Credo for Don Rogers 2019
It is impossible to understand where I am today, without reviewing my long and convoluted religious growth and evolution. I will try to be brief.
I was born in 1943 to strong Seventh-day Adventist parents, who were diligent in teaching us the beliefs and restrictions of our religion. We did not eat “unclean meats”, drink alcohol, coffee or tea. Most importantly, we went to church on Saturday, the Seventh Day, because God never changed the day of worship, those evil Catholics did.
For most of my schooling, I went to Adventist parochial schools, where we received a good education in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and also a lot of Biblical study. I think we learned a new memory verse every day.
I remained a devout Seventh-day Adventist through college, where I began to doubt the overall lifestyle. There didn’t seem to be much joy or love in being Adventist. There were a lot of rules to follow, and a lot of fear of not being good enough.
While I was still in that church, I briefly studied an offshoot called the Shepherd’s Rod, led by Victor Houteff. There was an old man with a long beard who showed up at church services now and then just to argue and shout at the pastor during the sermon. The main message seemed to be that the Adventist church had backslid from the truth, and was now Babylon, and it was time for true believers to “come out of her.”
I was not attracted to that group, which was just as well. After Victor Houteff died, the group was taken over by a man who called himself David Koresh, and renamed the group the Branch Davidians. The end of that group is well known.
My maternal grandmother was a Jehovah’s Witness, and we discussed religion a few times. She was impressed with my knowledge of the Bible from years of learning memory verses in school, but she never really pushed me to change churches. I went to her meetings a couple of times, and didn’t see anything I liked. As I was still Adventist, I was shocked to find out they drank real wine at the communion ceremony, and not just grape juice, as Adventists did.
My father left our family when I was eleven, leaving my mother to continue our raising. Much later, after I had left the Adventists, I found he had converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—better known as Mormons.
I was immediately drawn to the emphasis on the family and the children and youth. The church actually had basketball hoops in the main meeting room, and lots of programs to keep the kids happy, including sponsoring the local Boy Scout troop.
I also found their doctrine on humans being gods in training on earth for a destiny as rulers after death very attractive. There was none of the fear of not being good enough. Of course not, that was why you are here on earth—to learn all your life. It was a stark change from being poor helpless sinners who God now and then got mad at and either drowned or burned up and eventually was going to burn them all up in Hell.
I couldn’t buy the whole package, though and all the fantastical stories I found in the Book Of Mormon. But I kept the belief that I have worth and that I am in the family of God.
I briefly studied the Worldwide Church of God under Herbert W. Armstrong, who share the Mormon belief in the destiny of man as part of God’s family. But the rest of that religion was too much like the Adventist church I had left, with lots of rules to follow, and the constant fear of not measuring up.
I was still searching for the truth when I was drafted into the U.S. Army and was shipped to Okinawa, which was part of Japan. I had met two other soldiers on the troop ship who also had religious training, one as a Methodist seminarian, and another as a Baptist, I think. We spent many pleasant hours on the deck discussing religion. We all had thoughts of converting the heathens in Asia.
Not long after we arrived one of the others told me he had met with a Buddhist priest and we were invited to tour a local temple. After an exotic tour through the various rooms, we were invited to sit down while they served us hot green tea. After some general talk of how we liked the country, and some about our jobs in the Army, they invited us to tell about our beliefs and they would be happy to discuss anything we wanted. They made it plain that they were eager to learn and were always willing to learn more. For the first time in my life I was discussing religion with people who didn’t think they had “The Truth” and listened as well as preached.
The first surprising finding was that they didn’t believe in miracles. They believed in science above all else, and we found we were the superstitious heathens. They sure wouldn’t believe that Jesus or anyone else walked on water many centuries ago. Surely we wouldn’t believe someone who claimed that today. Why would we believe it from a text two thousand years old? If your own mother told you she walked on water, would you believe her?
After several weeks of learning to use our reason and observation to determine what was truth, we all came to love the Buddhist way of thinking. There was no judgement, only help and advice on dealing with the pain and sorrows in this life.
My two friends both converted to Buddhism before they left the island. I continued to study with other Buddhist groups and eventually found a priest who spoke to me in his writings and became my major influence, named Thich Nhat Hahn.
I have recently found a church home here in the Red River Unitarian/Universalist church. There are no requirements for doctrinal beliefs at all, it is all about values, such as love, peace, and tolerance toward others.
If humans manage to survive on this world, it will be because of these values.