Motivations behind the switch…

Bored in Vernal posted a great question in response to the Risk and Proof post: Is a person who has had a religious experience with a God in one tradition justified in looking into other religions… here’s my best crack at an answer that is more exploring the issue than actually answering it 🙂

What was the motivation for pursing another? If a person had real communication with a God from one faith tradition, why leave (or wander)? First of all, it might be easy to leave or look around because the God of one seems to be a similar God in another (such as is the case with Catholicism, Protestant Christianity, Mormonism, and Islam) – Every one of those faiths seem to believe in the same God of the Bible, but differ radically in the details. But even if the leaving is easy and would not be considered “adultery” in the OT sense, why leave or look elsewhere?

I guess there is a sense of studying other religions just to understand them while still believing in your current one, and this can’t be wrong, but what if one were actually trying to find truth in them. Even in this sense, it seems to me that there are certain truths found in most religions – such as certain virtues of martial fidelity, the view of life as sacred, not to steal or testify falsely in trial, etc. So in other religious that have a different God-like entity entirely – such as Buddhism or Hinduism in contrast to Judeo-Christian religions, some things are still the same.

Maybe I would need more clarity of the term “pursue.” If it means to believe and worship a god other than the Judeo-Christian one when you already believe and worship Him, than that would be considered adultery.

In my trips to Israel, I took a couple of courses on Israelite history, and one thing they mentioned was the rationale behind them (the Israelites) worshiping other gods when God told them specifically not to. When this happened, it was probably a case of curiosity mixed with a rational desire of wanting to cover their bases. If one god didn’t come through for them, then another might – especially when it came to bringing rain for the crops. Why put all your eggs in one basket? Its good to have a number of gods on hand in case an emergency comes up – strength in numbers is always more comforting. A more modern example I’ve heard was a man who switched to the occult because God was not revealing to him why his wife had left him, and he wanted to divine the answer through whatever means necessary – demonic magic included. And he did.

Another modern motivation might be curiosity mixed with a dissatisfaction with a certain version of Judeo-Christianity or a sub-sect of that version. Which version holds true to the most pure understanding of God? Maybe one doesn’t work out, so try another? To me it doesn’t seem to be adultery so much as finding one least-influenced by human corruption and re-interpretation and most pure in understanding how God really is. God might be in all of them to some lesser or greater degree, but which one is the closest to the truest understanding? I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but when a religious group has a bad concept of God, their whole society becomes corrupt and backward, and people seeing the corruption will want to get out.

However, it seems that sometimes a person’s dissatisfaction with a Judeo-Christian religion takes a heavy toll – their one sect was a really bad one, and their experience was so bad that scrapping the entire thing and going with another god entirely is the way they saw to go. This could be motivated by a person who clearly sees how corrupted religion is, and who feels that getting out entirely is the only way to spiritual sanity. This motivation doesn’t seem to be irrational to me. However, it seems more often to me in my limited experience that bad religious experiences also cause people to drift away from theism in general instead of just switching gods.

Of course the final motivation I can think of seems to be the most discouraging – this is one that knows the God of the Bible exists, and has felt His presence, but has decided that the relationship is not worth the effort, possibly motivated by a desire for independence or something selfish. This is just my guess (so take it with a grain of salt) but I imagine that this may draw people to a half-hearted belief in religions with non-conscious deities simply for the bonus of being able to dictate how they want to live without being bothered by what God thinks, because this god does not think at all. Most of the time, I could imagine that most people with these motivations drift more into agnosticism or atheism because it is so popular and prevalent in our culture – they have a comfortable safety net to fall into than other less liberal societies (i.e. the Muslim world.) In addition, atheism and agnosticism are so closely coupled with the virtues of rationalism, logic, and scientific study (which ironically is no less important in Christianity as I understand it) but has somehow marketed themselves as having staked a unique claim with them that no other belief system shares.

    4 Responses to “Motivations behind the switch…”

    1. Bored in Vernal

      Jonathan, Thanks for addressing my question. I don’t know if my experience would fit into any of the above paragraphs. In college I became a born-again Christian and did that for several years, so I understand the concept of faithfulness to One God–then I joined the Mormon Church. I felt that the God of Mormonism was basically the same as the Christian God, but evangelicals surely would not agree. After a while I became interested in studying other faith traditions while remaining loyal to God-the-Father and Jesus (a prospect which appalls most Mormons!) I guess I’m basically just a seeker. When I allied myself with the Christians and later the Mormons I felt vaguely guilty because I know that once I find “the truth” I am supposed to feel satisfied and at peace. But I still enjoy looking into other versions of spiritality–whether it be meditation, Zen, the Goddess, etc. I realize that according to OT thinking this is definitely spiritual adultery. I don’t know what my motivations are for continuing to search. Certain things just appeal to different parts of me. How do people like me become more integrated?

