Project Conversion: One Man, Twelve Faiths

I didn’t always have a thing for religion. In fact, prior to 2011, my anti-theism was so intense that I wanted it wiped out permanently. But then, in October of 2010, I realized that with the help of teachings by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, that the only way to end religious strife was to explore the world of faith from the inside out.

So I buried my anger and pride and planned an entire year, fully immersed in one religion per month. The initiative was called Project Conversion. I gave myself fully to the teachings, rituals, cultures, and beliefs of 12 faiths and philosophies. Little did I know just how much my world would change.

January – Hinduism
Christianity was the only faith I’d known prior to Project Conversion so Hinduism, with its vibrant imagery, ancient theology, various philosophies, and depictions of the divine was like a nose dive into freezing water. Once the initial shock subsided, I fell in love with this highly expressive and adaptable faith system which whole-heartedly embraces all spiritual pursuits as one.

February – Baha’l
The Baha’i Faith was my first real experience with a larger religious community. Baha’is from all over the world flocked to the blog and participated in my journey and truly welcomed me to the faith. Their view on “progressive revelation,” the idea that all religions are revelations specific to a time and place which emanate from the same source reminded me of Hinduism and inspired my interfaith outlook going forward.

March – Zarathushti
A faith with fire as its supreme symbol is a given in my book. Though difficult to connect with due to current cultural restraints, the Zarathushti (Zoroastrian) faith resonated deeply because of its universal code of ethics which transcend religious affiliation (Good thoughts, words, and deeds). Its influence on the Abrahamic faiths opened an entire reality to the faith I once held dear.

April – Judaism

I’m pretty sure that I might become a Jew just for the food. The Jewish tradition is rich in culture and spiritual exploration, two aspects that greatly intensify the experience of any month in the line-up. Watching my kids engage in Pesach (Passover) with stories and food locked in just how important Project Conversion was for my family.

May – Buddhism
The lack of focus on the divine was a challenge at first, however chilling with Theravadan monks and the cultivation of the mind via meditation compensated well. Buddhism in many ways reinforced a simpler, more concise form of Hinduism and taught me the importance of quieting the mind and limiting the noise of life.

June – Agnosticism
One of my greatest challenges of the year was in June. After five months depending on the daily ritual and routine of faith/philosophy, having no prescribed “path” left much of buried emotions, questions, and objections exposed. Here, the Pandora’s box of religious exploration ignited and brought old problems I once had with faith to life once more.

July – Latter Day Saints
My time with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints represented one of the most intense and endearing Mentor and faith community relationships I had all year. I was treated with great respect and learned much about a faith I once shunned and damned. Despite the faith’s controversies, I found the Mormons to be some of the happiest, fully engaged spiritual people of my journey. Their teaching helped me expand my understanding of the Christian model.

August – Islam
Islam represented a time of great personal healing. I harbored great hatred for Muslims after September 11th and never gave their faith nor predominantly Muslim Middle Eastern culture the fair and unbiased exploration it deserved until Project Conversion. I fully participated in the holy month of Ramadan, and the fasting taught me firsthand about the excesses I once indulged. Their commitment to prayer and reading of scripture are shining examples to the world of faith.

September – Sikhism
Easily one of my favorites of the year. The Sikhi faith beautifully combines a saintly and martial society, coupled with a rich poetic tradition found within its hymns and scripture. Although relatively small in number compared to older faiths, Sikhi’s rapid growth in the West bears witness to its spiritual and cultural vibrancy.

October – Wicca
Like Islam, my experience with Wicca and Paganism was largely negative prior to Project Conversion. This was the first religion which really opened my spiritual experience with the divine feminine as I participated in the worship and adoration of the Goddess. A focus on the spirituality and divine properties of nature opened my understanding ever more toward a fuller view of our spiritual universe.

November – Jainism
Because asceticism is such a important feature of various religions, and because no one goes monk like the Jains, I decided to live the monastic lifestyle as closely as possible in November. Dressed in simple white robes, walking barefoot, sleeping on the floor, and observing complete abstinence (to the chagrin of my wife), I experienced a taste of monastic life and the dedication this spiritual practice demands. Despite the obvious challenges, I learned a great deal about the Jain respect for all forms of life and their non-violent philosophy — which influenced Mahatma Gandhi — is second to none.

December – Catholicism
As a Protestant Christian in high school, I was not accustomed to high art, theological scholarship, grand ritual, or monastic orders, so when I stepped into Catholicism via Project Conversion, the strange yet familiar atmosphere was both shocking and comfortable. I fell head over heels for the long tradition of artistic expression, cultural nuance, and theological inquiry within the Church.

Strangely enough, I also had the chance to really get to know Mary the mother of Christ on a level seldom enjoyed by Protestants. In short, Catholicism helped me enjoy my old Christianity once more.

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