Opinion | The dilemma of living in a post-religious world

Was 2023 a “good” year? I guess it depends on what you mean by that word. A good year must be part of a good life, but the question of what makes life good, meaningful, and whole applies to all large categories such as religion, family, love, and politics. related and is becoming increasingly difficult. What makes it more difficult is that these categories are increasingly intermingled, for better or worse.

During the holidays, I was at home in Pennsylvania with my parents and siblings. Visiting the places where I grew up creates certain memories along with the leisurely pace of the days. With the help of the people there, you can unlock your memories and see better the breadth of life. Some family members avoid talking about the past or feelings of condemnation or favor.

Our family is different. We like to memorize, and we like thought experiments. Could my brother and I have ended differently? Could I have been more religious? What would have happened if I had gotten married in my 20s? Perhaps the rest of my life would have been different. Marriage, if it’s the right person, can lead to increased life satisfaction, even if it’s just a prerequisite. And being with people who share your religious practices may make you more religious, too (which in turn may make you happier, too).

As my parents grew older, I spent more time thinking about how they raised me and my brother, and whether they found the right balance of strictness and permissiveness. It was, for them and many others, an experiment in how to raise children who could be distinctly Muslim and yet American, and how to do it in a rapidly secularizing society. As I get older, no doubt influenced by my parents’ worries, I think about what another me might have looked like and whether I would have liked them.

I can imagine being more religious and religiously conservative, but I wonder if I needed an education that didn’t encourage as much education, ambition, and intellectual curiosity. It doesn’t work out this way for everyone, but I often felt a certain tension between the comfort of religious rules and rituals and the excitement and spaciousness that comes with the removal of constraints. I’m old. The more I learned, the more I understood. And the more I learned, the more I began to question what I knew before.

This trade-off might be worth it, but still, it was a trade-off. Once you are exposed to a secular world, a world where personal autonomy and experience overrides tradition, it is difficult to return, even if you want to. Modern liberalism is attractive, even if it’s not necessarily good for us. As political scientist Patrick Deneen points out in Why Liberalism Failed, liberalism promotes “privatism” by dismantling traditional structures. The individual becomes the most important unit of society, and the role of the state is somehow reduced or expanded to the task of removing limitations on the individual’s ability to pursue his or her desires. Although this ability is fairly novel in human history, it proves to be overwhelming.

As religion’s grip weakens, it becomes harder to understand whether our choices were “right” or not. Our standards and judgments no longer refer to tradition. They become self-referential. This sense of never-ending choice injects into our lives a near-permanent undercurrent of panic, never knowing if we are living as we should. But we get so used to the freedom of choice that we become insistent on holding onto it no matter the outcome.

In other words, we are trapped. Even if spiritual or religious traditions have all but disappeared from our lives, we can consciously and intentionally reintroduce them or strengthen the traditions we have clung to. . I hope to do some of this next year. Constraints can also be liberating. But whatever we choose, we make a choice. This is a weight, but it is also a blessing. Because in the end, we are the only ones who make the choice.

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