May 31Liked by Damir Marusic, Shadi Hamid, Rachel Rizzo

That first step from "Something"--the universe, cosmos, ground of being, whatever--to admitting it's "God" is a huge one. It changes everything--or should, and will, if we keep going. I was a young man, an atheist/agnostic, wrestling with questions as so many do, when one day at work it dawned on me, "I haven't admitted it even to myself yet, but I think I believe in God." I wasn't ready to embrace it though, and my next thought was "Put this aside until you have some time to go out to the desert [I was in AZ] and meditate on this, and then, if you still think so, you can admit it to yourself." It was an odd experience, in that I was confronted with layers of consciousness I wasn't previously aware of. But then I really felt that if I delayed, it would be a disaster, a betrayal even, of some kind. Anyway, keep going. It's an adventure, like any relationship, but more so.

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Jun 2Liked by Damir Marusic, Shadi Hamid

What a powerful and fascinating essay Rachel. Read it at the beginning of the week and have been too busy to weigh in but have been thinking about it since. Can’t wait to listen to the more detailed conversation on the pod.

One thing that struck me though, and I have been chewing on this - I can’t help but feel that there is a big difference between “it wasn’t in the cards” and “it wasn’t in god’s plan for me.” I should preface this by saying (as I have often discussed with Damir), I was raised in a relatively religious family but actual belief wasn’t necessarily part of that. The religion part was more about the ritual, community and tradition (so that part of your essay indeed resonated), and hence I am not particularly a believer - but I feel that if there is a god, my personal ups and downs, the fates of any of us individually, the outcomes of the tiny details of our lives, are totally outside of god’s scope, who surely is concerned with much other, larger things of a universal nature, and has no “plan” for any one person or the other. While to say that something just wasn’t in the cards gets at the randomness of events in the “universe,” I don’t feel that that phrase in and of itself is incompatible with a belief in god. It just reflects the idea that (even among many believers) that god (if there is one) doesn’t care about us; which seems repeatedly borne out.

In fact I’d say - and don’t take this as an indictment or slight - that the idea that a thing can be in or out of god’s “plan” for any of us is a sort of anthropomorphism of god, a god invented by people to make them feel better about their fleeting, ultimately meaningless lives, to cope with its ups and downs - that it reveals a sort of deeper egotism or individualism that is, to my mind, closer to the post-modern liberal atheist’s worldview, a sort of human-centered godlessness of the sort that religious people criticize irreligious people for having. I think a godless acknowledgment of our own smallness and fleeting nature is by some respects almost more religious (I hesitate to say “spiritual” but maybe that’s the word I am looking for) than a worldview that imagines us as so important than an all powerful being is scripting out events for us. I personally think more peace can be found in anonymity and meaningless than some endless striving to fulfill “god’s plan for me” or the frustration to be felt if that “plan” seems to often suck. Whereas luck, that’s just random and can be enjoyed and appreciated.

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When you say that you "read the Quran," is this the past or present tense? Alhamdulillah I'm really happy to hear about your positive experience at the iftar. It sounds wonderful, and gets to the heart of Ramadan.

Alhamdulillah I've been a Muslim for almost a decade, and it's the greatest thing that's ever happened to me. It's difficult to find an active, supportive, inclusive, enriching Muslim community, unfortunately.

One of the most beautiful things in Islam is prayer (Dua in Arabic) - the understanding that Allah SWT has a hundred different names (which can be translated to the Merciful, the Gracious, the Creator, the Provider, the First, the Last, etc), and we can call upon God by any of His names, and He will respond sooner or later to our prayers.

And what's more, is that when Muslims go through their regular prayers (salat), they stand before God, with God, and the prostration in prayer (sajda) is the closest that a human being can come to God.

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I read the essay and re-read it and am not sure i understand the point the author is making. Humans are social animals, with a highly developed capabilities around thinking, introspection, learning etc. We like to hang out with fellow humans who share the same ideology. Religion plays the role of bringing like minded humans together. The presence or absence of God is almost meaningless and a personal choice. If one does not exercise this choice, most times, the group one belongs to .i.e. your religion makes that choice for you. Every religion alludes to this higher power, God. Its a pre-requisite to believe in God if you want to join any organized religion. One can be moral, empathetic and lead a perfectly happy life with or without believing in God or being a part of organized religion. The pros and cons of organized religion are of course well known. The confusion comes when one does not know what choice to make or one is unsatisfied with the choices one makes. Religion helps with narrowing the choices with religious traditions and dogma and an unquestioned faith in God. Its that simple.

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It’s not that therapy takes the place of religion, but rather that people who belong to a religious community/identify as religious have better mental health.

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I remember hearing a Catholic commentator describe therapy as a form of confession, and I agree. I’m a lapsed Catholic, and I’ve been to therapy, and I’m struck by the similarity of confessing to a priest and unburdening yourself to a therapist.

The biggest differences, I think, are: 1) a therapy session lasts longer than the few minutes you generally get for confession, so you can explore more if you want; 2) therapy isn’t about being morally judged by a deity or a clergyman. Although I’ve still found it difficult to discuss things I’ve done wrong with therapists even when I know they won’t condemn me.

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A longing for a faith based community for social interactions is understandable. However, having faith/belief in “God” doesn’t require/depend on an organized religion. A sincere, personal faith itself has therapeutic value/reward. And there is no doubt that religion based communities provide additional therapeutic value. However, the notion that a belief in God without a religious community may not be enough is problematic.

Organized religions are social/political entities to promote/protect their beliefs and way of life. Only explanation for existence of different churches or various Muslim or Jewish divisions is the power politics, and not a dispute about the existence or belief in God.

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