Beliefs

Man spends 12 months practicing 12 different religions, and finds peace at year’ …

RNS photos courtesy Andrew Bowen

LUMBERTON, N.C. (RNS) Andrew Bowen sat yoga-style in his armchair, absent-mindedly fingering a set of Muslim prayer beads in his left hand as he talked about 2011 — his year of conversion.

Andrew Bowen isn't Muslim, or Hindu, or Baha'i, or Mormon. In fact, he's none of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time during 2011.

Andrew Bowen isn't Muslim, or Hindu, or Baha'i, or Mormon. In fact, he's none of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time during 2011.

But he's not Muslim. In fact, the 29-year-old Lumberton resident doesn't call himself by any of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time last year.

Not Hindu (January). Not Baha'i (February). Not Zoroastrian (March). Not Jewish (April). Not Buddhist (May). Not agnostic (June). Not Mormon (July). Not Muslim (August). Not Sikh (September). Not Wiccan (October). Not Jain (November). And not Catholic (December).

Finding faith in God again was not Bowen's aim. This young father of two was looking for faith in humanity.

Bowen became a Christian in high school and took “a nose dive into fundamentalism,” he said. “It just ignited a furnace in me.”

As a teen, Bowen said he was extremely critical of faiths different from his own. Once when a pair of male Mormon missionaries visited his home, Bowen said he chased them down the street as they retreated on their bicycles.

After high school, Bowen met his wife, Heather, at East Carolina University.

Andrew Bowen isn't Muslim, or Hindu, or Baha'i, or Mormon. In fact, he's none of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time during 2011.

Andrew Bowen isn't Muslim, or Hindu, or Baha'i, or Mormon. In fact, he's none of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time during 2011.

The Bowens had two girls, Shaylie and Nevaeh, and thought their family was complete. But in 2008, Heather's tubal ligation failed, and she was pregnant with their “miracle baby.”

But the doctors discovered the baby was behind her ovaries, an ectopic pregnancy that threatened Heather's life.

The couple had to choose to abort the baby, something they never dreamed they would do. They were devastated.

“It was a really dark time. I went into a very deep state of depression,” Heather recalled.

But Heather and her husband dealt with the baby's death in polar opposite ways.

She bought a devotional Bible and was baptized at a local Baptist church. He plunged into a “two-year stint of just seething hatred toward God.”

The couple fought each time Heather wanted to talk about her growing faith. Still, deep down, Bowen worried his hatred would consume him.

“The best way I can describe it was flying down the road like a bat out of hell toward a wall,” Bowen said. “With any transformation, there's a fire that has to be applied.”

So Project Conversion was born. He would study and practice one faith each month, guided by a mentor from each belief system. But this was no reality TV stunt.

It was an obsession – his personal intervention.

Andrew Bowen isn't Muslim, or Hindu, or Baha'i, or Mormon. In fact, he's none of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time during 2011.

Andrew Bowen isn't Muslim, or Hindu, or Baha'i, or Mormon. In fact, he's none of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time during 2011.

“It was 110 percent balls to the wall for me,” Bowen said, describing his dedication to the project.

To find his mentors in late 2010, he had to look outside his tiny, mostly Baptist farm town. His Zoroastrian mentor lives in Chicago. His Muslim mentor lives in Fayetteville.

Truthfully, Heather was skeptical about Project Conversion at first.

But she “saw changes in him. He was more patient. There was more of a sense of peace about him,” she said.

His first two weeks each month were spent intensely reading and learning a faith's tenets and the last half was spent exploring the faith's practices and rituals and visiting nearby congregations. For his Sikh month, he spent five hours watching YouTube videos on how to tie a turban. During his Jewish month, he spent a weekend visiting temples with his Jewish mentor, journalist Michael Solender in Charlotte. He's filled an entire bookshelf with holy books from his research.

Now as he's writing a book, speaking about Project Conversion and blogging about the experience for Beliefnet.com, Bowen is still exploring all he's learned. On Facebook, Project Conversion already has its own tribe, with nearly 1,000 likes.

“The most important thing I learned in Buddhism was how to wash dishes. Like there is nothing but this dish. It taught me finally to be quiet,” he said. “With the Mormons, the first thing I did was apologize. It was about humility and being one of them and serving them.”

Islam “showed me how much I was wasting in my life from food to activity. Bowing with the men in the mosque was astounding,” he said.

Catholicism was “a wellspring of expression and arts in worship. It was an ocean I could bury myself in for days and not come up for breath.”

The project also touched the lives of his mentors.

“It was energizing in that it allowed us to really put on the table and discuss conversations my wife and I wouldn't normally have had with other people,” Solender said.

Bowen was one of the best students of Wicca Greenville resident Melissa Barnhurst has had.

“He gave it a lot more than some students who've come to me wanting to become Wiccan,” she said.

Meanwhile, his wife worked as a labor and delivery nurse at a local hospital. Things were hard financially, at times, because Bowen wasn't working.

Andrew Bowen isn't Muslim, or Hindu, or Baha'i, or Mormon. In fact, he's none of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time during 2011.

Andrew Bowen isn't Muslim, or Hindu, or Baha'i, or Mormon. In fact, he's none of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time during 2011.

And then there was November, Jainism – and Heather's least favorite month. Bowen loved becoming a monk, meditating wrapped in his grandmother's sheets, not bathing and walking with a broom to whisk away creatures in the Jain tradition of respecting all life.

