I live in an apartment, with a flatmate. About ten or so months ago now, she converted to a particular fringe religion. Which fringe religion is really irrelevant (plus, I’m a tiny bit scared of them), so I’m not going to mention it.
Anyway, over the six months she told me she’d started to follow this system of beliefs, I’ve watched her. Watched her participate, and make choices, and become more and more involved. I’ve also spoken to her at length about it. It’s been frustrating at times- it’s been frustrating often. But it’s also been a real learning experience.
Despite all that time, it was only last week that it truly struck me what I’ve learned through watching her: her religion seems to be not a way to understand the world, but a system of dealing with it. It’s a way to make rules and boundaries to attempt to control life. It takes all the mystery out of it. It applies rules and guidelines and boundaries. It tells you if you do this, X will happen, and if Y happened, well, that means you must have done that. it’s a way not of understanding the world, but of explaining what happens in it. It’s almost descriptive. When you buy into this system, you buy into their explanations for everything: for health, for poverty, for tragedy, for wealth. And you buy into them fully- you can’t assess and decide on various things. There’s no room to move.
It struck me, then, the temptation to do that: to adopt a system that makes sense of everything. Rather than continually struggling to figure out what the truth is, one adopts a set of truths and applies them to all circumstances. In a way, it’s the ultimate self preservation, because it protects the participant from doubting, from wondering, from the struggle of figuring things out.
But after watching it for a while, I can see both the appeal and the tragedy of such an adoption. It may protect you from the worst of life, but it also shields you from the best. It’s a way of making life something to be managed, rather than something to be experienced. It’s probably cliche, but I think life is only real when you run the full gamut of experiences. What is joy without suffering? What is relief without fear? Love without heartbreak?
I don’t want to find a way to manage my humanity. I don’t want a system that makes things easy, or a way to make sense of everything, but rather, I’d prefer to continually be looking at the world and trying to understand it- and being wrong as often as is necessary. I want to ask questions. Because my faith isn’t my own if it’s handed to me, whole, sorted, with a bow on top. It needs to be something I’ve struggled through, and tried to understand, and been wrong about, and been right about, and with which I’ve been frustrated, plain and simple. Because that’s a faith, and not merely a system.