In thinking about how to organize the content of this series, I basically considered two different options: Either a purely chronological pattern or a series based themes. Either way, there would inevitably be some overlap of the two systems. Since my own thinking tends more to themes, I am going to use that approach as the central organizing characteristic of the rest of this series.
Given that religion is the overriding passion in my life these days, other than my family, I guess we will start with a discussion of my spiritual journey. This also allows me to respond much more fully to a question I got on Facebook from one of my former High School Classmates. She asked me if I had ever been a Fundamentalist; I replied that I had in my younger days. My own personal Fundamentalism was both in the area of religion and politics. Today, I’m going to focus on the religious Fundamentalism and save the political Fundamentalism for a later date.
I was baptized in the German Lutherine Church in Musberg but I was raised a Methodist. Why my parents converted, if you want to call it that, was not something I ever discussed with them. I suspect expediency had a lot to do with it (see previous posts). As a child, I went to Church regularly with my mother, my brother and my sister. My dad almost never went to Church. I’m not sure why. I was originally confirmed a Methodist, probably at the Willow Grove Methodist Church. I have a gilt-edged leather-bound Revised Standard version of The Bible that I received from Jenkintown Methodist Church when I was about seven or eight for being very good at memorizing Bible verses. I think that that particular competition is what put me off on future attempts to do memorization of Bible verses. To this day, I refuse to seriously work on memorizing Bible verses, although I do enjoy other forms of memorization.
When I was probably ten or twelve, my mother took me to a Billy Graham Crusade in Philadelphia. I was so moved that I signed up for his correspondence course, which I completed. My mother was very proud of me, not only for that but for all my other religious achievements. She always somewhat secretly hoped I would become a preacher some day. In a way, I guess I have fulfilled her dream for me.
So, as you can see, my early religious training was rather Fundamentalist. I believed pretty much everything that I learned until some time in High School when I began to question my own beliefs. That started me on a varied spiritual journey that included studying Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Judaism, Catholicism and even Islam. I also dabbled very seriously in various forms of Mysticism. To this day, I still consider myself a Mystic. For me, it is impossible to be seriously religious without being a Mystic. I’ll get more into what that means on my Christian Heresiology Blog. My Mysticism also took me into what most people the Occult. I studied the Kabbalah(Jewish Mysticism), various Christian Mystics including early Christian Monastics, Medieval Christian Mystics and modern Mystics, most especially Thomas Merton and Saint Theresa of Lisieux. I also read Khalil Jibran’s The Prophet. One of the most profound books I have ever read. I have also read James Frazier’s The Golden Bough, a very good look at Western Occult traditions. I am not going to discuss the relationship between religion and magic in any great detail here. I’ll save that Christian Heresiology. Suffice it to say, that I consider magic and religion, and by magic I do not mean what people like David Copperfield did or do, to be sides of the same coin (This coin actually has more than two sides). They both deal with the supernatural and, contrary to what the extreme Protestant Reformers taught, religion without some sense of magic is no religion at all.
Christian magic is centered in the rituals of the Church, most especially the Eucharist. i will talk about this situation in greater detail on the Heresiology site, but, in my opinion, the Protestant Reformers threw out the baby with the bathwater. In their attempts to clear up abuses in the Church and especially those centered around the abuse of power that priests derived from their ability to perform rituals, the Reformers destroyed much of the power of religion. Religion without any ritual is extremely sterile and not very efficacious. It was this feeling of emptiness that led me from Methodism to becoming an Episcopalian in 1981-82, I don’t remember the exact date. I was introduced to the Episcopal Church by my third wife. She wanted a Church wedding and she was very much an Episcopalian, so we discussed getting married at her Church. The first time I went to her Church was for the installation of the new Rector, a man who became a very good friend. The ritual of that ceremony was so moving that we started going to Church there every week, even though it was quite the drive, and we got married there. The logistics eventually forced us to find an Episcopal Church closer to home. Once we settled on a new Church, I became very active in both the social work and the ritual, to the point where I became one of the regular Masters of Ceremony assisting at mass. It was during this time that I got heavily into Christian Mysticism, thanks to discussions with the Rector and the Deacon, a seminary student who became a close confidant. We would do various vigils together during the two years he served as Deacon. After he graduated, he was assigned to a Church about forty miles from Chicago and I went and visited as often as possible. Unfortunately, I lost contact with him after we moved to Arkansas.
I still consider myself an Episcopalian, although I do not attend Church regularly, mainly because the logistics since I do not drive and my wife has to work on Sundays. I do admit that I miss it some, even though my personal theology is not quite Orthodox, even for an Episcopalian. I think it was the exposure to other religions in the broadest sense of the word that led me to become a Heretic. I use Heretic here in opposition to Fundamentalist. The two terms are not two sides of the same coin, but rather the opposite ends of a continuum. The Fundamentalists I am so critical of are those closest to the Fundamentalist pole. I consider myself to the Heretic pole and it is the movement from one pole to the other that best explains my own personal spiritual journey.