When I called to wish my brother, Dooby, a happy 68th birthday on Sunday, I thought I’d reached a wrong number when he said he’d just returned from church.
“So where did you go to church?” I asked, expecting to hear a smart remark.
“St. Olafs. I’ve been going nearly every Sunday for almost a year and have been taking instruction on Catholicism. I’m thinking of being baptized.”
I glanced outside to see if a flaming meteor was zooming toward Earth or possibly the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse unleashing disaster. My brother has been atheist most of his life, although he sometimes joins his wife on Buddhist meditation retreats. The last time I saw him, he was reading Carl Jung. I don’t know why Dooby has reversed direction on religion. George says it’s because Doob is getting older and closer to the end.
Dooby’s revelation made me think of friends and acquaintances who have changed religious views— although not necessarily their affiliation. One Catholic friend has moved to agnosticism and another to ecumenicalism. A friend who raised her children to be devout Lutherans has adopted pantheism. The daughter of a friend was recently baptized into the Anglican faith after spending most of her adult life as a Buddhist. When I attend services at the Unitarian Church or Zen Center, I always meet former Mormons. And most Mormon wards I’ve attended have older converts or returnees to the faith.
I don’t know how widespread a change of faith is in later years, or the reasons for it. For most people, agnosticism is less comforting than a belief in an afterlife, but not all changes I’ve seen have been to a faith that promises Heaven. My guess is that many older people lose confidence in their religious traditions when life experiences don’t align with the teachings of their faith. Bad things happen to good people—and good things happen to the apparently undeserving. If a person’s faith is based on the idea that we can prevent misfortune by particular religious observances, that person is bound to experience disillusionment when life disappoints.
I suspect that the spiritual philosophy which motivates, guides and comforts a person is highly individualistic. Maybe God knows that. Maybe that’s why we have so many different religions.