It’s hard for me to separate my religion from my life. My religion informs and directs my life, and it has from the moment I was born and my parents thanked God for blessing them with a healthy baby daughter. To top that off, I never went through the rebellious phase of questioning my religion, or refusing to go to church for weeks in a row, or ignoring my scriptures and prayers for months to see whether or not there was a difference; whether or not God would strike me down or send intervention. It’s been a given, and it still is a given. To this day, the longest I’ve ever been away from weekly church meetings is when I had given birth to my daughter and stayed home for four weeks. Or perhaps five. Either way, it was barely more than a month, and I was itching to get back. So you can imagine that it’s difficult for me to understand or even fathom what it looks like to be separated from The Church.
Or I suppose you can imagine that what it looks like to me, theoretically, is terrifying. With my faith, I have never had to step into the unknown alone. I’ve never had to wonder whether a choice I would make would land me in the unforgivable, the irretrievable. God had my back. God has my back. It’s an enormous comfort and strength and confidence-booster. Even in the depths of my most difficult battles (so far), I could never bring myself to really let loose in the questions of, “why, God, why?” or “are you even there, God?” because I already knew the answers – because my child, you know life without challenge is utterly pointless, and you’ve already felt Me there beside you and you’ll lie to yourself if you deny it.
I’ve had enough friends and family leave my religion, read enough articles written by and about those who seek a new god or no god at all, to know that everything I believe in is not unquestionable. It is always questionable. It will remain that way for the rest of my life. Because it is faith. Because faith means not knowing, but believing. And not knowing means wondering, searching, questioning. And believing despite not knowing will always be the mark of foolishness. Or perhaps not foolishness, but deception of self. Deception and doubt. Denying of that voice that says, you KNOW you could always be wrong. You know that faith means doubt, in every level that faith could exist. Because all things, all feelings, all convictions have their opposite.
And I whisper back, but faith means hope. Faith means more than hope; faith is an action word that implies movement upon hope. I guess the ladder goes curiosity, then hope, then faith. Is there something stronger than faith? Is there a greater word for that conviction that means “know without knowing”? Or is that just faith? Language is too limiting for the myriad thoughts and feelings we have. How much of our life is expressed only in the mind because it cannot be verbalized? Much, I think. But I know I have faith about some things, and I have stronger-than-faith about some things. And I have only hope and wonder about some things.
And isn’t that the great trick, the great difficulty, the great complexity of religion? People outside of your own religion, whatever religion that may be, think you must subscribe to absolutely every one of the components they have heard about your religion – even the ones you yourself have never heard of. You, Muslim, you are all 100% Muslim, even the fringe parts that include those terrorists and the other fringe parts that include the greatest peace keepers. You, Mormon, you are all 100% Mormon, even the fringe parts that include those terrorists and the fringe parts that include the greatest peace keepers. You, Scientologists, you are all 100% Scientologists, even the fringe parts that include those terrorists and the fringe parts that include the greatest peace keepers.
I think the most mature step any person can make, whether they are an adult or a child, is to admit that every one of their thoughts is questionable. Nothing in their brain is trustworthy. Once you can question everything that passes through your brain, you can start to understand what you really believe is true. Once you understand that Muslims, Mormons, and Scientologists are not only Muslims, Mormons, and Scientologists, you can start to see truth. Once you let go of the stereotypes you have – even the most trusted ones, especially the most trusted ones – you open yourself up to the vulnerability and humility of being wrong. And when you allow yourself to be wrong, when you recognize where you consistently go wrong, you can also begin to recognize where you go right. Or at least where you hope “right” is.
I still don’t know what right is – at least not in the “all-encompassing truth” aspect of right. I know it is right to love people, with the kind of love that spurs action. I know it is right to sacrifice yourself on the altar of helping someone else, at least sometimes; at least most times. I know that eating the extra cookie usually doesn’t make me happier, even when I think or convince myself it did. I know that trusting yourself to take another step when the last few were serious failures or caused serious pain is still often a good path to take (and I know that the opposite is true if those steps you are taking are self-destructive, and I know that defining “self-destructive” is its own little nightmare spiral). I know that my religion has taught me the majority of the things I know. And I know that the people not of my religion, whether they left it or never were in it, have taught me the majority of the things I know. I know that my religion has truth, and I have faith that God is truth.
I know that believing in God does not make God truth, but that believing in God does make God real, at the very least to me. I know that real and truth are not the same thing. My own experience, my own knowing, is the only thing I can ever know is real. The conclusion, then, is that my God, my religion, is reality. Whether my God is truth, the only thing above and beyond reality, is something I can only know if my reality could be defined as truth by something outside of myself.
(Welcome to The Matrix, I guess.)