Mashallah I have been on this path for a while, and over the years there is a distinct personality type I keep running into that follows a particular pattern and profile. They are typically young, male, highly intelligent, and have fallen absolutely in awe of the religion, and that of the Quran, its wisdom, and particularly the mathematical composition of the Quran. Their enthusiasm is contagious and they believe with such zeal and conviction that it makes the individuals who have been on the path for years sometimes even envious of them. Their conviction leads them to be very vocal in their faith. They are constantly proselytizing and want to be at the forefront of the action to debate with people and proclaim their devotion to the cause of God.
But then things take a turn towards the worse. As they stick around relatively quickly in a span of months, sometimes even shorter, their enthusiasm turns contentious. When before they would rally people around faith and love of God, their energy shifts to driving wedges and division. Then just as fast as they got into the faith they pivot and come up with a new understanding that was completely contradictory to what they previously believed to the extent that they end up disavowing everything they previously claimed to believe in.
For years I thought the cycle ended there as most of these interactions in the past were in person. So after a person like this would leave the community, I would rarely hear from them or know what they were up to since their departure. But recently as more and more interactions have been online in places like discord I started to realize something about these people that their behavior was not a one-off fluke. I saw that the cycle for that person repeats over and over again. Going from one faith and understanding, believing it with the utmost conviction, but only to completely abandon it a few months later for something else, and continuing that cycle over and over and over again.
Matthew 13 – Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed
Later that same day Jesus left the house and sat beside the lake. 2 A large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat there and taught as the people stood on the shore. 3 He told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:
“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. 4 As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. 5 Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! 9 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
10 His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”
11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets[a] of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. 12 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. 13 That is why I use these parables,
For they look, but they don’t really see.
They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.
14 This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says,
‘When you hear what I say,
you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
you will not comprehend.
15 For the hearts of these people are hardened,
and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and let me heal them.’[b]
16 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. 17 I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it.
18 “Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds: 19 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. 20 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 21 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. 22 The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. 23 The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”
So what causes this behavior?
In order to understand what causes this behavior, it is worth understanding what triggers human motivation. What is it that compels a person to go whole-hog into an ideology and then in a short time to abandon all previously held principles and move on to the next thing?
Humans are on an eternal quest for more and more pleasure in the form of hedonism. When this quest gets out of hand and becomes harmful we call it an addiction.
In one experiment, scientists placed electrodes to the pleasure centers of a rat’s brain, such that each time the rats would be zapped they would feel pleasure. Then the scientist created levers that the rodents could push so they could administer the zaps to themselves. What they observed was that the rats would self-stimulate non-stop. Even when the electrode was turned off the rats would continue pressing the lever again and again until they finally passed out from exhaustion. Their appetite for pleasure was insatiable. One rat self-stimulated more than 850,000 times over twenty-one days. When offered the choice between a pleasure level and food, sleep, sex, or water, the rat would opt for the lever, zapping itself until it collapsed and died.
Now the above experiment had a one-to-one outcome, where each time the rat would hit the lever they were guaranteed to get a feeling of pleasure. Interestingly enough when the experimenters created a random outcome such that sometimes the lever would be pushed and no zap would be administered and other times it would provide a zap actually caused the rats to push the lever more than before.
Usually, when we think of addiction, we think of people addicted to drugs, alcohol, or gambling, but all these substances work in a similar fashion where the subject has a yearning so they aim to find a means to satisfy that yearning, but in doing so only leads to more yearning.
What happened next was truly remarkable. The scientists created a lesion in the pleasure centers of the brains of rats. What they discovered is that the animals who had this alteration would lose their characteristic sense of curiosity and even stop eating and drinking. The rats left in this condition were thus doomed to death unless they were force-fed. The interesting thing was once they were fed the rats still experienced pleasure.
How is this possible since that portion of the brain responsible for pleasure was severed? It ends up there are two aspects to pleasure the first is “wanting” and the other is “enjoying”. Wanting is the desire and motivation that propels us into action. While enjoying is the satisfaction one has when experiencing something.
For instance, consider the desire for a nice juicy cheeseburger. The thought of having one will cause your brain to release dopamine. This will make you feel good and motivate you to go out and try to obtain this desire. But then there is the second part of pleasure which in this case would be the actual act of eating the cheeseburger.
Most people spend their life in a constant state of the first form of pleasure. Their yearning for something far exceeds the satisfaction they get once they achieve it. The downside of this is that when the pleasure someone gets in seeking relief exceeds the satisfaction one gets when achieving relief then it leaves the person feeling deflated and disappointed. And after enough of these cycles, it leads people to feelings of despondence and depression.
