Many people say it does not matter what people believe, as long as their actions are good. Others insist that religious or spiritual beliefs are private, that they don’t need to be consistent with each other, or that spiritual things are too mysterious for anyone to come to any conclusions.  Yet when I have interviewed people who say these things, I find they do have beliefs and are grateful and relieved to be able to share them.  What about you?

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13 thoughts on “How have your religious or spiritual beliefs changed recently?

  1. Charity

    When choosing to enter seminary, I hadn’t thought that I would be asked to defend, confirm, or give up anything that I previously thought was my own belief which laid within my upbringing in various churches. I really didn’t think that I would be left having more questions than answers upon entering seminary. Within one semester of my classes, I was already challenged–it was good because it made me have to start thinking about how I saw God and how that not only effected the relationship between myself and God but also others. It became clear that my beliefs needed to start with God, not what my needs are. My friends from college were all non-religious, some of them not even spiritual. But proclaimed themselves as good people, whom all of them are. But its true that although they may not have had explicit beliefs that they would say I believe it was obvious that there were beliefs that they clung to. Life is a continual journey of affirmations and challenges to my beliefs which strengthen my faith.

  2. Chris Wiseman

    John Wesley said that you could not do anything good of your own free will because your motivation is wrong. He quotes from 1 John 4:19, saying “We love because God first loved us.” Anything that you do that is not out of love for God (or your fellow human being, made in the likeness of God) has a personal motivation to it. You seek praise. You wonder what the recipient of your kind act might do in return for the favor. God’s love as modeled through Christ doesn’t have a what’s in it for me attitude at heart. Christ always reached out to the other because of the love that he had for the One who sent him.

    As for beliefs being personal and private: We are born into community. None of us is ever alone at our birth. We have at least one parent present when we come into the world. Often, there are also the other parent, doctors, nursing staff, friends and family. And certainly God is present when we come into the world. We seek to be in community all of our lives. What is broken in our world is our relationship with God. We long to be back in relationship with God. We don’t like to feel alone.

    Paul refered to the church as the body of Christ. The church is a community of believers who strive to reflect the nature of God inherent within us in the world. When we come together in the name of our Creator, we feel as though we are connected to something which is bigger than ourselves. God, Holy Spirit and Christ; these are the three persons of the Holy Trinity. Paul says that we are the body of Christ in the world. When we come together as the church, we are a part of that Trinity. We are in communion with each other and with God. The wonderful thing about the many sharing their beliefs with one another is that what appears to be too mysterious for anyone to come to any conclusions about becomes more clear as we share our own understanding each with the other.

    Are religious or spiritual beliefs private? Why did Christ go from town to town proclaiming the message of God? Why did Christ not select one, but twelve disciples? Why did he select any disciples at all, if it the only beliefs that mattered were his own? Why, when Christ was baptized, was it in the presence of John the Baptist and a community of believers? And the scripture tells us that God and the Holy spirit were there too. Why did Christ choose to heal anyone? Can you really do any good action without someone to perform the action for?

    Do our beliefs need to be consistent with other people’s beliefs? Well, to a point. How we understand and Infinite God has been something that human beings have been wrestling with since the whole notion of the Divine came into being. It’s refreshing to have different perspectives on who God is. It pushes us to think about our own convictions and it helps us to hash out a way that our personal beliefs in God can agree with themselves. We need to have a coherent vision of who God is, otherwise we often contradict ourselves. The disciples argued over who should be first in the kingdom of Heaven. They argued over who should sit at the left and right of Christ in Heaven. They argued over a lot of things in relation to the nature of God and the nature of Christ. As they struggled with this nation of who Christ is, I’m sure they came to some concrete conclusions that each of them could agree with. And I’m also sure that there were some areas where they could not agree. As we go through the process of figuring out what we believe we can learn a lot from those that have had these arguments before us. It is in this community that we struggle together to figure out who God is and we grow together in our understanding of God.

