At this point in my life I find it hard to relate to an uncritical, submissive approach to religion. To get to that point, you have to:
- believe that there’s a God, a creative consciousness behind the universe
- believe that God created us for a purpose, or requires certain behaviour of us
- believe that God chooses to communicate with us about these requirements through prophets/revealed religion
- believe that a particular religion truly has this type of divine origin
I have been religious in the past, but at this point, and it frightens me to say so, I can really only tick the first of these, and am less sure about the rest. When you’re an insider to a religion, faith reinforces itself experientially. But if you have to decide from scratch about religion, how do you decide?
It seems to me that you can only judge the truth of what a religion teaches by how much it agrees with the opinions you already hold… in which case why do we need religion to tell us things we already know? Having said that, learning about Islamic dress has taken me to a happy place I wouldn’t have got to otherwise, so I do think that religious morality has something to offer us. Some would say only “weak” people rely on external guidance for how to live; I reject this. We are not as independent and free-thinking as we would like to think we are; we all rely on external ideas. But nevertheless, deciding a religion is true on the basis of liking its principles (and lots of converts do just that) has two problems for me: firstly, it assumes that God necessarily wants the things that we like, and where’s the basis for that? Secondly, if it leads to wholesale swallowing of religious doctrine and toeing the party line thereafter, this could be disastrous if the religion is not in fact true or if its interpretation has not been done correctly. Given how many widely differing scholarly opinions there are on just about everything in religion, one has to admit there is a high probability of that. I cannot stomach the arrogance of people who firmly believe they’ve got it right and go around attacking anyone who disagrees.
At this point, I feel that after years of learning and thinking, I have loosened myself from all attachments and am now as near to unbiased about spiritual questions as I could possibly be. I’m painstakingly aware of all the temptations and pitfalls that make people join religions for wrong reasons, but I can’t help wondering sometimes if the reasons for joining are less important than the direction it takes you in. I envy people whose spiritual beliefs and pursuits are an anchor in their lives; people who have a source of calm and a sense of direction and meaning; people who are not easily torn apart by skepticism and fear. And I know that it wouldn’t be called faith if you could work out for sure that it was true. But I hesitate. I hesitate not least because I know how immoderate I am; my zeal exceeded my maturity when it came to my own religious escapade and this led me into peril. It hasn’t been possible for me to be unquestioningly committed since then. Actually, I was never unquestioning; I just thought the path I was on held answers I was yet to find. Now, I am no longer on any path, and I don’t know where I am going. But I finally feel free of all constraints and I wouldn’t have it any other way.