It’s a complicated topic, and it frequently leaves me feeling confused and anxious.
From my (seemingly manic) fascination with different faiths, to my fear of talking about it out loud with those closest to me, to annoyance that when I talk about conflicts with my faith people automatically assume or suggest turning toward atheism (not that there’s anything wrong with atheism, but when you make it clear that you’re a person of faith and you’re looking for conflict resolution, not abandonment…).
I haven’t been happy with Christianity since I was a teenager. It’s been there, on the back burner, because it’s easy and it doesn’t require a conversion and it provides a community. It’s like a baby blanket. But it’s just not a good fit (also like a baby blanket).
I tried to find alternate paths that worked for me. I turned toward Neo-Paganism. I even tried to learn about LaVeyan Satanism. I lost my faith and identified as an atheist for a bit. I looked at Muslim hijabis and admired their modesty. I became interested in Judaism. I thought about attending seminary and becoming a minister or chaplain. I looked into Judaism more and found the conversion process to be difficult, particularly when one is involved in an interfaith relationship. I tried looking for a faith that was more gay friendly. I realized I am drawn to more conservative faiths, despite my liberal social leanings, and decided that “gay friendly” was no longer where I drew the line. It occurred to me that had I been born Jewish, I would gladly have taken the path of a ba’al teshuva, but outside that circle I felt at a loss. I realized after a brief conversation that maybe Islam was more accessible than I thought, more compatible with my partnership, and that maybe I should have simultaneously looked into learning about Islam and Judaism so I could make an informed choice instead of appearing fickle. It occurred to me that I was more interested in Islam than I let myself realize.
I know I shouldn’t care what other people think. I know I should do what works for me. But I don’t want people to think that my (seemingly scatterbrained) fascination with faith and theology and religion is based on a bipolar mania. It’s just that, when you reject the faith your parents have given you, there are a lot of options. I have never wanted to be the person who paid lip service to a higher power. I guess, if you’re raised in a faith and reach “adulthood” (read: impressionable teen years) in that faith at your parents’ behest, and then you drop out of church or synagogue or mosque or temple or what have you in your college years because you’re busy and can’t be bothered, and then you get engaged and think “oh crap I have to get married in ‘my’ faith” and “oh crap I have to have my kids raised in this faith” and that decision is made mostly to not upset family members – I guess if that’s what works for you, then do it, although it seems disingenuous to me and not the path I want. I want to enter a faith after research and careful consideration and above all prayerful reflection. While it would be nice to have my children exposed to the cultural aspects of my faith, I don’t want to raise them in it – I want them to have a broad theological education and make their own informed decision. And while perhaps my efforts to educate myself about religion and broaden my theological horizons have seemed flighty or careless in their intent, never have I made a formal conversion to another faith. I was baptized and confirmed Catholic at my parents’ doing, but I went into that state of adulthood in the Catholic church knowing that it was coerced and not for me. I never made a formal dedication to the Goddess in Neo-Pagan tradition. I never purchased a membership to Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan. I looked into classes, not to convert per se but to learn more about the faith, but I have not entered a mikvah and made the formal leap into Judaism. I attend services at a local Episcopalian church but when the reverend asked if I’d be interested in becoming confirmed in the Episcopalian tradition I balked, knowing that I was not ready and perhaps may never be. I have never uttered the words of the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith. My standard is that, should I want to convert to a particular religion or declare my intent as its disciple, I must actively practice it as a sort of “intern” and learn about it for a solid year. But there is so much to learn about, so much to explore, that I am often left at a loss.
I cannot, in good faith, see myself as a Christian. And I don’t think I can see myself as a Neo-Pagan. I can, however, see myself as a religious Jew. I can see myself as a Noahide. I can see myself as a Muslim hijabi, or perhaps even a Muslim who adopts secular dress. I can see myself as a theologian, a scholar and lover of all faiths. And I can see myself learning and expanding my horizons and making decisions that may not come in the near future. I can see myself as happy and fulfilled with my choices. In short, I can see me.