It is without question that we are living in troubled times. As war continues to mutilate our humanity, the threat of terrorism lingers to maul our sanity. Soldiers die; mothers and children cry. Surely, these times test faith. For the believers, they travel through life, seeking to cross the bridge towards divinity, in quest of answers to surpass the test. For the non-believers, they simply travel, guided (or arguably misguided) by their individual compass readings. Whether one person has more direction over the other is highly debatable. Yet, it cannot be denied that we are all standing at the same earthly intersection, deliberating on the next path to venture.
"I was raised Roman Catholic, but faith means nothing to me," declares Charles, a 19-year-old native of Manhattan, New York.
Sixteen-year-old Kory is quick to differ.
"I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth," insists the devout Free Will Baptist hailing from Newark, New Jersey, who is fixed by his Scripture recitation. "I know that the God I serve is the one I should be worshipping, because I've tried Him for myself. Even though I can't see Him, I have faith that gives me strength from day to day. Faith is the substances of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen."
The starting point of Kory's spiritual journey can be credited to his great-grandparents, who, as mothers and deacons of a well-populated community church, dutifully introduced religious upbringing to the youth. However, the voyage itself continues to be solely under the traveler's direction.
"To me, being a Free Will Baptist means that you're not forced to give your life to the Lord," Kory explains. "You praise the Lord in the way the Spirit leads you. That's why it's called 'free will'. When you develop a personal relationship with God, there's something inside that speaks to you."
With several million members worldwide, this Christian denomination must certainly be overflowing with a multitude of inner voices. In total, Christianity stands as the world's leading religion, boasting over two billion members (33% of the entire human race). It was founded in the Middle East, approximately 2,000 years ago, by followers of Jesus Christ, who believed Him to be the Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Bible. Sadly enough, the only voices Charles ever heard from his denomination were that of his parents, as they spoon-fed him Catholicism.
"It's not like I had a choice," Charles chokingly admits, while raising his hand to now be counted as an atheist, a nonbeliever in God or deities.
Collectively, it is estimated that there are approximately 850 million atheistic, agnostic, secular and nonreligious people worldwide.
"People want a reason why they are here and going through all this turmoil," Holly rationalizes, while relating to Charles' dilemma. "I was raised Roman Catholic, and I strictly had to go to Sunday school, church and additional classes to pass sacraments. I learned a great deal about the Catholic Church."
So, what exactly has this 23-year-old resident of Denver, Colorado learned?
"I oppose the fact that contraceptives are considered sinful to use," Holly asserts with conviction. "Why should protecting yourself from disease be a sin? Why do you have to confess your sins to a priest, if God knows what you do and think? Why should you have to confess that to anyone else? Shouldn't there be a direct link between you and your God? The Church is way too powerful. We have seen, with the recent child molestation charges against the Church that they have a set of rules for the congregation, but not the clergy, who they are protecting from persecution. The Church burned chapters of the Bible during the (16th century) Reformation and two other periods to suit their gain in power. Yet, Christians today blindly follow the text, sometimes to the ‘T', without question. Quite a few of the Christians I have met pass judgment on people for not being Christian and want to change them, missing their Savior's message of tolerance and acceptance."
Kory interjects, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Even if I'm struggling in a certain class, my faith allows me to believe in God for a passing grade. God loved us so much that He sent His son Jesus, and Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit. He did on the cross for our sins, because we were born into (original) sin. Since He had to bear being talked about, stripped of His cloth, whipped, pierced in His side, and nailed to a wooden cross with a crown of thorns on His head, we have to also bear a cross. Each of our crosses is different. I wish not to say what my cross is, but it is something that deals with sin."
"I don't know how many sermons I have attended, where the preacher or priest didn't hesitate to condemn people to Hell, if they didn't change their ways," Holly ponders, as she reclaims the discussion. "Personally, I always thought that their God was supposed to be loving and accepting, that we are all His children. Why would He want to hurt His children, if they were good people? When I was younger, one of my friends committed suicide. My father and mother wanted to ban me from the funeral, because ‘What he did was wrong, and he's going to Hell.' Although Christianity teaches to give your shirt off your back, I haven't found too many willing to open their hearts or homes to a stranger in need. They can open their checkbooks or volunteer, but when it comes straight to facing them, they claim it's not their responsibility."
Kory can only contend, "There is comfort, peace and power in the Word of prayer. Hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother; for they will be graceful ornaments on your head and chains about your neck."
Holly quickly learned, at age 17, all that glitters is not gold. As a result, her journey on the Christian path was promptly drawn to a close. Refueling as a polytheistic pagan (believing in more than one Supreme Being), and steering towards a Dianic approach in her ritual (a tendency to worship a Goddess above all), Holly discovered a "direct link" to newfound "energies" and deities to equate to it.
"I pray to the Goddess, but I haven't named Her," Holly candidly reveals. "Whenever I need help or guidance, I pray and feel like She's talking back to me. Some people believe in many Goddesses with different names. I believe She can show Herself in any way She wishes, but She is the female energy. There is also God energy, but I don't feel drawn to Him as much. I practice some elements of Wicca, but I don't consider myself Wiccan. I don't really consider myself in a specific sect of paganism. Honestly, I am still learning about my path. I hope that I will always be on a spiritual journey, with my beliefs slightly changing. I have found that if you stay in one though pattern for too long, it turns almost into brainwashing. I might slightly change my beliefs, possibly including some Buddhist beliefs, but I doubt I will go back to Christianity."