How does this apply to this profile of super enthusiastic believers who visit the faith only to turn their backs shortly after? My theory is that these individuals get a major dopamine rush in the thought that they have discovered something new, particularly if it is a contrarian view from the majority. This burst of pleasure causes them to want to go deep into the faith and proselytize it to anyone who will listen to them. But after a while, the dopamine rush doesn’t have the same impact they are left feeling deflated and in search of something new that will rekindle their enthusiasm so then they’re off to the next faith.
I notice a similar trend in people who are deep into conspiracy theories. It typically starts out relatively tame then pretty quickly spirals into the absurd: Jeffery Epstein didn’t kill himself. Big Pharma is pushing medications to fatten their bottom line at the expense of the well-being of the people. The moon landing was fake. The Earth is flat. People who follow this pattern are not seeking the truth they are seeking novelty and the enjoyment they get out of the shock and astonishment of believing in something that is not mainstream.
These individuals are like the people who discovered a new diet or exercise routine and instantly become the world’s biggest promoters. It starts with evangelizing to others, then they start looking down on others who don’t share the same level of enthusiasm as they do or disagree with their assessment. Then just as their enthusiasm starts waning they are on to the next thing.
This last year I have had numerous conversations with people who come into the faith instantly fall in love and become super active, only to move onto something else a month later, and then something else after that. With each transition, they believe that they ultimately found the truth and there will be nothing to shake them out of the position, and each time they end up eating their words when they transition to whatever new understanding they stumble upon.
[63:4] When you see them, you may be impressed by their looks. And when they speak, you may listen to their eloquence. They are like standing logs. They think that every call is intended against them. These are the real enemies; beware of them. GOD condemns them; they have deviated.
وَإِذَا رَأَيْتَهُمْ تُعْجِبُكَ أَجْسَامُهُمْ وَإِنْ يَقُولُوا تَسْمَعْ لِقَوْلِهِمْ كَأَنَّهُمْ خُشُبٌ مُسَنَّدَةٌ يَحْسَبُونَ كُلَّ صَيْحَةٍ عَلَيْهِمْ هُمُ الْعَدُوُّ فَاحْذَرْهُمْ قَاتَلَهُمُ اللَّهُ أَنَّىٰ يُؤْفَكُونَ
[14:24] Do you not see that GOD has cited the example of the good word as a good tree whose root is firmly fixed, and its branches are high in the sky? [14:25] It produces its crop every season, as designed by its Lord. GOD thus cites the examples for the people, that they may take heed. [14:26] And the example of the bad word is that of a bad tree chopped at the soil level; it has no roots to keep it standing. [14:27] GOD strengthens those who believe with the proven word, in this life and in the Hereafter. And GOD sends the transgressors astray. Everything is in accordance with GOD’s will.
What these people fail to recognize is that it is not the message that they are attracted to, but the novelty of discovering something new.
Genuine Love of God
In the Arabic of the Quran the word for love and the word for a seed or a grain both come from the same root. Our love for God and our striving in His cause should also follow a similar pattern. We need to firmly establish our roots to understand the religion, understand God’s system, and learn from our mistakes and the lessons that God puts before us. If on the other hand, we come into this religion not satisfied with the effort, grind, and time it takes to grow in faith and strengthen our relationship with God and establish those roots, and instead just want to come to the faith as a fully developed tree then we will have no roots to support us when the initial allure of the novel wears off.
When a baby is first born its love for its mother is natural, but the depth for its love is relatively shallow. It yearns for its mother instinctively because it is looking for nourishment, protection, and to meet its basic needs in life. Its love revolves 100% around wanting and knowing that its mother can meet the baby’s needs. This is because it doesn’t have a deep understanding of the sacrifices the mother made to have and care for the baby, this knowledge can only come with age and experience. So as the child grows and becomes more cognizant its love shifts from hedonistic to true appreciation.
The Root of the Problem
This is not just a problem with religion but a larger societal issue. Addiction is just the false sense of satisfaction that people are hoping to achieve when they chase a hedonistic lifestyle – one that is only focused on instant pleasure.
Consider how many individuals have completely lost the ability to be able to find a spouse, maintain a long-lasting relationship, or stay monogamous since the advent of applications like Tinder. Individuals who fall into this trap, find themselves into an endless series of hookups that initially seem euphoric, but ultimately leave people incapable of settling down and thus never satisfied in a relationship. As soon as things get uncomfortable between a couple and the honeymoon phase diminishes they lose interest in one another. This is because they never established roots with one another where the desire to work through the hardship in order to stay together exceeds their addiction for the next hookup.
