For many years I was convinced that I needed to be able to believe things which I either didn't believe or didn't know with my heart. I like the philosophy of Christianity although I do not like what the churches have done with it. I always believed that it didn't matter what rituals you went through, if you didn't believe with your heart that what you were saying/praying/singing was true, then it was pointless to be singing or praying or repeating the part of the service.
I tried really hard to suspend my disbelief and believe it was possible to perform miracles or that making your body go through a process would be enough to get you to heaven... but then I came to the Quaker meeting house and started to read Quaker literature, and began to believe that it was not necessary to make an effort to believe things that didn't speak to me or seem real to me. It is possible to believe what you believe, try to live it, and forget all those things that do not speak to you and do not become part of who you are.
There are several stories which speak to me quite deeply. The first is disliked by a lot of Quakers because it isn't known if the story is a true one or not. It seems that William Penn, the Quaker who founded parts of America and had a hand in devising the documents that are so important to the US, was a bit of a dandy in his youth, and liked to wear extravagant clothing, including, in those days, a sword. He went to George Fox, the acknowledged leader of the Quaker movement, and was troubled by the fact that the peace witness meant that he would need to stop wearing the sword.
It is said that George Fox told him to wear it as long as he could. The meaning of that statement was that as long as William Penn thought it was right to wear a sword he should do that, but the moment that he believed it was the wrong thing to do, then of course he had to stop. No-one was making him stop, no one was telling him it was wrong, but he had to follow the leadings of his own internal light to decide what was right for him to do.
I love the story. It may or may not be based on an actual exchange between William Penn and George Fox, but it seems to me that it demonstrates very well the distinction between being instructed that this or that is allowed or disallowed by one's religion, and being free to decide for oneself where the rights and wrongs lie.