The term "pagan" comes from the Latin word "paganus", meaning "country dweller". Since many neo-pagans (who attempt to revive founding thoughts and combine them with modern humanistic ideals) pray to Mother Nature as their Goddess and have a deep reverence for Earth, the term is quite fitting. It is difficult to determine a precise number of pagans worldwide, due to the non-organized nature of the religious movement. However, as one of the fastest-growing movements in modern times, it is estimated that there are at least 100,000 to several million practitioners in the United States alone, with the majority of them practicing Wicca (which includes the use of herbal magic and benign witchcraft).
Surprisingly enough, a curious number of Christian holidays have pagan affiliations. For example, the Christian holidays Good Friday and Easter commemorate the crucifixion of Christ, His rise from the dead and His ascension into Heaven. However, when Easter is celebrated, bunnies, chicks, and eggs are often used as symbols. This is due to the holiday coinciding with the pagan Ostara (the mark of the Spring Equinox and the end of winter), which is usually celebrated around March 21st. With the return of spring on that day, the birth of farm animals for the year also comes. Ostara also involves the return of various deities from the underworld.
On the Winter Solstice (December 22nd, the shortest day and the longest night of the year), Yule is celebrated for the rebirth of the god who died at Halloween (October 31st). Since days get longer from this point in the year, the festive pagan holiday is also a celebration of the returning sun. Gifts are exchanged, wreaths are hung, and logs are blazed, all Yuletide traditions in practice many years before the three Wise Men offered gifts to baby Jesus on the day of his birth, Christmas (December 25th).
In recognition of the Catholic saints, the Church created All Saints' Day (November 1st). Originally designed to combat interest in Halloween, the holiday failed to be a strong enough opponent to deter all interest. Pagans refer to Halloween as Samhain (The Last Harvest), where the old God dies on that day and the Goddess mourns Him until His rebirth at Yule. Despite outside misconceptions surrounding the true meaning of the holiday, many pagans reserve that day to honor loved ones who have passed on.
In retrospect, it is apparent that the Church was persistent in their attempts to convert steadfast pagans, especially as Christianity struggled for acceptance in Europe. To ease transition, Christian holidays were layered on pagan festivals and age-old traditions. Ironically, many of today's most devoted Christians are oblivious to the pagan history meshed with such holidays.
The origins of Christianity also have roots planted deep in another religious conviction. Widely considered the parent faith of Christianity, Judaism began approximately 3500 years ago, founded in the Middle East by Hebrew Biblical icons Abraham and Moses. It is the general belief that Jewish people (who do not acknowledge Christ as the Messiah) are specially chosen by God. During the Holocaust (HaShoah, in Hebrew) of World War II, approximately six million Jewish people were specifically chosen by the National Socialist German Workers Party (commonly known as the Nazi Party, under the leadership of Austrian-born German politician Adolf Hitler) to become murder victims of systematic extermination. With over 13 million remaining members worldwide, most in the United States (5.6 million) and Israel (4.4 million), Judaism continues to thrive today, despite the Nazi dictator's attempt to eradicate the religion. New York accounts for the largest Jewish population, with 1.6 million inhabitants.
"I believe that we choose our trials, before we are born into this life," Holly claims. "Suffering exists, because that is our path in life. I have gone through a lot of trials that can be quite extreme, but I have learned so much about myself through them and about my world. I know in my heart what is wrong. If you harm another human being or creature, that is wrong. To cause pain and suffering is wrong. Karma always catches up to you."
"Suffering has a number of sources, and they differ from person to person," debates 20-year-old Dan, a "practicing" Jewish person, as he reluctantly pauses from his collegiate studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It can be something as well defined as a death in a family, or sometimes it may even have no apparent cause. Some have said that suffering is the human condition. Though we encounter a lot of suffering, I disagree. What makes us human is how we deal with suffering."
"Faith is a belief that everything is meant to happen and will turn out all right. You will be a stronger for your trials," Holy replies, in rapid-fire.
"Faith is trust," Dan concedes. "More specifically, where you place your trust, whether in another person, some Supreme Being, or in yourself. It is the ability to believe in something, to place your trust in that something to believe in. I define my own relationship with God, and I believe that as long as I still believe in God, and relate to him, or look for Him in the way that equals religious practice, then I am still a practicing Jewish person. I like my religion, and I only wish that I had more time to be involved in it, but I am incredibly busy at school."
As we continue in our spiritual, and for some, non-spiritual, journey, confrontations of trials and tribulations may increase the difficulty in measuring exactly which path to place belief in. However, this underlining factor lays the foundation for faith itself. People often feel cheated out of life or earthly existence when suffering loiters. The question of faith is then raised, with no easy answers. Wading in the water, some are able to find comfort in prayer. Others fall from grace. Some others cuddle with their own indefiniteness.
"The biggest problem facing teens is that they don't accept people for who they are," Rebecca, a 16-year-old Jewish person from Ossining, New York, analyzes.
"They try to fit into groups that may or may not be who they really are. Many teens feel they have to conform to society, instead of expressing themselves individually. Teens have to be who they really are and try not to change themselves to be liked. I am a strong young woman, who can make decisions for myself and decided what's good for me. For peer pressure, I just confidently decline."
Last Updated: December 26, 2023