In reading The Faith Club, I find myself most closely drawn to Ranya, who is Muslim. In reading Ranya's perspectives and conversations, it is astonishing to realize how far off so many of the common stereotypes of Islam and Muslim women are. Ranya is a modern and intelligent woman. She is Muslim, educated and does not wear a burka. After 9/11, she has felt conflicted about being a Muslim in America and has spent time researching her roots, considering if this religion was right for her and her children. And what she discovers is how much misunderstanding there is of Islam, and how twisted it has become in the hands of extremists. Ranya explains, "If Suzanne's God is the God of passion and love, and Priscilla's God is a judicial God of mitzvahs (good deeds or acts), then my God is a poetic rationalist who appeals to my mind and heart." A poetic rationalist. I love that.
Ranya explains that Islam does not preach that Muslims blindly have faith in God, instead it encourages people to look at the world around them and to see the presence of God all around them. I do find this argument persuasive. It has logical appeal. And of all the women's reasons for having faith, for being followers of their religion, Ranya's is the most persuasive to me. It is sad that while Islam preaches tolerance and acceptance of other religions, particularly of other Christian religions, it has been so contorted and grossly misused in the form of terrorism. As Ranya responds to questions on terrorists:
But we should all recognize that when religion is used as a rationale for aggression, a tactic of war or to justify a promise of land, then it is a politicized religion. It becomes a human ideology that has nothing to do with Godly values. That doesn't excuse all this craziness, but it is not anything particular or exclusive to Islam.
Amen. I couldn't agree with her more. And she has hit the nail on the head as to why I have such a problem with religion. Because all too often it does become part of a political agenda and is used as an excuse for war.
Like Ranya, I can look up into the stars at night and feel the power and the beauty in the world. I can feel myself humbled and belonging to something greater than myself. I find it irritating when people assume that because I don't believe in God, that I am not spiritual. It's rather insulting, actually. I just have trouble accepting that there is an all-knowing being up there somewhere in charge of it all. That just doesn't sit right with me. When I feel that presence of something more than myself, I believe that it is that I am one person in this world, and what is bigger than me, is the essence of all mankind and our connection to each other and the world we live in. Spirituality to me is recognizing that we are one small part of that whole and that we should at once be humbled at how small we are and empowered by how important it is that we are all part of that whole, that we all have some power and responsibility to shape the world we live in.
I know some people who would explain that even just that feeling of something greater than yourself, is enough to say you believe in God. Perhaps. If that is the way you see it, I'm not going to argue with you. And I'd rather that you didn't argue with me about it either, because at this point I don't even think we're having a religious debate, we're arguing semantics. Do you call that awe inspiring feeling God or not? It's just a word. Well, at least to me it's just a word. But I'm always trying to remind myself that to someone else, it's so much more than that, because I just don't get it and I never really have, and honestly, I don't really want to. I'm much less concerned about whether you're atheist, agnostic, Catholic or Jewish than if you're a good friend, an honest person and if you're the type of person who'll take a moment do something nice for someone else.
And I do believe in miracles. Just because I don't believe in God does not make a miracle any less of a miracle. I may believe in The Big Bang Theory and Evolution, but just because we can explain or theorize how life came to be on this planet through science, does it really make it any less miraculous? I don't think so. I may not believe that babies are gifts from the heavens, but that does not mean that I don't think that experiencing that moment of childbirth is not one of the most precious and amazing experiences that a person can have. Now virgins giving birth, bleeding statues and Mary's countenance in a pancake, those miracles, not so much.
I understand that many people would view atheism as a negative and pessimistic perspective of life, but I don't see it that way. I believe that all people are fundamentally and intrinsically linked to each other and being a part of that, living this life, is plenty of meaning and purpose. I put my faith in my family and friends, the people that I love, and even more largely in the goodness of humanity. I do not need to believe that there is some larger plan for me, or some higher purpose that I must serve. I simply believe that the here and now is the purpose, that being a good person, a good parent, a contributing member of this society, is the plan. That in the end, to say that you have lived life fully, loved with all your heart, and given as much of yourself as you could, laughed as often as possible, should be enough.