Authors note: With Easter quickly approaching, many people are mindful of the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ. Yet there are those who aren't so sure about his/her existence and religion in general. There are those who question the basic premise of God's existence and what it all means. Many long for a sense of purpose and some hope to find it in religion.
As vast as the cosmos and stars in the universe, this need to search often stretches the mind to its limit.
In an effort to look at spirituality and briefly examine why people believe or not, we spoke with local residents representing various viewpoints. This is an effort of putting a roundtable discussion on paper. This is not an attempt to sway beliefs, but rather offer a platform for open discussion on one of the most talked about issues of all time. The search for God and spirituality.
When Joan Anderson was a little girl, she watched closely as the minister of her California evangelical church banged his hands on the pulpit.
"During each sermon, the preacher repeatedly pounded the lectern and shouted about hell and eternal damnation until his face reddened and his carotid arteries became engorged. God was presented as a wrathful being," she said.
Anderson said the only happy, positive person teaching at the church was her Sunday school teacher.
"Mrs. Andrews had prematurely white hair and had the voice of an angel. She was the personification of love and kindness. I was certain she came down from heaven each Sunday to teach us. I believe the (negative) experiences strengthened my belief in a God of love, as personified by Jesus Christ. I'm grateful to Mrs. Andrews for having instilled in me that reality at an early age. And I shall always remember (my) Mother directing us in prayer to a loving God at bedtime each night," she said.
In 1962, as an adult Anderson joined another Christian church in California. She described another disappointing experience which she remembers to this day. The pastor told her and other new members, "I don't believe in life after death; I believe in the here and now."
She was troubled by that comment.
"Wasn't the purpose of the death and resurrection of Jesus to prove to us that there is life after death? I was deeply depressed."
(Authors note: In 1978, two daughters of that pastor committed suicide with the Rev. Jim Jones in Guyana.)
Several years later, Anderson chose to seek God and spirituality in a different and more comforting way for her.
Today, Anderson is a member of a mainstream Christian church in Payson, one where you won't find a booming pastor damning members to Hell. She's glad she didn't lose her faith in God. She is also opposed to those who constantly criticize or question the faith of others.
"You do more to hurt the cause of Christianity by that than all the atheists can do," she said.
Anderson continues her quest for spirituality and a relationship with God today.
"It keeps me going in this crazy world. Without my Christian faith, my life would be meaningless," she said.
And she gets great comfort from her relationship with God.
Seeking comfort is what many people do when they search for God and spirituality.
Among them, local yoga instructor and Catholic, Tony Alfano.
"I think there are a lot of options out there. A person just needs to look around and see where their comfort zone is located," said Alfano.
Alfano's fully aware that not everyone seeks the same God.
"Maybe I was a searcher and I just reached a comfort level where I am no longer looking because I believe it is so encompassing," he said. "I'm not deeply religious, I have a balance between spiritual beliefs and other things like yoga and alternative healing techniques. I let God do his or her own thing with me.
"I see God in my garden, nourishing my seeds and I feel the presence of God. How could God be lacking? Without my religion and spirituality I wouldn't have any feelings, it would be terrible. My spirituality gives me happiness and joyfulness," he said.
Raised Catholic there was a time when Alfano became a Franciscan Friar. For three years he studied to be an evangelist for Catholic Franciscans. There were endless hours of prayer, and visits to heal Christians.
Alfano also knows some people don't have an interest in spirituality at all.
Although he said there are a lot of people in this world who question the idea of God, he doubts there are true atheists.
When people want to proof of the existence of good, Alfano said, "Have you ever seen a baby, or a baby being born? Now, how can all of that happen, how can the body work miracles unless God makes it happen?"
Marlene Johnson has another perspective. Johnson, 73, grew up in a Presbyterian church. By the time she was in her mid 30s, she began questioning more things about God, churches and the Bible. Today she insists she's an agnostic.
An agnostic is someone who believes there is no proof that there is a God, but admits there is a possibility that God exists.
"I believe in a high order sense to the universe, but don't believe we know what that is. That is why human beings with greater intelligence spent their lives trying to see why we're on Earth. We're all in a learning process and that's OK," she said.
Johnson doesn't believe there is a man or woman sitting on a throne somewhere.
"I believe God is a collection of energies and groups of things that interact," she said. "The most destructive thought is when people believe they are the only true religion. That can't be possible. We all have our own different views on what spirituality is. In life, insisting that you are right on all things, is wrong," she said. "You cut yourself off from the flow of life. You shut down as an explorative human being.
"The Bible is trying to help people live the good, straight life. A true adult needs a compass to know the difference between what's good and bad, and I don't believe you can get that only from one book. However, I'm not necessarily right or wrong," she said.
She occasionally attended church throughout her life. And does today.
"I do enjoy fellowship and interacting with other people but when they try to bend me...that's not the group for me," she said.
Johnson admits there is great benefit from spirituality and having a relationship with whatever you believe is God. "It's comfort food...and everybody has a different idea of what is comfort food. I believe I belong to the universe. I believe in the afterlife, I will be manifested in my children," she said.
Johnson encouraged those seeking God or spirituality to read books, on all different philosophies.
"When people are arrogant and believe their way is the only way, I become incensed. I don't like arrogance. Staying open, listening and picking up is vital. You have to read about all the beliefs and stay mentally alert," she said.
See the Friday, March 25 issue of the Roundup for Part 2 of this article.