t “founded” so much as it “evolved,” and so tracking down the original vision of its theology proved impossible, because there wasn’t one. What there was was a muddled sense of accepted confusion about the nature of God that I couldn’t wrap my mind around. I didn’t need my understanding of God to be more obscure. Additionally, Hinduism presented the same problem to me as did paganism—namely, so many of the deities were created creatures, and therefore unsuitable to me as an object of worship.
Islam presented a problem almost immediately. Even before 9/11, there was a tone to discussions about Islam that made it difficult for me to know what was theology, and what was politics. Additionally, I kept running into the insistence that unless one was reading the Qur’an in its native Arabic, the translation was invalid. Something about all this struck me as almost Gnostic in its secretiveness, and I put aside Islam as a serious consideration.
Judaism was next. Besides the obvious fact that the form of Judaism practiced in the Bible didn’t exist anymore, it felt too close to Christianity. It was like declaring your independence from your parents, but going to live rent free with your grandfather. I spent time reading the Old Testament, and feeling more and more resentful about the whole thing.
Around this time, three significant things happened. The first came when one day, in a fit of exasperation over having to listen to the spiritual whining of his wife for the millionth time, Ken said, “Why don’t you just pick something to believe and believe in it?” Bear in mind, Ken never said anything like that to me in regards to my religious angst. So when he finally could take no more, his words sunk in even deeper.
What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just pick something that fit with my worldview and settle in there? Why did I have to make everything so damn complicated? Surely there were enough people in my acquaintance who insisted that all one needed to do in life was be a good person and that would be enough. Why couldn’t I just do that?
That was the kick in the pants I needed to convince me that something beyond myself was spurring this search. Left to my own devices, I would have tossed the whole God question to the curb, and followed a path that offered maximum good feelings with minimum work on my part. But I’d tried that, and it didn’t work. It didn’t make the gnawing sense of something missing go away. So as much as I wanted to chuck the whole thing, Ken’s words made me realize that there was no rest for the wicked, and I couldn’t stop this search until I found truth. It was this realization, that I couldn’t give up searching even though I wanted to, that shaped some of my more embarrassing religious experiments of that time period. Things like “baptizing” our infant daughter ourselves at a local park one weekend. My heart was in the right place, but I can say that it was a great relief, years later, to learn that since I hadn’t used the Trinitarian formula (of course I hadn’t. I think the actual wording called her “a child of the Universe”), she wasn’t validly baptized, but could be, the actions of her hippy dippy mother notwithstanding.