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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Project Conversion: Andrew Bowen Tried A Different Religion Each Month During 2011, And Mormonism Was One Of Them

On April 15th, 2012, HuffPo published an article entitled "Andrew Bowen, Man Who Spends 12 Months Practicing 12 Different Religions, Finds Peace", which summarized the experiences of a man who deliberately tried out 12 different religions to determine if one of them alone would be right for him. And Mormonism was one of the selected religions. He refers to his search as Project Conversion.

Triggering Project Conversion was a difficult third pregnancy for his wife, Heather, ending with a medically-necessary abortion. The couple was devastated and became depressed, but while Heather bought a Bible and was baptized at a local Baptist church, Andrew plunged into a two-year stint of hatred toward God. The two began to squabble about religion until Andrew realized he had to take action to avoid being totally consumed by hatred. So Project Conversion was born. His first two weeks in each faith were spent intensely reading and learning the tenets, and the last half was spent exploring the faith's practices and rituals and visiting nearby congregations.

Why did he pick the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as one of the 12 faiths? It appears he felt a bit guilty about his treatment of Mormon missionaries in his youth. As a teen, Bowen said he was extremely critical of faiths different from his own. Once when a pair of male Mormon missionaries visited his home, Bowen said he chased them down the street as they retreated on their bicycles. So in July 2011, he took the plunge for a month. Bowen explained "With the Mormons, the first thing I did was apologize. It was about humility and being one of them and serving them."

In the end, Andrew Bowen decided not to join the LDS Church. He still meditates daily using various prayer books, and he attends Mass occasionally at a Catholic church. But Project Conversion was more about burying his hatred and learning tolerance, and he appears to have achieved those goals.

However, Andrew Bowen also documented his experiences in a series of posts on Belief.net. Because their archives are non-intuitive and difficult to navigate, I am posting the links to his posts, grouped into six different pages of archives. Since the posts are undated, I cannot determine the chronological order for most of them. Links and summaries begin after the jump:



-- Page 2 (actually page 1, but is called page 2 in the url). Four posts in this set. Begins with a post about his encounter with LDS missionaries. Bowen says the humble testimony offered by the junior companion impressed him more than anything else during the two-hour discussion. Other posts cover Mitt Romney's candidacy and temple marriage; Bowen does not like the fact that non-members and Jack Mormons cannot witness a temple marriage ceremony if there is no civil marriage ceremony.

-- Page 3. Four posts in this set. Addressed the LDS Church's legacy of plural marriage, and related how he got a small taste of what celestial glory with exaltation might feel like in "Reaching for Infinity". Began to identify personally with Joseph Smith.

-- Page 4. Four posts in this set. Led off with the Word of Wisdom, and observed how it was one of the hardest things for him to accomplish, although was quite favorably impressed. Picked up on the idea that it isn't merely a list of things you cannot have, but is also a formula for dietary health. Says that obeying the Word of Wisdom prompted him to begin a regimen of physical exercise. In another post, noted that Mormons were the only group who actively solicited his conversion.

-- Page 5. Four posts in this set. Leads off by discussing reaction to his flirtation with Mormonism; says many people started spamming him with the usual anti-Mormon slander and he learned to tune it out. He reports actually finding himself defending the Church against the anklebiters. In this other post, Bowen compares the restoration of the Gospel to the restoration of an old car.

-- Page 6. Four posts in this set. "Becoming Brother Bowen" is actually the very first post in the entire series; Bowen outlines how he became a "temporary member" of the Church for the purpose of his search. In a separate post, Bowen discusses his impressions on keeping the Sabbath, fasting, and tithes and offerings.

-- Page 7. Four posts in this set. Bowen discusses Pioneer Day and the doctrine of the Heavenly Mother, noting that Church references to the Heavenly Mother are minimized so as to protect Her honor and modesty with a quiet, yet knowing reverence. Bowen likes the LDS concept of an actual Heavenly Family. In his Conclusion post, Bowen spells out what he got from the experience:

One important lesson I should have learned long ago is that we should always look before we leap to conclusions. Had I given those young missionaries a chance to speak all those years ago, would I be a different person today? Perhaps even a member of the church? I also realized the power of humanity’s two greatest abilities: Forgiveness and love. If we cannot forgive ourselves and others, then there is no hope for love. If there is no love, then there is no hope for peace. Forgiveness and love are the fruits of humility. We must humble ourselves to one another and have the courage to leave our conditioned opinions about those around us behind. I will never judge a book by its cover–or even the first few pages – again.

In response to a post about this subject on Millennial Star, Andrew Bowen comments further, saying his Mormon experience taught him about spiritual courage. He believes Joseph Smith was a man after God’s own heart, interested not in the constructs and religions of man, but the system of God Himself.

Although Andrew Bowen chose not to join our Church in the end, he definitely has become sympathetic towards our doctrine and practices, and has even defended the Church against detractors, notwithstanding our weaknesses and imperfections. Both the similarities and the differences with the rest of Christianity were attractive to him. Thus while we want to reach out to the rest of the Christian community, we add value by remaining a peculiar people somewhat.

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