Statistical Group: Independent Believer [-6]*
I grew up it was like it didn’t exist, it didn’t mean nothing, there was no God, you did what you had to do, you was responsible for your own decisions. You basically controlled your own destiny. But I went through something, I got incarcerated, so I went back, got into Christianity, started reading the Bible, and started to engage in different conversations. I’m an open-minded person; I’m not going to shun one religion because of my belief. I could see flaws in theirs and mine, and I came to the realization as I got older and kept on researching for myself that I believe that there is a God but it’s inside the person. Your faith is inside you.
I pray and I feel closest to God when… basically when I’m giving thanks. I pray every night and every morning. I believe in Jesus and everything, but I don’t believe that I have to pray to Jesus in order to talk to God. I believe that I can talk to God. He’s here, he and me. I have faith but I don’t see myself as a religion maker, I don’t follow the Bible. I believe if I’m a truly good person in the heart, he’s going to see that. You know as human what’s right and wrong. Keep doing good and right, treat people the way you want to be treated, as that saying goes. I mean, it’s true.
I believe that although there’s a destiny, there’s right and wrong, and your decisions, the choices that you make, will lead you on the right track or the wrong track. Sure I believe that there is a higher power that controls things, but at the same time, you control which side you’re going, right from wrong, and your actions will be looked upon whenever the time comes. What you do good, is going to come back to you, we call it blessings. And I’ve come to find out that it’s not what you do when people are watching, it’s what you do when people are not watching, and that’s when you get your blessings. All I can say is, it’s probably hard to explain, but I’ve been blessed. There’s been things that I’ve been through and it seemed like it had to have been help from somewhere. Because other than that it’s unexplainable.
I’ve been in situations, like I told you, I was incarcerated. With my charge I wasn’t supposed to be granted parole, it was like real dim for me. Real grim. But I kept praying and good things started happening. People were saying good things about me and things worked out, I was released on my parole board. I never forgot to pray or give thanks. Give thanks basically for your blessings ‘cause there’s always somebody in a worse position off than you. And I’ve got to say, I’ve been out a year and everything has been working out for me for the most part. I don’t believe that God, per se, gives you things when you ask for it. I believe that he gives you an opportunity to get whatever you ask for, and it’s up to you to see that opportunity and go for it. I mean, you’re not going to get everything you want, but you stay positive, keep your faith and keep pushing, and things will work out, and it has been so far.
Statistical Group: Standard Book Believer [-18]*
I think that there is an immanence of spirit in the universe which carries over to a lot of religions. So many people have so many different Gods, it’s really about the dialogue that you have with whatever divinity you believe might exist. If you start getting definitional you start remaking God as something human. So I think the best you can do is work within whatever tradition appeals to you and maintain the dialogue. I like being part of a religious community. I like the fact that communities exist that define ethics and by their practice invoke a spiritual presence.
One is constantly defining God by questioning. I come from a Jewish tradition, that’s what we think, that dialogue and questioning are how God comes into existence. That is my interpretation. If you want to know if I believe in a personal God, I don’t. Except in so far as I make him personal in terms of what my spiritual goals are. If there’s an ethical tradition and I decide that I want that to be part of what I do and what I am, then I’m making it personal. For example one of the tenants of Judaism is we have an obligation to repair the world. I think that’s true. So in that sense I’ve made God personal, I’ve taken it as part of my obligations to repair the world. I’m very happy to have a historical tradition within which to find myself.
I’ll tell you a Jewish joke okay? A man decides that he is fed up with society, that he can’t deal with people, that he needs to find purity and spirit and so he goes out to live in the desert. Five years later some people from the community come out to see how he’s doing and he’s fine, and they see that there are two buildings there. So they say, “Well what is this building?” He said, “Well this building is my synagogue.” So they said, “Well what’s that building?” He said, “That’s one I don’t go to.” It’s a tradition that is full of individualist interpretations.
My father was an observant Jew; my mother was a socialist free thinker who felt culturally Jewish. My father went to a tiny synagogue which only had a rabbi in the holidays, so I didn’t have that education because they didn’t have any provision for kids. So growing up I celebrated Hanukkah, we had a sader at Passover, that kind of thing at home. As I got older and became more interested then I studied on my own. I go to temple now, but not often. I pray when I’m in temple, I think it’s a communal act, I don’t pray privately.
Raised Mixed Faith
Statistical Group: Confident Rejector [-2]*
My dad was Muslim, my mom was Christian, so I grew up in a really odd household. There was all these battles between Jesus and Muhammad, not between my mother and my father. Personally I heard so many fights about Jesus and Muhammad that neither of them can exist. Well, neither of them is God. It’s stuff to instill fear in men, control people, have an instruction manual or best practices. There is no God, this is the creation of time and stuff we just can’t understand. My parents didn’t make us choose anything. There are a lot of similarities between what people believe, so they ended up fighting about really small things. If you don’t believe in Jesus you can’t go to heaven, I guess that was a pretty big deal. But I was brought up to see them both, and as a result of my upbringing I saw that both had a lot more in common and that people were fighting over really insignificant things. As I got older my belief crystallized into; it’s not anything, its just randomness and time and stuff that we can’t understand.
