I’ve noticed that some people would not dare to question traditional or mainstream religious interpretations, believing that they are God’s way of telling us exactly what is acceptable to God. Their way to please God is to follow those interpretations as strictly as possible.
Others would not dare to give those interpretations an authority which is ultimately God’s. They find it to be almost a form of shirk (idolatry) to blindly rely on human transmission and understanding of God’s will. They would rather trust their reason and rely on their intentions in order to please God.
The difference is in how we think we can know God.
How does a person arrive at the first type of belief? By some sort of arbitrary subjective process, like an accident of birth, no? Or at best they can try to be objective and use reason to get there. But reason has more in common with the second type of belief. So at some point the reason has to stop and the blind acceptance has to begin. When, and why, should that happen?
And what happens if, once you stop using your reason, new rules are learnt and taken on board which actually would have been rejected if you were still using your reason? Isn’t that kind of dangerous?
Rules and rituals can be attractive, maybe because of the security and guidance they provide. But in the extreme they can be quite confining and unreasonable. But then the alternative – not having any certainty – can be too scary or difficult or impossible to contemplate.
If I’m pushed, I have to sit on the fence: I think traditional understandings of religion, combined with reason and faith, can be helpful to us. Faith is not certainty; it is not about blindly and uncritically accepting anything; there is no grounds for a pretence of certainty, in my view. I read recently that zeal is an expression of being troubled by doubt, and I wasn’t sure if I agreed, but in this context perhaps it is true.
Honestly, sometimes I would love to be the first type of believer, because it seems like plain sailing. I am troubled by doubt. I have tried to be that type of zealous believer and not been able to. I have flirted with the idea of trying again, and not been able to. And I worry that it is the only way to please God after all, because sometimes it seems that that’s what religions teach. And plus I’m so frickin’ lonely out here on the outside, seemingly losing readers because I am not able to be a zealous believer and people don’t like it.
Oh well, on with the struggle.