“It was the not bathing or washing your hands,” she said. “The nurse in me was beginning to have a fit.”

Though he admits his experiment caused hardship, the couple had a deal. Bowen put his wife through nursing school. She carried the financial burdens through Project Conversion.

“We argued more than we ever did, but my kids participated in celebrations, and my wife's Christianity opened up a whole lot more,” Bowen said.

His wife agrees.

“Faith has become a constant topic in our house,” Heather said. “We may not share a faith. We may never share a faith, but there's definitely a respect there.”

And now?

Bowen still meditates daily using various prayer books, and he attends Mass occasionally at a Catholic church.

At its essence, Project Conversion was about burying his hatred and learning tolerance.

“For so long, I suffered with ego. So now I'm just going to make the faiths of others more beautiful to themselves,” he said. “I don't think about God now. I just participate.”

DSB/AMB END GREENE

About the author

Amanda Greene

Amanda Greene is the editor and community manager of Wilmington Faith & Values.

8 Comments

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  • An interesting experience, no doubt about that. I do wonder, though, how Bowen reconciled the teachings of one religion that contradicted the teachings of another. I know he was not actually converting to each religion as he learned and practiced, but I also know that I would have felt very muddled at some point.

  • Why should he worry about reconciliation if he isn’t seeking conversion? There is so much more in common among people of different faiths than there is different, and his journey through 12 of them taught him respect for each religion. That is commendable. I think we could all stand to learn a little more about each other and respect each other more. I am a Mormon, for example. I invite you and anyone else to visit lds.org, mormon.org, or mormonnewsroom.org to fact-check the many media articles you see these days, or to just find out more for yourself.
    Thanks for listening.
    http://www.conservativemormonmom.blogspot.com

  • There is certainly a virtue in learning about another person’s faith from that person, rather than from someone who is on the outside and only knows an unfaithful version of it. On the other hand, having an appointment with yourself to practice a different religion on the first of the next month is a barrier to allowing oneself to have real regenerative faith. The Book of Mormon, for example, promises that if a person reads it while pondering on the mercy and love of God for mankind, and asks God if the record is a true history, with sincere willingness to accept and live by God’s answer. and with faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, the person can receive assurance through revelation that the book is in fact a true record. Having this kind of project in mind means that he was incapable of exercising the kind of faith and commitment that is required to receive spiritual confirmation from God about the Book of Mormon, the kind of confirmation that motivates two hundred thousand people a year to join the Mormon Church.

    On a more constrained scale, there are many people who visit a variety of Christian churches, searching for one that they feel at home in, one where God seems to speak to them. The difference is that they are not on a path to skim the surface of those denominations, but rather are seeking to determine whether the particular church is the one through which God will speak to them. That means having no artificial and arbitrary time limit on how long you will study a particular church. Many people who find their home in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have done just that, including Glenn Beck.

  • All well and good for such a person in search of the truth. But what is the message for a Christian who knows the truth? Surely it is not to take a journey upon a relgious smorgasbord? No, I do not think that is the message here.

    My greater concern, however, is for the ambiguous out there. To them, this sounds like a grand plan. Why? Because as it says somewhere in Timothy (paraphrase) “in the end times there will many prophets appealing to those with itchy ears.” In other words, people will choose that which very often most appeals to their senses and causes them the least amount of sacrifice and obedience. I doubt that will be Christianity.

  • I am a couple months late on this article but oh well here is my opinion:

    I am a mormon, and I do not mind at all the faith journey this man has had. It is the greatest possible thing to find the similarities, and learn from each religion their practices. I myself have decided to do such a thing. It is not wrong, for Joseph Smith said something to the effect of, and I paraphrase it a bit: Do the Baptists have truth? Yes, do the methodists? Yes…We will not be true mormons if we do not search for the truth and take it from where it comes.” I really truly believe that if we do not search out every religion to find truth, even truth to questions our Prophets have not received revelation on, then we will be held accountable to our God for that. I think that it seems he has chosen at least one church to attend and that is Catholicism, but he hasn’t chosen to call himself catholic, he hasn’t chosen to call himself anything yet. In the process of conversation sometimes you need to wait.

  • Also on the whole false prophet thing, if the truth comes from God, it will resonate with in you in such a way you can not deny it is truth. If it is not truth, it will fail you. If you believe and trust the Holy Spirit to guide you, you can not come to a false conclusion.

  • It can be very interesting learning about different . as a Jehovah’s Witness I personally talk to people of all religeons as long as they want to talk. I have looked closely at many many faiths. I have had bible studies with Moslems, Mormons, Catholics Methodist, baptists, etc etc. I discuss and need to have an understanding of all the religeons because we are willing to talk to all. When you have what you see as the truth though, you can’t rightly worship god in a different way. You either know that Jehovah or yahweh is the almighty god and Jesus is his son. You can’t worship Jesus as god as many religeons teach. I couldn’t belong to a religeons that will back up fighting where eg catholics would fight Catholics. We do follow the truths of the bible and appreciate the incredible prophecies recorded in the bile and historic accuracy etc etc. once you are honest and are looking to serve god in the way he wants and not just what suits you it is a beautiful place to be and that is what motivates you to talk to others by knocking on doors like Jesus taught his disciples to do and commanded them to do. I appreciate though we still need to be loving and kind to all we meet.

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