[He holds the secret to the life you really want.]
Behold, a person struggling to find faith and to hold onto it. Here is an excerpt from me, February 2005:
What does it take to live a religious life?Looking back, I see that I felt as though I should believe. I thought that the proper thing was to have belief. Not believing, or not believing in a natural enough way, was somehow a flaw in me. And here's how I rationalized:
I don’t mean “religious life” necessarily in the sense of being diligently observant of Jewish, Christian, or Muslim rituals. Certainly a religious life would entail one’s being observant in this way, but I think it is more important to be philosophically committed to the core ideas of one’s religion.
Abstract, egghead terms like “philosophically committed” are easy to dismiss. What I mean, though, is a kind of default mindset, a natural way of thinking all the time. As an example, I remember that my wife and I, at an early point in our relationship, understood that we were going to be together, to be married, and to build a life together. Breaking up or not being together ceased to be any part of our thinking – these thoughts [edited by me] ceased to be at all likely outcomes of anything happening in our lives.
I want this same kind of comfort and stability in my relationship with religion, specifically Judaism. I want to have a similar kind of entrenched commitment to and belief in a Jewish understanding of the universe. Obviously, I don’t feel that I live a religious life or that I have a strong internal foundation of Jewish belief.
Having doubt is perhaps a virtue. Posing questions about G-d, even directly to G-d, is about as Jewish as you can get. Besides, who can take seriously a person unwilling to examine his or her own spirituality? The problem for me is that I never seem to reach a point where I can say, “OK, I believe. Tomorrow, I might have doubts again, but right at this moment, I fully and genuinely believe in and love G-d.”And I found the clergy to be of little help in my search for knowing God:
I understand that the best way to overcome my doubt is to study Torah, perform mitzvot, and participate in a Jewish community. Reading advice columns and other commentary – such as can be found abundantly online – provides little help for me.How many people now are struggling to believe? How many people today feel abnormal or bad for having less than perfect faith? Heck, even many in the clergy don't believe!
For example, in “Is the Divine Just a Cosmic Party Pooper?” Rabbi David Aaron says, “People think that serving G-d is demeaning; servitude implies a slave-master relationship. But that is not the real meaning of serving G-d. The opportunity to serve G-d is the greatest gift we could ever imagine. It's empowering. To serve G-d means that we can do something on behalf of G-d. It's an unbelievable honor!”
If this formulation of the matter is intended to be persuasive, I don’t find it so – it’s essentially a he-said, she-said. One person equates serving G-d as a form of diminution; another feels honored to serve G-d.
And yet, book catalogs and bookstores are filled with "self-help" works designed to lead people to their perfect faith. Religious figures sell DVDs to the masses and appear on television to encourage them and lead their worship. They appear in person before the throngs. They stride about the stage, in front of a high-energy chorus and contemporary band. They speak confidently and ebulliently before video screens. Keep praying, the leader urges. Activate your faith! Tap into the timeless values of the Bible! Exercise your soul! Deepen your spiritual practice! Walk with God! Experience the revolution that Jesus started!
It's a grift, a confidence game played upon the nostalgic and sentimental masses by an industry that knows, above all, that people will freely give money. The synagogue/church/mosque promises to give people God or Jesus, promises to help fill their lives with meaning and purpose, promises to put the people in touch with a reality greater and better than they can possibly imagine.
People like the leaders of the synagogue/church/mosque and trust them. People attend the services, giving money (of course), time, energy and attention. People support the explicit mission and message of the worship factory. But people aren't sure how or why to pray to either a father-figure who often seems cruel and petty or a sainted son who appears really neither divine nor human. And the religious industry practically feeds off of this kind of uncertainty. The industry is constituted by the cognitive dissonance of the polished words from the well-groomed religious leader, on the one hand, and the vile deeds of the object of worship, on the other hand.
Of course, this is why the so-called New Atheists ruffle the feathers of believers. The NAs not only ask for evidence and clear reasoning on religious claims, and they not only question the special authority and deference given to religious figures: the NAs also affirm the very natural and normal skepticism that people have about religious claims and religious-based authority.
As a struggling theist I already knew my path to, ahem, salvation:
One way I need to find, explore, and express my beliefs is to argue for them.For me, writing the arguments was the best way forward. Reading about them, thinking about them, considering them, expressing them in my own way, refining them, and working (with) them as much as possible. These processes ultimately led me to reject the struggle to maintain and cultivate religion's artificial worldview. By trying to make religion my own, I claimed myself.
Today, I know people who want to have a better faith, who wrestle with doubt. Unless they ask me to, I won't intervene in their personal explorations, but I hope they come to see that there is no better faith and there is no struggle.