An unbeliever embarks on an ambitious personal journey to sample the top four world religions, emerging more connected and less anxious.
“None” is a selection in a survey asking for one’s religious affiliation (“no religion”) and is not to be confused with “atheist.” Indeed, Pacific Northwest journalist Nicolaou points out in this sprightly personal search, the majority of “nones,” the fastest growing category among religious affiliations, believe in God and that churchgoing is beneficial to society. The disconnect often occurs due to political aversions—namely, that the ultrareligious are viewed by left-leaners as “hypocritical, judgmental, or insincere.” So what is a none to do? Having been raised by lapsed Christian parents and now married to a man whose family is only nominally Jewish, Nicolaou resolved to visit places of worship employed by the top four religions in cities where she has lived: Dallas, where she grew up; Los Angeles and Berkeley, where she went to high school and college, respectively; Washington, D.C., where she once worked in government; and her current small hometown in the Pacific Northwest. For each religion she resolved to better understand, she first did her homework—reading the Gospels or Quran, for example—before attending prayer groups and services. She tried to blend in while seeking mentors among the congregants, and she sampled variations of each religion—e.g., Catholic, Quaker, or Pentecostal Christianity, or Pure Land versus Zen Buddhism. Often, the author was dazzled by the ritualistic trappings of the prayers (as in Islam) and the parade of curious personalities, such as the solicitous church ladies, the kindly rabbi who informed her that “we don’t write on the Sabbath” or the radiant dharma instructor in Berkeley who embodied the lesson of staying in the present. In the end, the adventure was necessarily only a beginning, with a deeper exploration still ahead.
A somewhat superficial but illuminating journey in search of community and social justice.