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Buddhism professor's journey from Christianity to a blissful state of "I don't know."

Student Alanna Sanchez interviews Jeremy Beahan, a humanities professor at Kendall College Art and Design on his faith journey.

/Alanna Sanchez

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What happens when you no longer believe in the religion on which your family raised you? As I sat in my Special Topics: Buddhism class on the very first day, I wondered this exact question when my professor, Jeremy Beahan, explains how he was raised a Christian, almost joined the ministry, only to lose his faith. I wanted to know more about his struggles with his faith and how he found his new spirituality, and he kindly agreed to share his story with me.

Beahan explains that he was a voracious reader at a young age. He was given a study Bible that had translations and commentaries that helped him really understand the holy book. Through his research, he started to find purpose and developed a strong consciousness towards the world around him.

“Most of my peers were focused on girlfriends, music, movies, etc. but to me these preoccupations seemed shallow,” he said.

Beahan’s family and the pastor of his church saw his gift for teaching and encouraged him.

Being brought to the ministry as a child, and later attending a bible college, he was only ever exposed to the Christian religion. “Knowing nothing about the world’s other religious and philosophical traditions, I mistakenly believed that others who did not have my kind of faith must be ‘spiritually dead.’” His limited perspective gave him a false sense of faith and security.

“Almost from the beginning I struggled with doubts,” he said.

He noticed many apparent contradictions in the Bible. He tried his best to study whatever would help contradict the doubts that began to inhibit his thoughts. He memorized rational arguments to defend his faith. However, the more he studied, the more he was plagued by doubts. While reading/learning about redaction criticism he realized everything. “Discrepancies in the Bible were not random accidents but systematic alterations, they served a purpose for their editors and revealed a chorus of dueling voices.” As he read into skeptical philosophers, he found their arguments to be well-reasoned.

“Ethically I could no longer stomach the misogyny and anti-gay bigotry that masqueraded as righteousness behind so many podiums and pulpits.” Beahan realized he could not spend his life teaching people a doctrine he did not believe in. When his faith changed, his relationships with his family also changed.

“Telling my parents that I was no longer a Christian was like confessing a murder,” Beahan explained. When he finally decided to tell them, they accepted him, not his decision. He and his family remain very close. However, the family carefully avoids any religious topic to keep the peace.

So why turn towards Buddhism?

“Loss of faith can be emotionally devastating but it can be profoundly liberating as well,” he observed.  

No longer sorting out the world from saved and unsaved, he was finally free to be curious.

Beahan admitted he was looking forward to seeing other perspectives with an open mind. He later joined a group of Secular Humanists. Here he could openly speak about ideas from non-religious perspectives. He learned a lot about other views.

“I learned that atheist and agnostics were not the angry immoral monsters they were made out to be.” Beahan also mentions how he worked with interfaith groups where he met a number of liberal religious leaders who struggled with the same doubts he had dealt with, and emerged more compassionate than before. Buddhism struck Beahan the most, because he related to the Buddhist life and teachings.

“In its attitude, this profound humility and empirical, almost scientific, sensibility appealed deeply to my post-religious mindset. In its content it turns to the complex causal interactions of physical and mental faculties, rather than sin-cursed souls.”

Yet Beahan wouldn’t call himself a Buddhist.

“In many ways I live like a Buddhist lay practitioner,” he observed. He believes it would be disrespectful to other Buddhists for people like himself to “claim membership against their ranks."

"I am satisfied with being able to learn from this wonderful tradition,” Beahan said. “I don’t need to wear a label.”

His advice to young adults struggling with the religion they were raised on to consider what else is out there, experience different cultures. To think for yourself. Don’t blindly follow something you do not wholeheartedly believe in.  

“Become comfortable with saying 'I don't know,'” Beahan said.

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