I recently participated in a geriatric focus group discussing the challenges of aging. At one point the discussion leader asked us how we felt about our spiritual health. Most others talked about the strength of their faith and the comfort that it gave them. I said that my spiritual health had never been better, though I claim no faith. Of course that lead to a longer discussion, but it was all respectful.
I am generally familiar with the tenets of most of the world’s major religions. I respect the moderate practitioners of all of them. I even think that faith serves as a moral and values anchor for many people. I just don’t happen to find that useful in my life. I am confident that one can be moral and endorse healthy societal values without subscribing to a specific faith tradition. I don’t worry about life after death and I am not an atheist. To me that is just another faith demanding adherence to a particular belief system that cannot be proven any more than any other.
So how did I come to the view I have today about the value or need for faith in my life, you might ask. My journey started in my youth. I was born into a family with a pentecostal heritage. My grandfather on my dad’s side was very rigid in his beliefs. None of his children practiced the faith when I was a small child, but they all endorsed it as the only right religion. Then when I was 16 religious fervor swept through the family, including my dad. Within a few months my dad and all his siblings were “saved”. And life changed forever! I quickly learned that everything fun was a sin. It seemed church was the only non-sinful thing, and for me regular attendance was required.
The real breaking point though came when I was 17. That year my dad proclaimed I had probably committed the unpardonable sin! I didn’t even know there was such a thing until I had apparently committed it. There may be other ways to do that but in my case it was daring to question the authenticity of a particular faith healer.
Keith McAdams was a severely crippled young man who attended our church. The preacher, my dad, and some of the other more aggressive parishioners would regularly drag poor Keith all over the state to every faith healing service they could find. He was always going to come home from this one fully restored. I watched all that with skepticism but kept my mouth shut.
Then Oral Roberts brought his big tent and faith healing campaign to central Ohio in the summer of 1957. I had to attend and of course they took Keith. I watched as Roberts healed dozens of people. But the people healed never had ailments like Keith’s that I could actually see and verify. So when it was Keith’s turn they carried him up there and he wasn’t healed just as I expected. As I recall Roberts said Keith was not yet spiritually ready for God to heal him.
At that point I showed my youthful ignorance of protocol. In front of my dad and other church members I called Oral Roberts a fake. That was it! I had committed the unpardonable sin!! Today, decades later my dad is long deceased. But I’ll bet if there really is a God who judges righteousness my dad now knows what I knew 60 years ago.