Religious belief

January 11, 2009 at 3:42 pm (personal, reflections on my journey)

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.

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5 Comments

  1. Achelois said,

    Ah! So this is how it all began?! How wonderful!

    I envy you 🙂 My spiritual journey was such a secret. Perhaps it was because I was born into a Muslim family and as a Muslim I can’t ask questions and can never doubt Islam and if I ask questions it has to be a hidden task, a well guarded secret. Muslims are so ready to jump at you if you dare to believe differently. Just yesterday I mentioned something about Jesus on a blog, something about his *death* (athobillah! 🙄 ) and another commenter corrected me by saying something like you are disregarding the Islamic perspective. I thought, OMG, I can’t even make an innocent comment without looking over my back.

    This post is so full of prospective new beginnings. I love it!

    • Wrestling said,

      I am really lucky that I was raised and educated to be encouraged to think. It must be so difficult in your position. But bravo to you for thinking and questioning anyway!

      I think it’s just as well I never converted, I probably escaped getting a lot of negativity piled on me and my blog (touchwood!) because I was always a non-Muslim. I see on Muslim blogs what goes on and it’s so disheartening. In fairness I got the same thing from Christians while I was still going to church, but they tend to at least be less blunt!

  2. Venn said,

    You have put down in words what exactly has been in my mind these past few weeks.I’ve never been good with describing what goes on in my head and reading this helps me explain my beliefs to family or friends who cannot understand my view point.Thank you for this blog post and your whole blog in fact.Also,I admire and appreciate the fact that you don’t shove your views down other people’s throat.

    • Sarah said,

      Venn, thank you for this encouraging comment. Sometimes questioning religion is a lonely place to be and it means a lot to me to hear that I’m not alone. It is validating and makes me glad I bothered writing this blog (I don’t always feel that). All the best for your ongoing journey!

      • Venn said,

        Tell me about it.I feel very alone on this journey too.Thank you for your well wishes 🙂

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