  3. Amy

    I’m glad you’ve asked this question Dr. Mercadante because it’s been on my mind since we started your class. I think that right now I”m in a place I should have been a long time ago, many years before I sought out ordination and even began working in the church. On the other hand, I believe that we’re always where we should be so maybe the timing is right for my questions and frustrations about faith and religion. In any case, I’m in a real questioning/deliberation phase of my faith journey and thus at least for me, it’s more than just being a good person because what I believe affects more than just my actions from day to day. It affects the choices I make in life and the career I pursue. It affects how I view the world and how I interact with others in it.
    For example, I’ve really been wondering about our denomination’s doctrine of sin. I asked a colleague of mine to tell me what he thought about it. He believed basically a very different stance from the traditional view for pastors in our church. I asked then how he got past his ordination exams….he told me that many times in those situations you have to tell the examiners what they want to hear. While it sounds crazy I know what he means because part of me did the same thing. Then there’s the PCUSA MDiv student from Princeton I had lunch with the other day who isn’t pursuing ordination because she can’t stand up there and agree to things within the PCUSA church (doctrines, etc) that she doesn’t believe in. She simply can’t force herself to say its true or believe its true when she doesn’t, just to get ordained. I found it remarkable and inspiring.

  4. littlenorm

    I used to understand church as people who got together every week to study the Bible and the ability to apply it to everyday life. Now, I understand that it’s more than just the instruction. It’s the relationships that occur while the study goes on. Every part of a gathering of people with similar beliefs can shape each person present. It is important that our beliefs be similar, or at least that the mind is open to different interpretations. If not, how can any conversation occur at all? I am learning that it is the relationships, the willingness to be in relationship with God and each other, can be just as if not more important than the actual beliefs one holds.

  5. Rebecca

    As a third-year seminary student, working in a suburban church, and also volunteering in an urban shelter, my religious beliefs have shifted. I observe addiction and victimization in clients, and I question God’s presence or possible lack thereof when men, women and children are being abused. I get irritated when victims are stereotyped and deemed not worthy by society of attention and help. My faith in God through all these questions is stronger than ever, but is it because I need to believe in a God who can “deliver us from evil”; because I am afraid of a world without the hope of God? Or it may be stronger because I can see firsthand how God is working and putting the right people together at the right time in order to change a life? I do wish it were a bit easier to fight evil, but I will keep fighting and looking to God, because I have no other choice. My religious core is the same, but I better understand how things work together and what pulls people from God.

  6. Amy

    I’m glad you’ve asked this question Dr. Mercadante because it’s been on my mind since we started your class. I think that right now I”m in a place I should have been a long time ago, many years before I sought out ordination and even began working in the church. On the other hand, I believe that we’re always where we should be so maybe the timing is right for my questions and frustrations about faith and religion. In any case, I’m in a real questioning/deliberation phase of my faith journey and thus at least for me, it’s more than just being a good person because what I believe affects more than just my actions from day to day. It affects the choices I make in life and the career I pursue. It affects how I view the world and how I interact with others in it.
    For example, I’ve really been wondering about our denomination’s doctrine of sin. I asked a colleague of mine to tell me what he thought about it. He believed basically a very different stance from the traditional view for pastors in our church. I asked then how he got past his ordination exams….he told me that many times in those situations you have to tell the examiners what they want to hear. While it sounds crazy I know what he means because part of me did the same thing. Then there’s the PCUSA MDiv student from Princeton I had lunch with the other day who isn’t pursuing ordination because she can’t stand up there and agree to things within the PCUSA church (doctrines, etc) that she doesn’t believe in. She simply can’t force herself to say its true or believe its true when she doesn’t, just to get ordained. I found it remarkable and inspiring.

