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Ethics and Religion Talk: How have your religious beliefs changed over time?

Putting aside your religion’s/denomination’s “company line“ for a moment, how have your personal religious beliefs changed over the years, if any. If they haven’t, do you think that is a good or bad thing?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see the Kaufman Interfaith Institute page and their weekly Interfaith Insight column at

Linda Knieriemen is a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). 

As the years have passed I have become less rigid in my beliefs, I now accept more mystery, and am more of a ready to say, “I don’t know” when it comes to doctrine. I am increasingly curious. Retirement has brought an easing of the need to uphold an institution’s boundaries and beliefs, in fact I am attending a church of a denomination other than the one which ordained me. My personal statement of faith (required as part of ordination) has gone from pages to paragraphs to words: Be kind. Show love. Honor Creator and Creation. A faith that does not change and grow easily becomes stagnant and meaningless, so yes, it is a very good thing for personal beliefs to be examined and to change!  Attempts to discourage growth in belief, even if it means leaving the religion of one’s childhood, are usually signals of misdirected power of the religious leadership. 

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., is a Dominican priest and serves as Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids.

I am happy to report that my personal beliefs have not changed significantly over the decades of my life. What has changed is my understanding of these beliefs. As I studied theology and church law, I learned how and why my beliefs came to be. With my curiosity heightened, I continue to pursue deeper understanding in areas of particular interest. Combining my education with a personal prayer life and experiences of God, I keep deepening my relationship with God. All is good!

Fred Stella is the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple

One of the most important aspects of Hindu Dharma is its “commandment” to explore the realm of Spirit and acknowledge Reality as you truly see it at that moment. As time, study and practice continue, different understandings replace older ones. I am constantly reevaluating my beliefs. I am quicker to question what I hear from teachers. I have become much more inclusive in my attitude towards both the beliefs and practices of different expressions of Hinduism, as well as those of other religions. 

The Reverend Colleen Squires is minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. My parents were very active in our parish, I attended Mass weekly as a child. When I was a teenager, I left the Catholic church because I was not welcomed there because I was gay. I let go of all of my Catholic beliefs because the church felt very unkind.

When I moved to Boston, I spent many years without any church life. Then in my 30s I was invited to a wedding at a Unitarian Universalist church. The minute I walked inside I found my religious home. Second only to marrying my wife, it is the best thing that has ever happened in my life. I have committed my life to my faith because it is an inclusive faith that strives to welcome everyone. My beliefs have changed over the years in that I hold them more deeply now, but at the core they remain the same, inclusive love. I also firmly believe everyone wants to feel a true sense of belonging, when church is done well people will feel they belong. 

My response:

I’d have to say that it is a good thing that one’s belief change as one ages. It’s not that young people’s beliefs are necessarily immature and childish. Rather, over the course of one’s life one should keep reading and learning, and this should deepen some aspects of faith and practice and perhaps modify others. A person might be “orthodox” in one’s belief as a teen and young adult, but find that life experience causes them to become more moderate as they age. Or a person might be liberal as a young adult, but find themselves drawn to more orthodox beliefs and practices as they age.

Over the past 31 years since my ordination, my practice has remained consistent, with the exception of my primary focus of study. For the past 15 years, I have been drawn to Bible commentaries from the 17th to the 20th century from the Hasidic tradition. While I don’t share their world view or some specific features of their Jewish practice, I find their focus on human psychology to be compelling. My book, Reflections on the Psalms, draws much of its style from this kind of commentary. Regarding belief, over the course of my life my belief in the purpose and efficacy of prayer has become much less literal. While I continue to believe that God listens to prayer, I no longer believe that the prayer itself influences God to fulfill my requests. Instead, I see the prayer as a means to transform the pray-er.


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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