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Compelled to Choose

Compelled to Choose

by Selma Khenissi


Freedom is something that, more often than not, is highly desirable. The Declaration of Independence extols the virtues of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,”  so it is safe to say that the desire for freedom is an integral part of American society.


Within that freedom is the choice not to believe in God. Granted, according to The New York Times article “In Seven States, Atheists Push to End Largely Forgotten Ban,” there are some states that still require people to believe in God if they want to serve in public office, including the state of Maryland, where I am currently a resident.


Why do many people feel compelled to believe in God? I don’t know about other people’s stories, but mine is one that still leaves me stunned.


Maybe part of the reason why I chose belief is pressure from family, friends, peers and, overall, the surrounding community and culture. I am not one of those people who believe in proselytizing. I find that total strangers who ask me about my faith to be annoying and acting in a way that is completely inappropriate. To be honest, it’s none of their business, especially if they act in a way that I consider extremely weird.


And yet, today, I acknowledge that I cannot cast off my belief in God, even in the face of disapproval. In spite of the pressure for me to believe in God, I kind of got used to the idea of having the freedom to choose an irreligious life for a long time. Being educated in the French academic system for many years, it made sense that religion didn’t have such an essential place in my life. Growing up in the atmosphere of the post-9/11 world, former President George W. Bush’s references to God and the existence of Al Qaeda didn’t really make me want to be a supporter of religious belief.


The truth is, however, I couldn’t stop believing in the existence of a higher power. Something terrifying happened to me and my immediate family when I was eight years old, but the fact that none of us came out of the experience physically harmed instilled in me the belief that someone who was beyond my grasp kept an eye out for us and made sure we were okay. I didn’t follow up on that experience until I went to college.


By then, I started having intense spiritual experiences and eventually realized that I could no longer run away from this powerful presence that I kept on sensing and still can sense today. This is where submission comes in because I didn’t feel like I had a compelling choice to become an atheist, even though I wouldn’t have had to worry about where God is in my life if He actually existed.


But that was only the beginning of my submission to the spiritual journey and what I’m called to do and be. Back then, I wasn’t sure what religion to choose. A weirdo tried to push me to join a Bible study group and when I said that I was going to take a class in the fall semester that would help me make my religious choice, she appeared confused and possibly angry. I still believe to this day that it is important for religious seekers to be given the choice to choose their desired religion, as long as they do so in a way that is responsible.


I had the occasional dream where I was given the hint that Christianity would be the right religion for me. It wasn’t until I read a passage from the New Testament, which I was assigned in the aforementioned class, that I became convinced that this insight was indeed valid and true.


I think that for some people, they are compelled to choose Christianity over other religions. Look at Frederica Mathewes-Green and the main character, Lauren Winner, in the autobiographical book “Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life.” But for a long time, I didn’t see myself fitting into the Christian mold. The Christian religion has so many denominations to choose from that for a recent convert, it’s overwhelming and the desire to run away from it all is very tempting. In the midst of my feeling overwhelmed and running away from the task of choosing a denomination, I ended up wanting to abandon Christianity altogether, but I always felt compelled to come back to this specific faith.


For now, I regularly attend services in three different Episcopal communities, where I feel at home. However, Bishop Mariann Budde challenged me a while ago when she told me that to be confirmed means that I am ready to choose the Episcopal Church over other denominations. I still have a lot of thinking to do before I reach that step, but I trust that I will be compelled to make a choice that I am comfortable and happy with.



image: Path in the garden by David Burliuk


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Not sure of some points the author is making.

–‘I find strangers that ask me about my faith annoying.’
–‘A weirdo tried to push me into a bible study group…’

I do agree with Ms Khenissi here…
–‘Freedom for religious seekers to choose what religion they like’

I think that all seekers have a choice. [Except Muslims.] Come to think of it, Christianity is the only ‘religion’ that you cannot be born into. [Surely that is a mark of freedom that our gracious God offers. ]

I hope Ms Khenissi asks God to help her decide which church to attend, and that she be open to where He leads her (even if it’s opposite of what she wants). There are non-denominational churches too. I call them ‘plain bag’ churches. They can be extremely refreshing to the soul. You can put your feet up on the coffee table there.


DB… wow2. thank you for sharing. Praise Jesus, that you were able to free yourself from religion, and start a 1-to-1 relationship with Jesus, something He always wanted for you. [I will pray for your continued healing.]

I was in the wilderness for 30 years in a false religion… all the while thinking I was a Christian. (a place where Satan happily keeps many drowsy people).

Until one day, I just plainly asked God to help me. He directed me to the book of John… I read it with a sincere heart, and the scales just flew off my eyes!

LInda McMillan

Wow, you are really on a journey. I admire you for being so careful and thoughtful in your decisions. That’s great. Christianity is a great, wide road with lots of different kinds of travelers on it. Oh, the people you’ll meet on the path! I think your bishop is right about committing to a particular tradition, and I think it’s important to do that. I have found that the experiences of all the Anglicans who have been on this particular path before me sort of eases the way for me, and I can see from the example of their lives what the possibilities are for my own life. It’s not anything to be in a hurry about though, and you’re doing all the good by listening to God and being deliberate in your decisions. I am really excited that you’ve on the path! Good luck.

Daniel Black

I am a man who is now 63 years old and still fells like a recovering person 42 years after I left the JW organiztion in which I had been raised. For the last ten years that I was in it I could not get myself to believe that God was a muderous being whose love was harsh and that only members in the organiztion were worthy in God’s eyes to be spared. We were taught that everybody else whether claiming to be Christian or not were evil and were doomed. I do not remember true joy in worshiping God and joyful gratitude for the mercy of grace but I do remember the fear that was used to control people. I left at age 21 and for 40+ years lived my life relying only on myself and my own belief system to carry me thru. I still believed that there was a God but with my childhood experiences I did not think he wanted anything to do with me. This year I came upon circumstances in my life where I had to admit to myself that I was not capable of handling on my own and sought professional help for. On my second visit with the psycologist without understanding why I accepted a Bible from him with the suggestion to read the book of Luke. I did so and thus began a journey which has lead me to the Episcopal Church where every service I attend I feel like a thirsty man coming in from the desert and I am being given cool healing water. Never did I think that I could heal the wounds of spirit and mind that occured so long ago but I feel that is what is now happening with God’s love and the wonderful examples of that love in the pastor and people in this Church. St. Mark’s in Durango, Colorado has awoken in me the desire to learn more of Jesus and of the way of life his teachings guide us toward as not only leading to eternal life with him but a happier and more peaceful life here on earth.

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