Consider the concept of doom scrolling, where people endlessly scroll through TikTok, Twitter, Instagram each time hoping they find something that will give them a little sense of pleasure, but because the satisfaction never meets the hype of scrolling the people are left feeling worse after their scrolling session than before. These kinds of activities not only leave us unsatisfied they leave us worse off than we were before.
[24:39] As for those who disbelieve, their works are like a mirage in the desert. A thirsty person thinks that it is water. But when he reaches it, he finds that it is nothing, and he finds GOD there instead, to requite him fully for his works. GOD is the most efficient reckoner.
وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَعْمَالُهُمْ كَسَرَابٍ بِقِيعَةٍ يَحْسَبُهُ الظَّمْآنُ مَاءً حَتَّىٰ إِذَا جَاءَهُ لَمْ يَجِدْهُ شَيْئًا وَوَجَدَ اللَّهَ عِنْدَهُ فَوَفَّاهُ حِسَابَهُ وَاللَّهُ سَرِيعُ الْحِسَابِ
What is the cure?
The cure to all our problems is always one and the same and has to do with our relationship with God.
[13:14] Imploring Him is the only legitimate supplication, while the idols they implore beside Him, cannot ever respond. Thus, they are like those who stretch their hands to the water, but nothing reaches their mouths. The supplications of the disbelievers are in vain.
(١٤) لَهُ دَعْوَةُ الْحَقِّ وَالَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِنْ دُونِهِ لَا يَسْتَجِيبُونَ لَهُمْ بِشَيْءٍ إِلَّا كَبَاسِطِ كَفَّيْهِ إِلَى الْمَاءِ لِيَبْلُغَ فَاهُ وَمَا هُوَ بِبَالِغِهِ وَمَا دُعَاءُ الْكَافِرِينَ إِلَّا فِي ضَلَالٍ
God tells us that the Quran contains healing and mercy and the answers to anything that troubles our hearts.
[10:57] O people, enlightenment has come to you herein from your Lord, and healing for anything that troubles your hearts, and guidance, and mercy for the believers.
(٥٧) يَاأَيُّهَا النَّاسُ قَدْ جَاءَتْكُمْ مَوْعِظَةٌ مِنْ رَبِّكُمْ وَشِفَاءٌ لِمَا فِي الصُّدُورِ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةٌ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ
The word Islam has two meanings. It means Submission, as in absolute submission to the will of God, and it also means Peace. If you want to tell that you are on the straight path try to determine are you in a state of peace or are you only happy when you are distracted with something novel. When we have peace by genuinely submitting to God then we are no longer on the hedonic treadmill. It is only then can we see if our belief is genuine.
[2:265] The example of those who give their money seeking GOD’s pleasure, out of sincere conviction, is that of a garden on high fertile soil; when heavy rain falls, it gives twice as much crop. If heavy rain is not available, a drizzle will suffice. GOD is Seer of everything you do.
وَمَثَلُ الَّذِينَ يُنْفِقُونَ أَمْوَالَهُمُ ابْتِغَاءَ مَرْضَاتِ اللَّهِ وَتَثْبِيتًا مِنْ أَنْفُسِهِمْ كَمَثَلِ جَنَّةٍ بِرَبْوَةٍ أَصَابَهَا وَابِلٌ فَآتَتْ أُكُلَهَا ضِعْفَيْنِ فَإِنْ لَمْ يُصِبْهَا وَابِلٌ فَطَلٌّ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ
When we can strive in the cause of God without the need for accolades or validation in our privacy when no one other than God can see us, then it is a sign that we are being sincere in our belief.
[76:7] They fulfill their pledges, and reverence a day that is extremely difficult. [76:8] They donate their favorite food to the poor, the orphan, and the captive. [76:9] “We feed you for the sake of GOD; we expect no reward from you, nor thanks. [76:10] “We fear from our Lord a day that is full of misery and trouble.”
[57:20] Know that this worldly life is no more than play and games, and boasting among you, and hoarding of money and children. It is like abundant rain that produces plants and pleases the disbelievers. But then the plants turn into useless hay, and are blown away by the wind. In the Hereafter there is either severe retribution, or forgiveness from GOD and approval. This worldly life is no more than a temporary illusion.
اعْلَمُوا أَنَّمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا لَعِبٌ وَلَهْوٌ وَزِينَةٌ وَتَفَاخُرٌ بَيْنَكُمْ وَتَكَاثُرٌ فِي الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَوْلَادِ كَمَثَلِ غَيْثٍ أَعْجَبَ الْكُفَّارَ نَبَاتُهُ ثُمَّ يَهِيجُ فَتَرَاهُ مُصْفَرًّا ثُمَّ يَكُونُ حُطَامًا وَفِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ شَدِيدٌ وَمَغْفِرَةٌ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَرِضْوَانٌ وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