Losing faith

They say, “Travel broadens your mind.” My question is, “What do you do with that mind once it’s broadened?” An open mind, at least, will bring you nothing but problems. My problem is, I’m told, that I question everything. But when it comes to faith, I won’t follow blindly; I have to know, understand and believe.

Until I was fifteen, my faith was blind. I accepted the religion of my very religious family. Unquestioning, I didn’t try to understand; it just was. When I was fifteen, I rejected the idea of God, but that was an immature mind justifying my selfishness. As time passed, I decided that God was. Still, however, I questioned faith. Christianity failed to make sense when I tried to understand. No more accepting that it just is. To me, too many fundamental stumbling blocks I couldn’t comprehend.

For four years I seemed to get nowhere, but in the last it became an issue. Religion became an issue, for where my questions went unanswered in the context of Christianity, others were flooding me with knowledge about their own beliefs and my inquisitiveness about other people forced my thirst for knowledge. With knowledge came commitment and the need to prepare myself to learn. The end of April I stopped drinking alcohol, the same time I decided it wasn’t wrong for me to eat halal chicken. The summer holidays were a time of learning. In August there was a Christian evangelist whose words almost convinced. Explanations that were ‘proof’, encouraging me with hope. The new term, I was open and continued trying to learn.

I was going to church every Sunday, trying to comprehend. I thought preachers, like that other one, would have the answers to my questions. One Sunday, the evangelicals were teaching why Christianity was the way, but still they lacked the definite answers. Afterwards, a mission of explanation for those who still weren’t convinced. So there was me awaiting the deep link in the chain, the one that I had missed, but when they spoke they left me disappointed. Two answers, the message was revealed clearly in the book: 1. It was obvious. 2. Even a four year old could understand. Well, sadly, to me it wasn’t obvious, and nor was I a little kid. Give a four year old a lolly and give one to me, and tell me which one stops to question whether the lolly will rot its teeth.

Disappointed that nobody would answer my questions with anything other than aggression or impatience, I began to miss my early morning walk to church. A couple of Sundays missed turned into an outright boycott. Back to the days of staying in bed, too uncomfortable to attend in hypocrisy. Meanwhile, Friday nights for chicken from Tottenhamcourt Road wasn’t really going to help. A hundred teachings about Islam and my questions reinforced.

Mid-term I had stopped eating pork; I said I’d gone off it, didn’t like the taste. In my questioning mind, it was an experiment. People had said that pork made a person unclean, so I hypothesized that if I stopped eating it, I’d be a better person. No luck there, I remained a selfish idiot, but I still ignored the pork. It was the same as my reading, it made no sense to me, but I persevered with the Bible, hoping I’d discover my handed down faith.

At the same time, though, I was accepting trouble for myself. Learning, still, about Islam; keeping Muslim company, never sitting in the bar, and reading books handed to me by those sincere people. Supportive characters, who never forced their religion impatiently, but merely hoped to let me see, insisting that my search for the truth was only up to me.

Christmas came and I returned home eventually. Questions to ask, but I didn’t have the courage and I sidled them away. The most fundamental question, too embarrassed to ask, for it was the pillar of our faith. Perhaps things would make more sense if I knew that crucial answer. “Who is Jesus meant to be?” “He’s the son of God.” “Yes, but what does that mean?” No one ever answers in definite certainty. Holidays over, no questions asked, no questions answered, I returned to London with a prayer. A prayer for guidance and a prayer for help.

But a prayer in private, though I had no religion, somehow felt like hypocrisy. Like mocking words, I thought I should prove my sincerity. So Monday morning, breakfast early, I prepared myself to fast. One day became two, and then two became more. Dawn until dusk, a secret fast, concentrating and focusing, fighting to honour God. Wednesday, words recited all day, “In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful…” All day and an animated prayer at midnight. No religion, but imagining I was getting there. Thursday feeling focussed, then discussions about my thoughts. Twice in the evening, finally a late night, all night talk; admissions and confessions, and advice given, “Just keep on reading.” Friday morning, two new books, perspectives by non-Muslims. Now a final, smashing blow, from a Christian perspective on Islam, everything I came to know crumbled to the ground. Little trust in the words, but the fragility of my faith seemed an indicator of my error. No more prayers, just anger, and buds of faith diminished like cities to dust.

No sleep in the night, I felt foul, perhaps deluded. As though I had committed a crime, I was distracted. No thoughts of God, I just felt angry, hoping that the night would take me away. The following day, nowhere to turn, a confession had to come. A telephone call home, itching conversation, my semi-confession at last arose. How I had been studying the Bible, attending church, trying to understand. How I had been reading, but none of it made sense. Genuine questions, full truths, but only half the story. Please explain this and this to me, I don’t understand this and that. Surprising acceptance, but no answers, more mysteries and confusion. Got the problem off my chest, but wondered how on earth it would help.

Fasting because of habit now, no more prayers to say, even my unreligious belief in God was quickly dissolving away. Down to the bar, I may as well drink; didn’t, but I thought about it. Hiding away from my advising friend, telephone switched off, smoke-screen around me. Off-putting characters making me detest what I respected, though perhaps that was only an excuse to justify my failure. Everyone will kill me for my questioning open mindedness. Searching for the truth, I only learnt to despise my open mind. Midday Friday, the second week, my fast ended with a Mars Bar eaten, hidden in the Brunei Gallery. But by that time, already, the fast meant nothing at all. All faith had been crushed and destroyed, and not even a thought of God could be found. Fallen further than before, my faith was lost and gone.

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