I used to wonder how people, especially converts, could after finding Islam later leave the faith altogether. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and of my friends who no longer identify as Muslim. Everyone’s life experience is unique but I can’t help wondering if some of my friends left simply because they couldn’t find a safe place within the religion for themselves. I wrote about this earlier in forgiving ourselves for not being perfect. The more I reflect on it, I’m almost certain that many people leave because we’ve encountered a theology of bullies that does not empower us to deal effectively with the pressing issues in our lives.
I was young, insecure, and confused about a lot of things when I converted to Islam. I was certain that I believed in God. I liked the easy and comprehensive answers and a well-defined life path that Islam provided. I was attracted to the repeated calls in the Quran to think, reflect, and ponder over its verses and the signs in universe. In my new convert zeal, I was overwhelmed with a desire to not only ground but also to prove myself in my new faith through learning and practice. It was then that I encountered the theology of bullies and I fell in love…with it and my own ego.
Looking back, I see how naive I was despite my quest for sincerity, which was I think and hope quite sincere. And afraid. Fear is used in theology of bullies to force each person into submission. But this fear thing is a tricky business. If God is worshipped out of love, fear, and hope then surely some fear is a good thing? But in the theology of bullies there’s another type of fear, a fear of displeasing people and of public censure. This secondary fear causes a lot of emotional distress. Some people believe that’s a good thing and to others perhaps a sign of hypocrisy. It’s a tricky thing because we want so very much to be sincere.
This is how the theology of bullies works:
Take any issue, promote your own understanding as correct and closest to the divine decree, and then mock, ridicule or revile those who differ. Setup the equation so that the good Muslim or more precisely, a Muslim, is the one who agrees with you. Thereby putting the faith of those who disagree with you into doubt.
This is how the theology of bullies gets you. If you don’t agree with them on everything hook, line, and sinker then you’re sunk or they’ll set out to sink you and your faith by playing on your insecurities.
xcwn blogs powerfully over at A Sober Second Look about the damaging effects of the psychological, emotional, and theological manipulation many of us have experienced. I see myself in much of her writing. I consider myself in the process of recovering from the theology of bullies, still holding onto my faith in God and in Islam but discovering anew what that means for me as a practical reality.
I’ve learned enough to pass pretty effectively. I know the arguments, the evidences, and proofs inside and out. I can wear the clothes and say the right words and this affords me a certain level of privilege but I know the truth. I don’t believe in much of the way Islam has been presented and taught to me. And I now know that disagreeing with the opinions of others doesn’t mean I’m disagreeing with God. It just means I disagree with you.