Liking questions and liking answers

I’m not sure why it is that the tagline of my blog reads, ” … a woman who loves questions more than answers.” I actually seem to be one of those who prefers certainty, despite my protestations that too much of it is unhealthy, arrogant, and even dangerous.

I don’t think that I settle on certainties without a great deal of back-and-forth analysis and reflection. But I do all of that because I want to get to the bottom of things. I like intuitive, conceptually straightforward ideas that ring true and that unify and clarify the mess of information. Sometimes these can be too blunt, but sometimes they are powerfully incisive. Can I always tell the difference? – probably not, but I do try to remain open; I’m not committed to any of the things I feel certain about.

I notice that sometimes I’m driven to find answers because of fear: I want to feel certain I’m not destined for the fires of hell because I chose the wrong religion; I want to feel certain that headache is not a brain tumour; I want to feel certain I’m not going to make wrong decisions in life and end up homeless. Compulsive researching and rumination is pretty stressful to say the least. Other times I’m driven just by curiosity, and that’s much more enjoyable. But either way, if there is a satisfying answer out there for me, I want to find it. And I have found a few!

First, I can’t say I am at all uncertain about religion being man-made. There just seems to be far too much evidence that it is; even the more forgiving idea of religions representing partial spiritual truth, muddied by human interpretation and fallible messengers, has never really worked for me – I can’t see any coherent whole that all religions point to; only a spaghetti bowl of cross-currents and contradictions. I think I have a ‘religious personality’, but ultimately I’m more satisfied by a clear answer to my questions than by faith.

Second, I can’t say I am uncertain on the existence of God, either – at least, God as a conscious supreme being who listens to prayer and, while shying away from real communication, gives us cryptic messages through coincidences and natural events, or perhaps selects special individuals to use as a mouthpiece. The light thrown on these concepts by psychology’s examinations of why we fall into these patterns of belief, for me, have pushed them well out of the grey ‘agnostic’ area. My atheism is not about lack of evidence for God; it’s about becoming convinced that we most likely invented him.

I haven’t arrived at clear-cut answers for every question I’ve pondered. I don’t think there are clear-cut answers, for most of the important questions – and the above two are not really very important, in the grand scheme of things. Is religion a force for good or bad? What needs are the different styles of religion fulfilling in people, and what are the alternatives? These are more important, and complex, questions. When I’ve felt motivated to think them through, I haven’t settled on decisive answers, and I haven’t minded that. Sometimes, I don’t need certainty at all; I just need to understand why I’m not certain.

I’ve heard people making the observation that religious idealists, once they give up their belief, tend to become secular idealists. I’ve felt indirectly criticised by this, as if it’s better to somehow remain agnostic about everything (despite the fact that we don’t really choose our beliefs anyway), or as if feeling sure about your views on certain things automatically makes you an intolerant person, or as if being critical of religion is a bad thing.

As a person who tends to see “all-or-nothing” as the correct approach to religion, I’m fascinated by those whose relationship with religion can be more flexible. I’m also fascinated by the way this flexibility doesn’t disappear when they give up religion; not all ex-religionists share my style of unbelief.

It’s hard, perhaps even impossible, to really understand another person’s relationship with their ‘truths’. But I’m glad we’re all here to remind each other that not everyone is like us, and also (for ex-believers) – that not every religious believer is as we were.

This entry was posted in God, is religion good or bad for you?, personal reflection, Unitarian. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Liking questions and liking answers

  1. Marahm says:

    Ah, Sarah, what a curse we’ve been dealt– the predisposition to get tangled up in questions and answers, always having to take that next step. I often admire my friends who are absolutely certain and secure in their faith, living their lives according to it and always consulting it for guidance. They seem happier than me. I tried to be like them, but It didn’t work. I felt like an impostor.

