This is my view on religion.
When I was younger, there was an eight month period of time when I wasn't religious. I didn't celebrate Shabbos and didn't keep kosher (though I still didn't eat meat and cheese together and didn't eat shellfish). I lived with a non-Jewish girl and did almost whatever I wanted simply because I wanted to see what it was like on the 'other side.' I wanted to see how a majority of Americans lived and what it'd be like to not be restricted by all the rules.
I was expecting to feel freedom and a lightness of responsibility.
What I felt instead was confusion and a loss of structure. One day blended into the next, one week into another, months went by with no sign of division; I didn't know what day it was. Never mind the guilt. I had actually taught myself to ignore it years before. No - the real problem, in addition to the chronological confusion, was my loss of identity.
I was just like everyone else (my personal hell)!!
How did people live like this, doing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, to whomever they wanted? How did they STOP and give some time to themselves? How did they judge who and what should have the highest priority? How did they decide what, if anything, was more important and bigger than themselves? I had no reason for why I did things except that it felt good. Why not?
What I learned from that period of time was that, just as children need structure in order to blossom, adults need structure and rules as well. The Federal and State governments provide laws in order to protect its citizens; religions are no different (though their rules are based on morality).
Even as I returned to the comforts of observant Judaism, I still fought many of the rules. Despite loving to learn about it, I refused to study it since I then felt that I'd be obligated to follow what I learned (I have a tendency to need to follow logic). For years, it was quite an internal struggle that I suffered. I even recall having a breakdown while hanging out with a former (non-Jewish) boyfriend, in tears because I felt so incredibly torn.
It was physically painful.
My Jewish soul was tugging at me constantly. Only after I accepted that I was Jewish and LOVED being Jewish did the relief finally come. That's not to say that it's easy for me. I still struggle almost daily with some of the rules. But, in general, I have discovered that instead of fierce restrictions and limitations choking me, my religion permits me a certain freedom -- the freedom I had been originally searching for.
Freedom to stop worrying about my calendar.
Freedom to focus on my future rather than my present.
Freedom to permit myself a weekly vacation.
Freedom to recognize a special soul within myself (and, more importantly, others).
Freedom to accept a REASON for everything (even if I don't know what it is).
Freedom to enjoy structure.
Freedom to know that I am not the most important thing in my world.
Freedom to feel that I'm being protected.
Freedom to see the bigger picture of my neighborhood, world, and universe.
Too much freedom can easily be overwhelming and destructive. Routine and discipline have their benefits.
As Albert Einstein said wisely, "[a]ll religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom."
The structure of my religion has provided me with freedom and a breath of freshness. While my intellectual fight continues and while my emotional struggle goes on, I realize that there's something out there that is smarter than me. I am still myself. I am sassy, argumentative, independent, and colorful. I ask 'why' to many of the rules and beliefs because I need to understand the logic behind laws. I'm not so arrogant to think that I have all the answers, but I feel comforted that Something does.
To me, that's better than a hug.