After spending almost twenty years in the Baptist Church, and enjoying the sense of community spirit that it offered him, Fred Howard became disenfranchized with its core traditions of salvation and invitation.
He began to feel that his chosen religion was failing to fill his growing spiritual needs.
As he began to ask more penetrating theological questions of its elders, he was confronted by equally confusing and somewhat irrational answers from those within the church.
Howard decided to search outside of the confines of his religion and to move away from its strict disciplines and engage with other teachings—those found within the Bible and other faiths.
Transforming Faith: Stories of Change from a Lifelong Spiritual Seeker is an account of Howard’s search for spiritual truth and his deepening desire to create a more authentic philosophy on life.
The book opens with a detailed description of the initial reasons that he had for his increasing disquiet with the church. It highlights his sense of discomfort with some of the work tbat he was called upon to do to promote the church’s beliefs.
His main bone of contention lay in the fact that he felt uncomfortable being asked to pressure strangers to become members of the Baptist’s faith. He felt that every man and woman has the right to control their own destiny without undue pressure being applied to take any form of action—particularly regarding something as important as matters related to spirituality.
Part one of his book opens with a look at the role that the process of imagination has played in relation to religious philosophy.
Following further theological musings, the author reflects upon the history and spiritual influence of the Holy Grail and takes a look at the legends surrounding King Arthur.
Part two forces you to consider the twin paradigms of belief and faith, which, as the author points out, are by no means the same thing!
To some, the difference between the two is slim and even academic, but, as the author points out, it is actually imperative to establish your own personal spiritual or religious beliefs with a clear understanding of how faith and belief manifest themselves in our personal roles and daily actions.
Further commentaries on the various developmental stages inherent within the process of spiritual maturation then follows. Howard explains that faith actually has three specific phases: ‘Adopted Faith’, ‘Individuating Faith’ and ‘Holistic Faith’.
Each stage requires you to embrace a gradual movement from a dogmatic framework of belief to a more holistic and accepting worldview.
Howard cites the Apostle Paul as a primary example of Adopted Faith, Bertrand Russell as a prime exponent of the Individuating Faith and Gandhi as the finest example of someone who personified the concept of Holistic Faith.
The book’s main focus then turns away from faith and embraces the somewhat misty region of mysticism.
Howard opens his narrative on the subject with the common observation expressed by those who have experienced a mystical sense of oneness and unity that appears to extend throughout our known universe’.
Part three of Transforming Faith begins with observations about the nature of psycho-spiritual growth, both the natural and the self-stimulating varieties.
Once again, the author draws upon his own personal experiences and shares further examples that outline his connection to those who promote myopic tendencies and narrow religious viewpoints.
The trials and tribulations of the spiritual life are further reflected upon in the story of Job along with his personal misfortunes and his resultant shaken religious philosophy.
Howard reflects upon the parable as an example of the power of listening to others—much in the same way as Job’s friends did for him.
Sadly, the world of religion often fails to listen to its fellow man. This can sometimes be strange, given the pastoral work and care that many groups purport to engage in. At this point in his book, the author offers specific signs that can reveal whether a group of spiritual adherents are exactly what they purport to be—whether they have the ability to listen and be supportive.
In part four, Howard approaches the subject of the ‘Big G’.
Firstly, he offers his consideration of how God manifests within the context of a three dimensional world. Whilst many seek out God, believing him to only inhabit lofty places, the author suggests that maybe, just maybe, the Supreme Deity’s role in our lives is rather more mundane than we give it credit for.
The book draws to a close with part five and a consideration of Christianity—a place to which the author safely returns following his years wandering in the spiritual desert.
In the concluding chapter, Howard examines the concept of resurrection and guilt and closes with commentary on Christianity as a spiritual influence and reflects upon the role that it has played in his life.
Our Review of ‘Transforming Faith’ by Fred Howard
Anyone who has trodden the spiritual path will know only too well that it is neither straight nor flat. In fact, as Fred Howard has proven in Transforming Faith the journey to find personal truth is circuitous and often leads the traveler back to the point from which they left!
In this personal account of his trials and tribulations—both personal and spiritual, Fred Howard weaves an engaging tale.
This is a very honest book. It is refreshingly critical of a great deal of what figures under the banner of spirituality—from orthodox religion through to New Age thinking. Given his standing in the community, the author must be congratulated for being quite so open and truthful in his opinions. It could not have been a comfortable process and doing so probably cost him a few friends along the way.
What is less evident from reading this book is why the author chose to return to the roots of the religion that he initially was so critical of. I would like to have understood this aspect of his journey a little better—though one is left rather suspecting that his return was in order to awaken its grass roots followers to a greater truth that lies outside of dogmatic religious beliefs.
This is an undeniably fascinating story that Fred Howard has to tell.
In addition, the questions that arise from his quest and the many challenging paradigms that emerge and require resolution in the author’s life can equally be applied to anyone who feels stuck within the teachings of their chosen (or enforced) religious beliefs—no matter what they are.
Anyone who feels lost or confused during the course of their own spiritual journey will gain greatly from absorbing the guidance and insight offered in Transforming Faith. As an insight into the heart of what faith is, the book is an unqualified success!
Book of the Month: March 2015