    • Sarah says:

      I can definitely relate to that 🙂 A positive side of it, though, is that we are likely to be struggling over things that really *are* difficult and are worth thinking through carefully. An easy certainty is often a wrong certainty, so if we’re not prone to those, I consider that a benefit. Particularly in difficult moral issues, over-simplification and lack of thought can be disastrous. The world needs more thinkers! 🙂

  2. mak says:

    You may think the following is irrelevant to this post..I don’t think so..This is good for a soul which is agnostic and have many doubts.
    Three Stages of spiritual development of A soul

    Stage 1). Nafsul Ammara:
    The Passionate soul “I do not absolve myself Lo the (human) soul is prone to evil, save that whenever my Lord has mercy. Lo, Lord is forgiving; merciful.” (Surah Yusuf 12:53)

    This soul inclines toward sensual Pleasure, passion and self gratification, anger, envy, greed, and conceit. Its concerns are pleasure of body, gratification of physical appetite, and ego.

    Hadith “your most-ardent-enemy is your evil self which resides within your body” (Bukhaii).

    If this evil soul is not checked it will lead to unusual stress and its resultant effects.

    Stage 2.
    .Nafsul Lawanunah (The Reproaching Soul). “Nay, I swear by the reproaching soul” (Qur’an 75:10)
    This soul is conscious or aware of Evil, resists it, asks for God’s grace, and pardon, repents and tries to amend and hopes to achieve salvation.
    “And (There are) others who have acknowledged their faults. They mix a righteous action with another that was bad. It may be that Allah will relent toward them. Lo! Allah is relenting, merciful.” (Qur’an 9:102)
    Hadith “These are two impulses within us. One spirit which calls towards good and confirms the truth. He / She who feel this impulse should know that it comes from Allah. Another impulse comes from our enemy (evil= wrong thinking, negativity, wrong interpretations, believing fake ex-Muslims etc…) which leads to doubt and holds untruth and encourages evil. He /she who feel this should seek refuge in Allah from the accursed devil.”
    This soul warns people of their vain desire, guides and opens the door to virtute and righteousness. It is a positive step in spiritual growth.

    Stage 3).
    Nafsul Mutmainnah. (The satisfied soul) “O (you) soul in (complete) rest and satisfaction. Come back to your Lord, will pleased (yourself) and will pleasing unto him. Enter you then among my devotees, enter you in my heaven.” (Qur’an 89:27-30)
    This is the highest state of spiritual development. Satisfied soul is the state of bliss, content and peace. The soul is at peace because it knows that inspite of its failures in this world, It will return to God. Purified of tension, it emerges from the struggle with obstacles blocking the peace of mind and heart.
    What should we do in panic and despair? In panic non-believers behave differently than believers. They have no one to return to, to ask for mercy and forgiveness, their life is this life, which they cannot control, thus get more depressed and increase in their state of wrong doing. Then we will see that if they are used to casual drinking will start drinking more and become alcoholic, or a barbital criminal.
    On the other hand a believer should do the following:
    Increase dhikr (Remembrance of God)
    “who have believed and whose heart have Rest in the remembrance of God. Verily in the remembrance of God, do hearts find rest.” (Qur’an 13:28)

  3. Marahm says:

    I like the concept of the development of the soul. Apart from the stages of development you illustrated so well with Qur’an and Hadith, there are other paths. Soul development seems more complex than the elemental division between belief and disbelief.

    However, even this dichotomy is not always predictable. For instance, you statement, “In panic non-believers behave differently than believers,” isn’t always true. Many believers became believers because in a moment of panic they called upon God, spontaneously, without considering that they didn’t believe in a god.

  4. Sarah says:

    mak: I agree with Marahm that there are other paths. The text you’ve quoted seems to link doubt and skepticism with evil, and that’s just unfair. There are many people who don’t believe, but who are committed to being as compassionate and moral as they can be.

    I also think the statement about what non-believers do in panic and despair is unfair. When misfortune befalls anyone, support and love from family and other people can be a great comfort, as can the thought that “this too shall pass”. And the human ability to find hope anew seems vast. There is certainly no need to assume that a lack of belief in God leads to alcoholism and drug abuse when times get hard.

  5. Jasmine says:

    I guess “looking for an answer” is kind of a dead end – as there is no answer.
    What you are really looking for is more of a “conclusion” as the decision (as with most of these major things) is inside of you.

    To me it seems that you are stuck between “fear of hell” and “conclusion” – one mall step in psyche, one giant leap in faith 🙂 xxx

    • Sarah says:

      No, I think I’m already at “conclusion” on that one, thankfully! I can hardly believe I ever wrestled with it all so much 🙂 xx

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