  7. Simon

    I used to understand church as people who got together every week to study the Bible and the ability to apply it to everyday life. Now, I understand that it’s more than just the instruction. It’s the relationships that occur while the study goes on. Every part of a gathering of people with similar beliefs can shape each person present. It is important that our beliefs be similar, or at least that the mind is open to different interpretations. If not, how can any conversation occur at all? I am learning that it is the relationships, the willingness to be in relationship with God and each other, can be just as if not more important than the actual beliefs one holds.

  8. Sean

    I’m glad you’ve asked this question Dr. Mercadante because it’s been on my mind since we started your class. I think that right now I”m in a place I should have been a long time ago, many years before I sought out ordination and even began working in the church. On the other hand, I believe that we’re always where we should be so maybe the timing is right for my questions and frustrations about faith and religion. In any case, I’m in a real questioning/deliberation phase of my faith journey and thus at least for me, it’s more than just being a good person because what I believe affects more than just my actions from day to day. It affects the choices I make in life and the career I pursue. It affects how I view the world and how I interact with others in it.
    For example, I’ve really been wondering about our denomination’s doctrine of sin. I asked a colleague of mine to tell me what he thought about it. He believed basically a very different stance from the traditional view for pastors in our church. I asked then how he got past his ordination exams….he told me that many times in those situations you have to tell the examiners what they want to hear. While it sounds crazy I know what he means because part of me did the same thing. Then there’s the PCUSA MDiv student from Princeton I had lunch with the other day who isn’t pursuing ordination because she can’t stand up there and agree to things within the PCUSA church (doctrines, etc) that she doesn’t believe in. She simply can’t force herself to say its true or believe its true when she doesn’t, just to get ordained. I found it remarkable and inspiring.

  9. Ian

    As a third-year seminary student, working in a suburban church, and also volunteering in an urban shelter, my religious beliefs have shifted. I observe addiction and victimization in clients, and I question God’s presence or possible lack thereof when men, women and children are being abused. I get irritated when victims are stereotyped and deemed not worthy by society of attention and help. My faith in God through all these questions is stronger than ever, but is it because I need to believe in a God who can “deliver us from evil”; because I am afraid of a world without the hope of God? Or it may be stronger because I can see firsthand how God is working and putting the right people together at the right time in order to change a life? I do wish it were a bit easier to fight evil, but I will keep fighting and looking to God, because I have no other choice. My religious core is the same, but I better understand how things work together and what pulls people from God.

  10. Joseph

    When choosing to enter seminary, I hadn’t thought that I would be asked to defend, confirm, or give up anything that I previously thought was my own belief which laid within my upbringing in various churches. I really didn’t think that I would be left having more questions than answers upon entering seminary. Within one semester of my classes, I was already challenged–it was good because it made me have to start thinking about how I saw God and how that not only effected the relationship between myself and God but also others. It became clear that my beliefs needed to start with God, not what my needs are. My friends from college were all non-religious, some of them not even spiritual. But proclaimed themselves as good people, whom all of them are. But its true that although they may not have had explicit beliefs that they would say I believe it was obvious that there were beliefs that they clung to. Life is a continual journey of affirmations and challenges to my beliefs which strengthen my faith.

  11. Richard

    As a third-year seminary student, working in a suburban church, and also volunteering in an urban shelter, my religious beliefs have shifted. I observe addiction and victimization in clients, and I question God’s presence or possible lack thereof when men, women and children are being abused. I get irritated when victims are stereotyped and deemed not worthy by society of attention and help. My faith in God through all these questions is stronger than ever, but is it because I need to believe in a God who can “deliver us from evil”; because I am afraid of a world without the hope of God? Or it may be stronger because I can see firsthand how God is working and putting the right people together at the right time in order to change a life? I do wish it were a bit easier to fight evil, but I will keep fighting and looking to God, because I have no other choice. My religious core is the same, but I better understand how things work together and what pulls people from God.