We are all star dust. This is it. I play the piano for my spirit. I mean there is nothing more beautiful and mysterious than hitting those piano strings and hearing the sounds, or hearing a group of people sing in harmony. But it’s chemicals switching across the brain, it’s physics, it’s randomness, it’s not God.
Statistical Group: Independent Believer [-5] *
I thought my parents were too strict “God this” and “Jesus doesn’t like that” and I was just like “they are full of shit”. Now I still have the same view, but it’s just that a lot of stuff changed in my life that made me look at things differently. I learned to have more hope and faith and something is giving me the power to move forward. Some higher power was giving me the strength to move on because every day is like miracles happen. Every day.
A lot of stuff has happened within me growing up. My mindset changed. I have been on my own since I was eighteen, once I left my parent’s house that was it. I met my boyfriend, we were supposed to get married, it didn’t work out. Thank God because he is in jail right now for some crap he did. Everything happens for a reason. And my daughter. God or whoever gave me my daughter. I conceived my daughter at the right time because I was heading down that path of no return. I felt like I didn’t have anybody, my parents they pretty much disowned me before and it just continued after I had her. Then I got a job, I was doing home helping. I was making okay income, I was paying my own rent, I was self-sufficient. Things started to look brighter for me. That is why I started to feel like, “okay, you know there has got to be something.”
As far as God goes, I’m not really a religious person, I have faith. I believe there is a higher power out there. It might not be what people say is this God, but something that makes every day miracles happen. Like today I thought I forgot my money at home. Let me rephrase that, I did forget my money, I was hungry, and walking down I found $5 on the floor. In New York, what are you going to turn around and ask everybody “who dropped $5?” Everybody’s going to say it is theirs. So I took it and I got me and my daughter something to eat. So I do believe that there is a higher power looking over us, and that is about it.
Whether it is extreme challenges or just an everyday challenge of running to the bus to make it on time, even though at that moment it will feel overwhelming, there is always a way out. I’ve always overcame my obstacles. I’m going through an obstacle now but I see a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s just something in me that is making me have this strength. Part of it is my daughter because I have to wake up every day and I have to get dressed. I have to do the things I have to do because of her. God knows if I didn’t have her I would probably be laying in bed all day, I wouldn’t give a shit about anything that is going on. But there is something else that just pushes me every day and I feel even in the worst of situations, there is a way to overcome it.
My parents are both Catholic so they were real religious, but I’m not religious like that. As a kid I was forced to go to church with them up until I was sixteen or seventeen. I’m twenty two now. Once I turned eighteen I didn’t really bother. And in their eyes I committed a sin by having a baby before getting married, so I don’t really talk to my parents like that no more anyway. Here and there I do, but we are not that close. I went to church recently at Christmas. They were having something for the kids, so I took my daughter. But as far as going to mass and stuff I don’t bother with that. I feel sometimes churches are corrupt, priests raping kids and all this other stuff happening, not all of them but a lot of them are hiding behind their religion, they are holding that as their cover. Deep down they are not the same person that you see standing preaching from the bible. So I am not too fond about church. I could care less about it.
I pray sometimes. It’s just like talking, I call it venting, other people call it praying. It’s not like I am on my knees begging to God or something but I just ask to be strong. For God or the Lord or whoever, to give me strength. I guess he is the one who gives you that strength. That strength that you don’t know where you get it from, to move on and wake up every day and go wherever you have to go, and get things done. And little miracles happen. You might have to go to an important appointment and you are waiting for the bus. As soon as you get to the bus stop, it’s your lucky day, the bus is right there. Or you might really be hungry and you find a couple of dollars, or you just run into somebody who offers you some food.
When I lost my house because of Sandy a lot of people helped me out, helped me get clothes again. One day I was carrying her, you know we were walking to one of the distribution centers where they were giving out hot meals and she was sleeping. I kept having to switch her around because I lost my stroller. There was a guy that I met there, he took us to toys R us and told me “Pick out whatever you need, get whatever you want, it’s on me” and I was like, “Are you sure? Like what is going to happen after this?” because I’m thinking he wants something in return. Sometimes you don’t see the kindness of people. And that is another thing that changed me; I learned to take people for what they are. I don’t have a wall up as much. I used to have a wall up and not trust people. I felt like people were out to get me and nobody really has good motives. But the guy he went and paid for my daughter’s stroller, he got her a few outfits, he got her some baby food and stuff like that. And that was just a miracle. I feel that just came to me. I wasn’t looking for it. I wasn’t walking around saying, “Hey can you buy me a stroller?” So, everything happens for a reason. I am a true believer in that. Everything happens for a reason.
I believe in karma too. People who hurt you and abandoned you, neglected you or whatever, maybe not now, maybe not a few years, but karma is going to come back and one day the tables are going to turn and those people are going to need you. You are going to be the one who is doing better. See I am the type of person, I will still help out. That’s just me, it’s my nature. Even though some people think I’m mean, evil and nasty, I walk around with a frown and I’m not really like friendly. But I’m a good person, I feel that is why I will be okay. It’s not the end of the world, and when it is the end of the world I’m pretty sure we will know how to handle that too.
* statistical measure of how typical they are of the group. Where 0 is heart of the group and -10 and below is an outlier