Belief in Something Beyond One’s Self is Grounding
by Maggie Lynch
August 2, 2022
The first two weeks of this month authors are exploring the role of religion and/or spirituality in our lives or books. We all know there are many books relating to specific faith traditions. In the U.S. there is an entire genre of Christian fiction. This is defined by books that uphold Christian values. These books range from ones that include Bible verses that provide themes for the plot and character journeys to books that simply have the characters living a life based in those values.
There are also books that cater to those of the Jewish faith, the Muslim faith, Buddhists, Hindu’s, Pagans, and many traditional religions of indigenous people around the world. Whether you are a person of a specific religious faith or an atheist, most people have some set of moral guidelines that help them to navigate this world. They have some rules for themselves and others that determine what is good behavior and bad behavior—what living a “moral” life means.
I personally don’t believe that any one faith is the one and only true faith. Religion, like most things in life, can be and has been corrupted throughout history by those who would wield it for political power. That said, I do believe that having a core belief in something beyond yourself—God, Love, the power of Good, Nature—makes it a lot easier to be grounded in a moral path that gets you through tough times and helps you to move forward even when all seems to be lost.
My Personal Upbringing and Belief
I grew up in a Christian family. My father was very Catholic and my mother agreed to raise us Catholic when they married. She grew up in the Episcopal church, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for her to raise us Catholic. When I was ten years old, and many things had happened to our family that certainly made my father question is faith and the Pope, he left the Catholic church and we became Methodists. My father was always a man of deep faith. In fact he was a lay minister in our church. My maternal grandparents were primarily Episcopal, but other Christ-based religions were scattered among our extended family as people married and adopted a different faith—Presbyterian, Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventists, non-denominational but evangelical Christian. As my sisters married they often chose to raise their children in the religion of their husband. This included Catholic, Sikhism, and no church affiliation.
For me, I loved going to church. I loved every part about it—the singing, the praying, the knowledge that I could count on people in the church to be kind. Many times as a child, people in the church helped our family. They provided food when a brother died. They collected money and gave us a “money tree” for hospital bills. They provided respite care when my mother couldn’t walk and almost lost her leg. But I also had a lot of questions about different religions, what was the same and what was different. What was true and what was myth.
In college I did a psychology major and a religious studies minor. For me they both go to together as religion or spirituality often inform beliefs, morality, perceptions of right and wrong, punishment and reward. The more I studied, the more I realized where religions intersected. Most of the denominational differences were around esoteric concepts that most people didn’t study or perhaps even know was a tenet of their religion. For example, the concept of the trinity in Christianity. The split among churches had to do with whether God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were all one entity or three different, but connected entities. As much as the difference in that core belief was also a fight over politics and power.
Most disturbingly to me, at least at the age of religious fervor and belief in the goodness of all mankind, was to learn that religion has always been a source of political power throughout the ages and continues to be today. It is used to raise up some religions as truth and put down others as myth. Usually the relationship has to do with what the politicians want and how they can wield it to control the masses. Unfortunately, that is still the case today and this makes it hard for many people to practice a faith that is not currently in the news, or the majority, or politically convenient in the moment. It was at that moment that I realized it was up to me to determine what to believe and not simply rely on what my parents or grandparents did.
My own belief is one that takes those concepts, scriptures from many religions that are the same in all. For example, some concept of the Golden Rule is the same across the major religions. For me, I do believe in something beyond myself that has an impact on the world. I do believe there are things we can’t see but do make a difference. Some people call that God, others call it the power of Love, others call it Natural occurrences. I’m fine with all those names. I’m also fine with taking sustenance from a variety of religious texts and people. I don’t think one religion has it all down and correct because ALL religions have been shaped by politics and power. Even in translations of scripture you can see differences in interpretation that is often colored by the political needs of those paying for the translation.
I do pray, meditate, and talk with nature. I do believe in something, unexplainable beyond myself. I am perfectly fine with not being able to understand and know exactly what it is. I am also fine with not having to name it.
