Friday, October 26, 2012

My Complicated Religious Feels, Have Some

I've been trying to write this one for a while, which is funny because it's short and not really all that complicated. It's just that, even though the words are accurate, I feel like they don't quite touch exactly what I mean.

And maybe it's also because I think it's a little awkward? Or that people won't understand it the way I feel it?

Well. It is what it is at this point.

So. I think you're all (or at least most of you) aware that I'm something of a religious...*waves hands* I think of myself in a metaphor sometimes. I'm a little dinghy, okay? And I'm lost at sea but I can see that there are a couple of islands over to the right and there's a larger ship to the left. And some other islands in front of me. Now of course all these places look safe and I can see the people waving, telling me to come join them. I need to make a choice, one of the islands or the ship or to just stay in my little dinghy and keep on going alone in the ocean. And the last option is not appealing to me. But are any of the other choices really what they seem? Can I really trust the promises of safety and shelter and help that they're giving out? The islands might be inhabited by cannibals, the ship might be a pirate ship or a slave ship. Or they might all be hallucinations from being alone at sea for so long.

That's how I feel about my search for, I won't even call it religious truth, but religious fulfillment.

And for some reason I keep circling Islam. I'm trying to figure out exactly why, because I'm honestly not sure. I know that, in the beginning, I was attracted to Islam because of the hijab. Because of what it represents and because I honestly believe that hijabis are beautiful in a way that has nothing to do with physical characteristics. Which is not to say that all hijabis are perfect people or anything. Or that I believe that every woman should wear hijab. Just...there's a beauty there that I can't (again) quite put into words.

That was my first attraction, because I felt at the time that God was calling me and calling me to cover my hair and dress modestly. Things have changed, clearly, in that respect. And I know now that that's a very shallow reason to be attracted to anything. 'Hey, I don't know anything about your faith, really, but I want to wear your hats.' No.

With that out of the way though, I still have this fascination/attraction to Islam. Why?

I think I've figured out at least one reason for it.

Islam is simple. Which is not to be confused with simplistic. What I mean is that the core of Islamic belief is more easily rational than some others.

There is one God who created everything. He has sent down prophets who convey his message to the people around them. Follow the rules contained in the message, believe in the messenger and that's that.

There's something about this simplicity that appeals to me. It gives a strong, basic core from which one can have interesting theological arguments. It's simplicity doesn't negate the complexity of faith in and of itself.

But. There are also reasons holding me back and the one I think of when I think about the simplicity of Islam is the fact that it feels like a betrayal.

It feels like if I chose Islam then I would be betraying my ancestors. After all, Islam is a Middle Eastern faith. Like Judaism and Christianity. It was born out of a region and a culture that I have no connection to. My ancestors were pagans. They worshiped versions of the Norse deities. Why is that not good enough for me? Or even if I can't mesh myself with paganism? Why not stick with the Christianity of my more recent ancestors, the religion I was born into? And I can't answer that with any clarity except that I haven't found fulfillment in either of those places. But then why does it feel like I'm turning my back on my ancestors when I consider Islam?


  1. I don't know if you're looking for advice or are just using typing as a way to figure things out, but I'm gonna go with the former. (And if I'm wrong, you can totally delete my comment and I won't care.)

    Anyway, it seems you believe in God and that He has a plan for you. (Based on your belief He was calling you to Islam.) I don't know you well enough to know how deeply you believe in a universal creator, but have you tried asking Him specifically? I'm assuming (although we know what that can do) that you've probably shot up a, "Well, God, which one?" from time to time, but have you thought about asking, "Well, God, what about [Islam, Christianity, German Heathenism]? Are those the beliefs you want me to align myself with?"

    James 1:5-6 is why I've chosen to align myself with the beliefs that I have. I asked God, having faith He would answer me, if those were what He wanted me to believe in. And I felt He told me, "Yes." I think if you ask Him, He'll give you answers. They may not be when or what you want, but they'll be there.

    Either way, I hope you find the fulfillment you're looking for somewhere.

    ...sorry I babbled so much. Like I said, you can remove my comment if it's not something you want to see on your blog.

    1. :)

      If I didn't want comments or advice, I wouldn't put this stuff out on the web. :)

      I believe in a divine force, most of the time. I have my moments where I'm not sure at all, to be honest. I've discussed this with a friend of mine and she says that faith of any kind requires a great deal of trust. Which I think is likely my problem in a nutshell: I lack a trusting nature. If God (or gods) came down right this minute and I had a blinding religious experience, as soon as the euphoria cleared I'd be wondering if I had a seizure or something.

      I have tried asking which religion is correct. So far, no answer. But as you say, answers may not come on our schedule. :)

      Please, feel free to babble as much as you like on any post that you like. I'm rambly myself and I enjoy discussions!

  2. I'm going to offer up some thoughts that really have nothing specifically to do with you. Your post reminded me of something I heard in New Mexico, and I thought I'd share in case something he said resonates with you.