  12. Bruce

    John Wesley said that you could not do anything good of your own free will because your motivation is wrong. He quotes from 1 John 4:19, saying “We love because God first loved us.” Anything that you do that is not out of love for God (or your fellow human being, made in the likeness of God) has a personal motivation to it. You seek praise. You wonder what the recipient of your kind act might do in return for the favor. God’s love as modeled through Christ doesn’t have a what’s in it for me attitude at heart. Christ always reached out to the other because of the love that he had for the One who sent him.

    As for beliefs being personal and private: We are born into community. None of us is ever alone at our birth. We have at least one parent present when we come into the world. Often, there are also the other parent, doctors, nursing staff, friends and family. And certainly God is present when we come into the world. We seek to be in community all of our lives. What is broken in our world is our relationship with God. We long to be back in relationship with God. We don’t like to feel alone.

    Paul refered to the church as the body of Christ. The church is a community of believers who strive to reflect the nature of God inherent within us in the world. When we come together in the name of our Creator, we feel as though we are connected to something which is bigger than ourselves. God, Holy Spirit and Christ; these are the three persons of the Holy Trinity. Paul says that we are the body of Christ in the world. When we come together as the church, we are a part of that Trinity. We are in communion with each other and with God. The wonderful thing about the many sharing their beliefs with one another is that what appears to be too mysterious for anyone to come to any conclusions about becomes more clear as we share our own understanding each with the other.

    Are religious or spiritual beliefs private? Why did Christ go from town to town proclaiming the message of God? Why did Christ not select one, but twelve disciples? Why did he select any disciples at all, if it the only beliefs that mattered were his own? Why, when Christ was baptized, was it in the presence of John the Baptist and a community of believers? And the scripture tells us that God and the Holy spirit were there too. Why did Christ choose to heal anyone? Can you really do any good action without someone to perform the action for?

    Do our beliefs need to be consistent with other people’s beliefs? Well, to a point. How we understand and Infinite God has been something that human beings have been wrestling with since the whole notion of the Divine came into being. It’s refreshing to have different perspectives on who God is. It pushes us to think about our own convictions and it helps us to hash out a way that our personal beliefs in God can agree with themselves. We need to have a coherent vision of who God is, otherwise we often contradict ourselves. The disciples argued over who should be first in the kingdom of Heaven. They argued over who should sit at the left and right of Christ in Heaven. They argued over a lot of things in relation to the nature of God and the nature of Christ. As they struggled with this nation of who Christ is, I’m sure they came to some concrete conclusions that each of them could agree with. And I’m also sure that there were some areas where they could not agree. As we go through the process of figuring out what we believe we can learn a lot from those that have had these arguments before us. It is in this community that we struggle together to figure out who God is and we grow together in our understanding of God.

  13. John

    Over the course of the last couple of years, my religious beliefs have changed quite dramatically. I was born and raised within the Protestant tradition. As of 2008, I have become Antiochian Orthodox. One of the major differences between my Protestant view and my Orhtodox view is one of trust and obedience. As a Protestant, I could easily set myself above the Church and critique it. As an Orthodox, my job is not to critique the Church, but to accept it as the Body of Jesus Christ. The Church and its Tradition have been around a whole lot longer than I have. I can no longer exist as an individual evaluating the legitimacy of the Church. Indeed, I am now a part of a community that has existed for 2,000 years sharing in the insights and revelations that have been given to those who have come before me in the Faith.
    Another important distinction between my Protestant past and my Orthodox present is the way I approach theology. Before becoming Orthodox, I viewed theology as a purely acadmeic exercise. Now, as the Saints have insisted, I see theology as basically prayer: the theologian is the one who prays. Such a theologican learns about God by being in the presence of God and who experiences the uncreated energies of God. So, there is a definite mysterious approach to theology which encompasses both religion and spirituality. From an Orthodox point of view, the religion is spirituality. Religion is a way of life that requires a maturing in spirituality. There is no dichotomy between religion and spirituality as one must come into contact personally with the Mystery who is God.

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