First, I’ll say that Jerry is a friend and I don’t believe he would mind my sharing this information. I would not do anything to embarrass him because he deserves my respect, no matter his past.
Over the many interviews I’ve had with Jerry, it was inevitable that religion come up; well, perhaps a better word would be spirituality because I’m not very religious. In fact, I find the term insulting because it has overtones of piety, and I may be a lot of things, but pious is not on the list. I am, however, spiritual, and I don’t say the word to boast but as a fact of what I am. So, we discussed spirituality.
As you might suspect, being in prison for 30 years affects people in different ways. Some find “religion” and are quick to let everyone know, while others withdraw and wonder if there is a God. Jerry is somewhere in between. He believes in God but doesn’t think, as I’ve previously said, that God cares anything about him. He thinks Jesus was the most righteous man the world has ever seen, and that’s about it.
So, we talked. I fancy myself as somewhat of a student of early Christianity and used this as a baseline for our discussions. I pointed out that there were many beliefs among the early Christians, and by early I mean before books were placed in the canon after the Council of Nice, and that some of these sort of affirmed what he now believed. So, that was a starting point. I gave as an example the Gnostics who believed that humanity fell into three camps regarding a chance of the afterlife: those with the spark of God inside who had the chance, if they could become enlightened enough to escape this world, to have a wonderful afterlife, those who had no chance and were just like animals, destined to become worm food, and those who could obtain a reasonable afterlife through good deeds and works. It was this latter belief that inspired many New Testament writers to challenge in their writings. My point to Jerry was that there has never been, nor will there be, a monolithic approach to Christianity.
I was encouraged by his interest so we began exchanging thoughts. Jerry is well read and intelligent, with a curious mind. He is very familiar with the bible and has discussed it a lot of people. His questions are pointed and logical. I began sending him books. I sent him a book on meditation and discussed little tricks to quiet your mind. He promised he was trying. I sensed it was useless to talk about salvation in the normal sense of the term because he had been through too much, so I simply encouraged him to understand that everything he needed to know was already inside and all he had to do was listen. God wasn’t hiding from him.
His belief about prayer is ambivalent; he wants to believe but doesn’t understand why a God would ever listen to him when there are so many more deserving people. He has many Jewish friends and corresponds with a Rabbi but doesn’t adhere to their total beliefs. Like many throughout history, he wonders if there are two Gods, one in the Old Testament and one in the New. He wonders about errors in the bible, asks what I believe, and I tell him. I also tell him the answer is not within that question, but within himself. Only God can tell the absolute truth.
We talk about this on every visit. I urge him to find peace and tell him that God doesn’t look back, so he shouldn’t either. I tell him that God wants him to have a good life. He has difficulty in accepting this but we are still talking. He is seeking answers. ……..just as we all are.