Being “between religions” is sometimes a really scary place to be.
More than once now, I’ve started to trust Islam, started to open myself to it, only to find that anxiety hits me. I suppose I worry that everything I’ve liked and agreed with about the faith is a misunderstanding, and that really the message of the faith is something quite different, something I shouldn’t open myself to at all. I also get all caught up in the shoulds and shouldn’ts, the rules, and I struggle to see how I am going to accept it all, and even if I do find I can accept it, how I am going to manage to practise it.
Of course I had times of acute anxiety in my fundamentalist Christian phase too, when I doubted what I was following. I remember worrying intensely over things I read in the Bible that didn’t fit my understanding. Maybe I’m just naturally insecure and untrusting. Maybe faith is always going to pose some issues for me. The difference for me back then was that I was practising, so through prayer and worship I was sometimes able to lead myself by the hand back into a positive frame of mind – manipulate my own emotions to get to a more peaceful place. Right now I got nothin’.
The last time I got into a panic like this was towards the end of last year, after having taken a step towards Islam around September (Ramadan). It led to a few fairly negative, detached, skeptical posts about religion that are at the beginning of this blog.
All I can do is press on, trying to evaluate which religion(s) I think are right, how much of them I think is from God, and in what way it’s from God. I really don’t know at this point. With Islam, I was thinking that once I had read the Qur’an I would know one way or another. But now I think, what if I agree with some bits and not others? What if I feel the Qur’an is from God, but it turns out my understanding was wrong? What if I find I have to accept the authenticity of hadith that I don’t like, and how can I even find time to read all the hadith? How much do I have to read before I can be sure what I believe about the religion?
In Christianity I understood the idea of one’s testimony was very important – one’s personal reasons for believing. These were what kept you going through times of doubt. They were generally personal and experiential, usually memories of religious experiences of some kind. They were not necessarily rational. Maybe rationality can only go so far in these matters, but I’m bent on taking it to its limits. The problem is that my search to think it all through and take nothing on trust demands a lot of time. It is also driven by fear, and fear is the opposite of faith.
I am just not confident enough in what limited set of beliefs I actually have at this point, to be able to take on the enormity of a religion, and all its derived laws and rulings, and wrestle with it in confident curiosity. I am overpowered by it; I don’t feel I can partially surrender to it on the basis of some low-level agreement with it, while simply begging to differ or suspending judgment on the rest. It’s all or nothing for me because I’m not strong enough to hold my own in the grey area in which I currently reside. This has been my problem all along with religion.
So my fear is about the destabilising effect of trusting something and then realising I shouldn’t; or, worse, trusting something and not realising I shouldn’t.