Religion and Spirituality in my Fiction
Because of everything above, I do include questions of religion, morality, and spirituality in my fiction. How can I not? Because I was raised primarily as Catholic and Methodist, I have a closer connection to Christianity and those questions. For example, in my Sweetwater Canyon Series of books, one of the characters is a Christian who strongly believes in God, Jesus, and prayer. She also believes in not having sex before marriage, and that gets her some ribbing in the early books. In her own book, Sarah questions her beliefs when faced with wondering what her beliefs are based on and how they work in today’s times. In her story, Heart Strings, she has to face evil and deal with why it happens to her. Why didn’t God intervene?
In my SF novel, Eternity, I revisit the concept of living 800 years. That comes from my early questions about the truth of the story of Methusalah in Genesis who lived 969 years. In fact, those who take the Bible writings literally believe that many people in that time lived hundreds of years. Some believe because God created Adam and Eve as perfect, they were not subject to disease. But as sin was introduced, it allowed disease to become part of the human DNA. Slowly humans began to live less long lives. I don’t personally believe that, but it is an interesting concept. In Eternity I used that story and belief to posit that there was a virus within the plants that transferred to people in those ancient days that allowed them to live so long. In the near future time of this novel, that virus is found and is made into a vaccine. However, as with many things, politics and power become involved and the vaccine is not provided equally to all people around the world. In addition, there are groups of religious people who don’t believe humans should live such long lives. They rebel by trying to create a counter-virus to return people to “normal length lives.”
My most recent work is a series about children in foster care. The first book is currently titled The Power of S.A.D. (titles sometimes change prior to publication). Just as different religious beliefs are represented in our country, so are they in the homes of children who enter foster care. The range is from fundamentalist beliefs to no religious beliefs at all. I can remember my grandmother, who took in many foster children, sometimes being flummoxed by what to do for those who believed very differently from her. She tried to do research and find someone who may be more familiar with this different religion. In those days there was no quick access to the Internet. The choice was going to the local library and making contact with other church leaders or people who practiced this other religion.
In my first foster children book I explore what happens when someone grows up in a home with two different religious beliefs. This is actually more normal than some people realize. In my book, my character grows up in a home primarily raised by her grandparents who immigrated from Guatemala many years before her birth. Her grandmother is Catholic. Her grandfather’s beliefs and morals are based on the traditional Mayan stories. The foster mother of the home she is placed in is protestant. My protagonist is trying to figure out what to believe and how any spiritual belief helps her to understand and deal with the death of her grandparents, the mental illness of her mother, her own heritage and identity, and how she can move forward in life.
Religion and spirituality of some kind has been at our core throughout evolution and millions of years. We can choose to deny it, embrace it, or ignore it. For myself, I’ve chosen to embrace religion and spirituality—though it may not match exactly to any one faith. It grounds me and gives me hope because I know I am not alone. I don’t believe a deity will intervene on my behalf. However, I do believe in the power of good and love as a force that is generated from many people and that is more than the sum of its parts. That is what keeps me going.
Just as it is important to have diverse characters in our books, a part of that character is their moral compass. For many that is based in a specific religion or some other spiritual practice that informs them. By leaving that out, we do ourselves and our characters a disservice. Morality is derived from many experiences, not just a belief in a deity or a force beyond myself. My husband is an atheist, yet has a very strong moral code derived from his experiences throughout life. I know I will forever study religion and scripture from various sources. I want to learn more of what connects us instead of what separates us.
Maggie Lynch is the author of 26 published books. Her fiction tells stories of people making heroic choices one messy moment at a time. Her novels span women’s fiction, SF & Fantasy, suspense, and romance. She is currently working on a Contemporary Upper Middle Grade children’s series. Her current nonfiction provides authors with information and tools for self-publishing from the basics of creating a professional book package to getting books distributed around the world. You can check out her personal website at maggielynch.com