“Eek! Has Darryl Sloan got a messiah complex?” you cry. Nope. “I aaaam the one and onlyyyy … Nobody I’d rather be!” Good ol’ Chesney Hawkes, eh? You can’t beat ‘im. I’m serious, actually. I love that song. If you can get around the 80s cheese factor and listen to the lyrics, it’s actually carrying a really positive message championing individuality.
Individuality is claiming the freedom to think for yourself, to form and hold your own opinions. And the enemy of individuality is anything which denies you that freedom.
In the previous post I stated that our freedom to think for ourselves is “taken away by Popes, pastors, and every other religious authority that insists it has a right to your mind.” Let me clarify and expand on what I mean by that.
Our freedom to think for ourselves is only taken away because we give it away willingly, and are encouraged to do so. This is illustrated by the way that most Catholics don’t become Protestants; most Protestants don’t become Catholics; the majority of adult Christians are those brought up in Christian homes, rather than people who converted to it from here, there and everywhere. Churchgoers generally aren’t moving towards greater awareness of “the truth,” despite listening to countless sermons week after week. They are buzzing around merrily in their own cliques. That is not my opinion; it is observable reality in all the countless church factions. In my personal case, it is illustrated by the imbalanced state of mind I went through in my earlier years as a Christian – the days when I took at face value what I was told about what it is to be a good Christian. Only by taking back my freedom to think, by slowly realising that I was being fed error on some levels, was I able to say, “No. The way you people want me to think is not right.” And to step away. It was very hard to do, and took a long time. The scope of the problem is illustrated by how many people choose to blindly tow the line of whatever their individual church scene says is right. Churches are not teeming with people who embrace their individuality, nor are they encouraged to be individuals. Paradoxically, all the factions in the church were no doubt created by certain people expressing their individuality and rebelling, but this does not negate the point that the only way to escape the prison of a particular church faction that is in error is to start thinking for yourself and to stop giving up that responsibility to your minister.
The Bible itself, as an authority, is also a problem because when you become a Christian you have to accept all its precepts en masse. If your own intelligence leads you in a different direction on some points, you have to agree with what the Bible says regardless of what you think, because it’s the word of God. Take homosexuality for instance. I believe it’s not natural, okay? I did as a Christian; I still do. But if I allow myself the luxury of disregarding that the Bible calls it an “abomination,” I suddenly find myself able to empathise with other Christians who have been dealing with homosexual urges all their lives, with no evil intent (two of whom I’ve known as close friends, incidentally, and one of whom was responsible for leading me to Christ). And yet, typically, if I’m sitting with another Christian and a homosexual comes on TV, the Christian will happily pass a remark about “that queer.” There is the general feeling among Christians that homosexuality is a great evil, with Bible verses to back that up. My personal individual view is that there’s something very unbalanced about that attitude. So, do I believe what the Bible says, or do I believe what my experience of knowing homosexual Christians tells me? When your indivuality conflicts with a belief system, you’re in trouble. And that’s the problem with belief systems. For me right now, rejecting the belief system and embracing my right to have my own view, it is so refreshing to be able to look at somebody and say, “It doesn’t matter to me what you are,” instead of regarding them with suspicion as if they must be some kind of deviant. If I’m honest, I haven’t looked upon homosexuality as “evil” in a long time; “not normal” is as far as I can reasonably go. So, I’m guilty perhaps of covertly reclaiming a little of my individuality that was not strictly permitted for me.
I’m not just Bible-blasting here. This giving away of one’s freedom to think is equally true of people who vegetate in front of soap operas, and base their moral outlook on the behaviour of what they see there. On the topic of homosexuality, it’s interesting to note how society’s view of it has become gradually more tolerant over the past couple of decades. Is this because people have suddenly become more enlightened? Could be, but (the rights and wrongs of homosexuality aside) I’m more inclined to think the change came about by the bombardment of the population by positive depictions of homosexuality on TV dramas and movies. It’s covert manipulation, folks, made possible only by our willingness to accept what we’re told without thinking for ourselves. True, attitudes to homosexuality really were in the dark ages a couple of decades ago, and social consciousness has probably been moved to a better place, where we’re less likely to kick the crap out of a couple of “queers” in a dark alley, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the means of delivering this better understanding was a manipulative one. I mean, these days a guy like me can hardly raise a single objection to homosexuality on purely rational grounds without being immediately branded homophobic.
The big problem is that we can so easily sacrifice our ability to think for ourselves without realising we’ve done it. Another manipulation I fell prey to at a point in my life is the idea that the scientific view of reality is the only one that holds any water. You get an impression from society – and that’s all it is, just an impression, with no actual substance – that scientists are the truly smart people. Before you know it, you’re beleiving in an axiom like “Nothing is true until I can smell it, taste it, touch it, measure it, or quantify its substance by some means or other.” A man who opens his mind to the possibilty that there may be a God, and who chooses to pray to this God, is seen as backward by comparison. But the wider possibility that science won’t acknowledge is that a whole lot of stuff might be true that we just haven’t discovered with our microscopes and telecopes, etc. It’s no surprise, really, that a great many scientists have an athiestic perspective. They have decided that if they can’t find it, it mustn’t be real. To only have room in your heart for scientific thinking is a great pity. Once you ackowledge that it’s possible to discover truth beyond the narrow constraints of scientific investigation, you realise that the scientific mindset is a prison for your mind – useful within its own capacity, but inadequte as an exclusive principle to live by. The problem is, the wool is pulled over our eyes without us realising it.
Yet another aspect of this lack of freedom to think is what goes on with friendships during our school days. The more I look back on my youth, the more grateful I am to have been a geek – an outcast from the popular crowd. It was painful at times, sure, but the most beautiful gift of this is that peer pressure has absolutely no power over you. Since the popular crowd have already made you an outcast, there is absolutely no benefit to you in doing anything that would please them. You grow into a true individual, making your own decisions, and thinking your own thoughts, without any great feeling that you ought to conform. It’s no surprise that I finished school having never smoked a cigarette or consumed any alcohol.
The ultimate expression of indivuality is when you just don’t give a damn what anybody else thinks of you. That’s largely what’s motivating the direction of many of my posts in recent months. It’s easily mistaken for arrogance, but it’s really just the detemination to live up to a standard that I’ve set for myself: to speak out about what I care about, to be unafraid of rebuttal or ridicule.
It’s an interesting experiment to observe others, keeping your ears peeled for evidence of the fear of what others think – various expressions of the old “What would the neighbours think?” attitude. Even more challenging to look for it in yourself. As ol’ Chesney says, “You are the one and only you.”