    One of the days of the trip we went on a tour of one of the oldest continuous settlements in the country (one of because another tribe nearby claims that they're the oldest, our guide explained that the other village moved once while his has been in the same location the longest). It is a Native American settlement on a mountain, and at one point it was taken over by European missionaries. They forced the people there to stop following their old religion and built a church on their graves. When the people revolted and the Europeans were finally forced out, the people abandoned Christianity for quite awhile and returned to their old religion. But after a certain amount of time (I want to say 20 years or so, but it's been awhile and I could be wrong), the younger people especially wanted to change things and felt that their ancestral religion and culture was an incomplete picture of who they were. They had under European occupation for their whole lives, Christianity was more familiar to them than the religion their grandparents had known. Their ancestors had built the church (by force, but still), their bodies were its foundation. I think the Christian occupation lasted about 80 years, so it had become a part of their culture as well. Furthermore, some of the Europeans living their had married tribe members, so many of the children now had European blood and ancestors.

    Finally, they decided that what was needed was to recognize that it was a part of their identity, even if it hadn't happened in a way they'd wanted. The oppression and eradication of their ancestral culture was a horrible thing, but now that they'd thrown off their oppressors and lived on their own for awhile, they could reclaim the good parts and fit it into their identity on their own terms. So they wound up with a bit of a mix, most of them are Christian but they've integrated that with the earlier ancestral religion and practice both. In some cases they've done something similar to how European Christians integrated pagan holidays and figures, they'll celebrate a tribal holiday on the closest saint day and do it their way. Some things are kept separate and secret. But however they do it, they're satisfied that it honors all the parts of their heritage, and that's something I saw in several areas and groups throughout the trip. The Catholic church we attended included the "First People" of the native religion as saints and painted them on the doors, built the church to look like the old tribal houses, and included a sage purification ritual at the beginning of the service.

    For me, that was encouraging because it explained why I was sometimes drawn to Catholicism (primarily that form of it, I haven't felt quite the same when I tried to attend Catholic churches in the midwest) and certain aspects of Christianity and Judaism. Christianity may have been forced on my ancestors, but that doesn't mean it hasn't shaped who I am in good ways as well over time. And Judaism may not really have anything to do with me or my ancestors, but I was drawn into it for awhile and spent 3 years studying and living it. Some of those traditions and perspectives have shaped me too. I imagine that if I had gone further into Islam than I did, the same would be true there.

    Whatever you choose to do, I hope that you find a solution that is fulfilling for you an adds to your life. :)

    Out of curiosity, have you spent any time with humanist/atheist groups? I can't remember you saying much on those topics and don't know how you feel about them, but it seems like you share humanistic views on religion quite often without calling them that.

    1. I like your story! I think that's a very good way to look at things, honestly. And I really wish I could manage to just take the pieces of whatever resonates with me and incorporate them into my life. I'm not even sure why it should matter so much to me what my ancestors did or did not believe. They were (theoretically) free to make their own choices and so am I. And yet here we are. :/

      Out of curiosity, have you spent any time with humanist/atheist groups?

      I have not. I'm not an atheist, I'm at least that certain of things. :)

    2. Oh! Sorry, never mind then. :D The way you say you doubt religious experiences later made me think that you didn't believe there was anything there to experience, even though you never actually said that. So it's just a matter of figuring out how (or if, maybe) you want to label and interact with the divine? I get that.

    3. Any easy conclusion to come to, given that I do doubt the few religious experiences that I've had and that I doubt other peoples' and that I sometimes do wonder 'what if there isn't any sort of divine being?' and find that the thought doesn't fill me with any sort of existential dread. Basically, I think I've come down to this: There may not be a God or gods or Unmoved Mover or anything like that. However I personally function better, in general, when I have a religious component to my life. The rub comes when I'm trying to figure out which faith works best with me. :)

  3. No one can deny that religion and culture are very intertwined. Europeans wanted Jesus to be one of them so they imagined him blond with blue or green eyes although his mother is from the Middle East. Born Muslims find it difficult to accept the teaching of a blond Muslim Scholar. They want their Shiekh to have a black beard.

    When I came to the States I went to a small city that had a tiny mosque. The small college town doesn’t have Muslim families but only Muslim students. Anyway, one time we asked an American professor to come to the mosque and tell us his story how he became a Muslim. I and I think everyone else was very excited to hear his story. Unfortunately, we were very disappointed. There was no "story" behind him becoming a Muslim. It just happened that he did some research and read books and decided finally to become a Muslim. Born Muslims when they see a new convert to Islam they always want to hear how he or she became a Muslim. They always assume there is a story. The reality is there is no story one just decides to become a Muslim or a Christian.

    My comment has nothing to do with the post. So, don't try to connect the dots. I just felt writing this :)

    1. Funny, when people convert into Christianity from some other religion, or atheism, they're expected to have stories too! I think there's some expectation of a Road to Damascus-esque conversion. I know I've read plenty of stories that lend themselves that way and I have to wonder some times how many of them are created because of the expectation that they'll exist.

  4. I can't explain it but I still, even after everything I went through, have a draw toward some Islamic practices. What I mostly miss is the group prayer aspect. I miss the community. But there is something innately attractive about Islam. But maybe for me, and perhaps you, it is attractive because of what that time of life did for you. It brought you to a better understanding of your spiritual self. I know that is where my attraction comes from mainly.

    You have to find what spirituality attracts your soul. Mine still heavily urns for Buddhism. Perhaps Islam speaks heavily to your soul.

    1. I think my soul needs to make up its bloody mind. :)

  5. I really enjoyed this post and the comments. I'm eager to see where the dinghy lands. :)

  6. Nice Article! Thanks for sharing with us.

    Buddhist Tours


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