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    2. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      I think I know what you are talking about (maybe 🙂 )! I should have responded better in my post then I did. I remember a person at my church saying they were unsatisfied with the churches they were going to previously because they wanted “more.” It was hard to describe what that “more” was exactly, and the man didn’t and wouldn’t explain. But in my life, I am never satisfied with what I already know – I want to know and experience more. That search has brought me to, of all places, a Pentecostal church. They talk of prophecy, of healing, of battles with the demonic, of deep personal intimate relationships with God and of trances, visions, and meditation. God is not distant and someone that constantly needs to be pleased, but a romantic partner that has a future and wants to be talking with you every day. They meditate and hear from God all the time.

      A lot of evangelical congregations think this is a lot of crap, but I’m not so sure anymore. I’m just remembering the stories of the early church in Acts where the miraculous was happening all the time, and the people were astounded with what God was doing, and I wish I could go back in time and live out the remaining years of my life with them – people in daily awe of the reality of the God of Heaven and Earth living in intimacy with them – communicating constantly with them every day, and not sure if I will live or die the next day because of constant persecution.

      This probably loosely describes what I want, but I’m not sure if that is the same with your case. I would never be one to judge you, but instead give you the benefit of the doubt – maybe you should want more. What if what you’ve seen is not enough, and you were meant in your heart for so much more than dry, distant religion? If you still believe in God, why not ask Him for “more?” I did, and my life became really crazy – I’ve had to leave 4 or 5 churches since then. It’s been a wild ride – mostly painful, but by no means a boring one. (sorry – no pun intended). God seems to me so rich and complex in how he reveals Himself to us – I’d say give it a try and see what happens. At least in my case, before too long, something always happens.

      You are not alone in wanting more. 🙂 You are right at home with most dissatisfied Christians I know – the great ones, the ones who don’t sit on their asses and play religion, but who are willing to do anything to find the truth at the cost of friendships and happy facade-filled church experiences. I’ve heard a great quote – the spiritual life is a wild frontier that will never be suburbanized. The spiritual life is always one of a passionate pioneer – never settling down into a comfortable life – but one that is always filled with great joys and great sorrow, great confusion and great insight. Those are the people you need to find – and there you will be integrated. I have not found those people yet myself in larger numbers, but all my life I have been seeking them out wherever I can find them. They bring such joy to me because they share my heart – no matter what, even at the expense of being unpopular, they want more.

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    3. Bored in Vernal

      Sometimes I think I am split into so many parts I will never be happy anywhere.

      I did go to a Pentecostal church for a while, and you may not be surprised to hear that I felt more spiritually fulfilled there than any other church I have been to. I seem to have a unquenchable desire to talk of “prophecy, of healing, of battles with the demonic, of deep personal intimate relationships with God and of trances, visions, and meditation.” Then again when I was having some personal troubles a few years ago I would attend church with my family in the afternoon, but I would wake up early in the morning and go by myself to a Pentecostal church where no one knew me and I would sing as loud as I wanted (they had a rousing music program and a really loud sound system) and I would cry and raise up my hands and leave before anyone could talk to me.

      It’s just that I still have this intellectual side that can’t be satisfied with seven days of creation or Jonah or Job being a real person, etc.

      And I have this mystical side that believes in a Goddess figure and tarot cards and seer stones.

      So I think I would have felt right at home with the Mormons about 100 years ago, because I have this picture of them searching for intellectual truth at the same time having visions and giving up their homes for the kingdom of God. But a Mormon like that today is just a weirdo.

      PS, what you had to say above was very beautiful.

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    4. Elise

      BiV – I picture 1800s Mormons searching for intellectual truth, too, and I still appreciate the way a lot of Mormon doctrine today at least attempts to approach the intellectual (as long as it fits within certain boundaries).

      I think a dissatisfied Christian is the best kind because it means he/she is continually searching for more truth. If I ever become completely satisfied, I hope it will make me uncomfortable, because I seriously doubt someone can achieve total spiritual satisfaction in this life – how can we, since we can’t directly interact with the divine and when our minds are incapable of understanding and fully grasping eternity? Unfortunately, my experience has mirrored Jonathan’s because I haven’t found these types of dissatisfied, continually-seeking Christians in large numbers, either. Fortunately, the internet has created a space where it is easier to make such friends and communicate, though. It’s nice to havens like this blog and MindOnFire where we can all meet and interact! 🙂

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