If It’s December, I’m Presbyterian
On April 13, 2012 Religion News Service carried a story about Andrew Bowen, a 29-year old resident of Lumberton, North Carolina. Throughout the year 2011 he practiced a different religion each month—Hindu in January, Baha’i in February, Zoroastrian in March, and so on. Bowen had what he called a teenage experience of “Christian fundamentalism”. Married with two children, he and his wife lost a third child—an event which plunged him into a crisis of faith. The story does not explain how he hit on the idea of this very original interfaith experiment. Each month he would spend the first two weeks reading up on the designated faith, then turning for the next two weeks to whatever rituals or other practices went with the faith. In each case he chose a “mentor” to initiate him into the scheduled religion. Since Lumberton had limited facilities for a hands-on curriculum in comparative religion, Bowen had to go far afield in his search for instructors (the one for Zoroastrianism lived in Chicago). Following the curriculum turned out to be a full-time job, since it involved intense changes in lifestyle in addition to all the reading. The story was illustrated by photos showing Bowen with a turban and what looks like a sword (the Sikh month?), sporting a Wiccan symbol, and sitting in a yoga position. He stopped working for the year and the family was supported by his wife Heather, who is a nurse (and a Baptist). At first she was not thrilled by her husband’s idiosyncratic experiment, but she says that she came to respect and even benefit from it. Heather’s least thrilling month was November, when Bowen lived as a Jain monk, meditating wrapped in his grandmother’s sheets and carrying a broom to whisk away tiny creatures that might be inadvertently swallowed (following the Jain version of a “culture of life”); worst of all, he did not bathe for the month.
Bowen did not actually convert to any of the faiths he serially tried out, although he continues with some of the practices (he meditates daily and occasionally attends Catholic services). What he claims to have achieved is a measure of peace and a renewed respect for human diversity.