Religion, Spotlight

Reading Project Conversion


How could you practice twelve different religions? What effect would it have?

Andrew Bowen did exactly that. Then he chronicled the experience, and the crisis it provoked, in his new book Project Conversion. Your Rogue Priest was asked to write the introduction.

With his permission, I’m sharing that introduction here. The book was a powerful read for me and I hope all of you get a chance to read it yourselves.

The Extremist

Andrew Bowen is the only extremist I’ll ever love.

He is the perfect recipe for an extremist. From his childhood ultra-Christian identity to his military training, in another world Andrew’s message would be violence. Here he chose peace.

But extremists tend to remain extreme even when their allegiance shifts. A pendulum that swings too far will swing very far back; it does not stop in the middle. Thus, when a hardened criminal finds Jesus in prison, it’s rarely a middle-of-the-road, do-your-best kind of Christianity. The book will be thumped. Voices will rise. It is a case of all or nothing. All, or Hell.

The most repressed childhood spawns the wildest punk.

We’re fortunate that Andrew chose reconciliation over hatred, but make no mistake: his peacemaking is radical. If you were called to learn about other faiths, how would you do it? A class, a book, go with a friend to church – these weren’t enough. Andrew chose to immerse himself completely and piously in twelve different faiths, with a zeal that some lifelong members don’t match.

Humanity demands diversity. It’s our greatest strength. A homogeneous population is unable to adapt, innovate, change. So the most important project of humanity is also our most challenging: not just to accept but to admire people unlike ourselves. When the brave admire the risk-averse, when the scientist admires the artist, that is when we have complete genius. A tribe needs all its parts.

Even its extremists. Because those who insist on going the farthest will sometimes discover what no one else has seen.

Andrew Bowen has, I believe, made such a discovery. It took just one conversation with him to convince me of this.

I didn’t want to believe it. As a priest myself, when I first heard of Project Conversion I had only criticism. It’s shallow, it’s disrespectful, he may be going broad across many traditions, but he won’t get deep into any of them.

I was wrong.

The truth is I’ve seen students practice a religion for years and never go as deep as Andrew does in one month. Their love of their faith came inch by inch, but Andrew’s love for his twelve faiths was total, because he needed them to save his life. And in that total devotion, that total submission to wave after wave of faith and crisis, Andrew became enlightened.

It’s not an experiment everyone should perform. He hasn’t been careful, he’s been reckless and zealous and put his own wellbeing at risk. But his sacrifice has changed what we know about the world.

Andrew asks: Is a complete view of the divine a triangulation from separate points of view?

Many people take a little Buddhist meditation, a little Gospel, a little African drumming. It services their existing belief that all religions teach the same great truths. That’s a religion of its own. But Project Conversion enters each religion at the exclusion of others, looks fully through their eyes, and charts the divine like constellations until a complete star map is made.

Andrew Bowen offers us a new perspective on faith. One that is, perhaps, more complete than any single religion, more thorough than eclecticism.

It has placed him beyond faith and doubt.

Most readers, I suspect, will not identify with Andrew’s extremism. Most of us have not brought friends to tears condemning them to Hell, or lived homeless with an ecstasy habit. Most of us can say with pride that we don’t have the same level of prejudice that our author once had.

And that is our most dangerous moment.

It was the strength of his convictions, maybe even his flaws, that brought Andrew so far in the other direction. He crashed through his bias and saw the other side. We too have bias. We too judge others, both those who are different and those who are all too similar. We may not go as far, but we do have prejudice.

And if we think Andrew swung too far in the other direction, that might be an easy excuse not to swing that way at all.

The true lesson of Andrew’s project has nothing to do with his own gripping story of anguish, hatred, peace and transformation. It is rather the knowledge, the absolute certainty, that we too are blind to those we judge—

And that we can open both eyes, if we live like they do.

You can snag Project Conversion in paperback or for Kindle. I hope you enjoy it.

The campaign for Magic to the People is still going strong. Come join us!

Spotlight, The Heroic Life

Is it the Heroic Faith?

Project Conversion just ran an essay I wrote on the Heroic Faith. I share some of the personal aspects of why I came to believe in heroism in the first place—and why I think so many people don’t. You can read it here:

The Heroic Faith: Can Adventure Be a Religion?

Notably, this is the first time I’ve referred to my philosophy as the Heroic Faith and not the Heroic Life. I’ve been testing out this term lately, and it’s gotten a few questions. You may know I have more than a few reservations about the entire idea of “faith.”

But give it a read and tell me—does it feel more natural? Is “faith” a better fit?

Personal Development, Religion, Spotlight

Words from Andrew Bowen

Belief, as I’ve come to view it, is a projection which obscures faith.

—Andrew Bowen

I value tradition. A lot of people like to mix and match their spirituality—a little bit of this thing, a little bit of that thing. I understand why that’s alluring, especially if you aren’t sure what you believe.  But I’ve experienced the reward that comes with committing to one tradition and studying it deeply: the depths of understanding you never discover when casually checking out different paths. I considered that a much deeper payoff.

So at first I was resistant to the work of Andrew Bowen.

His tagline reads, “One man, twelve faiths.” He’s the designer and test subject of Project Conversion: a year in which he completely immersed himself in a different faith every month.

When I began to read Andrew’s work I was touched by the fact that he really did immerse himself: he didn’t tour or sample. Nothing was written with an outsider’s perspective. Each month, usually with a mentor, he dove in and truly committed himself, and experienced the rich insights that his new chosen faith would offer.

I think this was possible because he began with a purpose. “I realized… with the help of teachings by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, that the only way to end religious strife was to explore the world of faith from the inside out.”

His was not aimless wandering, it was dedication to peace.

The twelve months are finished now. What I’ve discovered in speaking with Andrew is that the intense year of faith was only the beginning. It turned into a spiritual practice in its own right, and has changed his views on faith and religion forever. It brought him from a vehement anti-theism to a new level of empathy. More important, it gave him a new purpose in life. He has a tool for peace that no one else has.

Interfaith work, effective as it can be, starts with a meeting between outsiders. They work together despite their differences. Project Conversion produced a man who has dropped all assumptions about religion, eschewed all beliefs. He remains immersed in his connection with the divine, yet gives it no form.

This view of no-assumptions and total empathy makes him, I believe, a remarkable individual.

More and more I’ve suspected that creeds harm our ability to speak about the transcendent. Andrew’s practice has allowed him to go past that.

He told me:

Belief feels like a specific view of what we might have faith in, while faith in and of itself simply leaves open the possibility of a thing.

I can have faith in the divine’s existence, but no specific beliefs regarding its details.

Therefore, I simply live and participate in life—in the moment—instead of miring myself in the details.

You can read more here.

Through May 3, 2012 I’m running a contest to give away a seat at the World Domination Summit. Enter now.