This is Part 2 of what was originally a single very long post, slightly edited, with apologies for any confusion thereby caused. Part 1 (‘Background’) is here.
With all of this thinking about God and about religion, the obvious thing to do was to join one. Finding one I felt comfortable in, however, wasn’t straightforward.
The faith that drew me the most powerfully was Judaism. I loved the tradition, the community, the emphasis on a theology of personal responsibility where religious differences were argued out logically and ultimately accepted, the love of life for its own sake, the lack of a OneTrueWay approach to proscribing the world’s faiths. However, Judaism is a religion that actively discourages conversion (the flip side of the belief that Gentiles are also destined for heavenly reward – if God is perfectly happy with you being a Gentile, why convert to Judaism and effectively increase the difficulty of living righteously in accordance with all the commandments laid on you?) and you have to be very sure of your calling to push your case forwards.
Realistically, I wasn’t. I still wasn’t even sure if there was a God, and I was sure that, if there was a God, He wasn’t expressing any strong opinion to me on whether I should dedicate my life to avoiding pork and mixed fibres and keeping every Saturday holy in the name of worshipping Him. I railed and cursed against the fate that had left me officially non-Jewish according to (most) Jewish law, and hence without an easy and thoughtless ‘in’ to the religion, but I was also honest enough and introspective enough to realise that my longing to join Judaism had little to do with worship and everything to do with being a lonely, alienated, insecure teenager desperate for a short-cut to instant community, and that that just wasn’t a good enough reason.
I could, of course, have easily joined Christianity and been welcome, and that was another option I gave serious thought to; it was a kind of cultural default in a way that meant that my uncertainties about God could go unquestioned. I could write a blog post or several just on my explorations of the Christian faith and its validity, and hopefully at some point I will; the short version, however, is that the belief system itself proved the stumbling block. I simply couldn’t (and still can’t) accept the thought of a God who would doom all non-Christians to eternal hell and who found blood sacrifice to be the only route He could provide for humanity’s salvation.
I knew that plenty of Christians didn’t in fact believe this, that many sects didn’t take a hard line on it, that I could still find acceptance in a Christian community that wasn’t preaching hellfire and damnation… except I couldn’t. Something inside always stopped me. I couldn’t get past that doctrine, couldn’t bring myself to feel personally comfortable with the religion.
Islam sounded as though it would be a good religion if I could be surer about the existence of God, but… well, once again, stumbling block. You have to be pretty committed to throw yourself into another culture to that extent. Well, maybe you don’t, but I did. I didn’t have the level of belief that would be needed for that degree of commitment. I admired, and in some ways envied, the people who did, but ultimately, again, it wasn’t for me.
As for other religions, they were technically on my radar, but I just didn’t even get that far. The culture I grew up in had shaped my thinking to the point where my struggle with the question of God’s existence was framed, without me fully realising it, more or less specifically as a struggle with the question of the JudeoChristian God’s existence, without a lot of room left over for in-depth inquiry into the issue of other versions of divinity and/or ways of worshipping them.
So, I spent a fair bit of time going around and around and in and out and back and forth and back again on this stuff, reading whatever I could get my hands on, mulling it over and over (probably at a lot of the times when I should have been doing something more constructive, like my ‘cello practice), and I did normal day-to-day things as well, and so life went on for several more years.