Building bridges while others burn theirs

About seven or eight years ago I was in the sticky position of being “piggy in the middle” in a dispute that broke out between a friend of mine and a relative. It was a stressful time for me, and without going into the details, I ended up flushing that friendship down the toilet. A couple of years later, I contacted this ex-friend again briefly, because I needed help with making a DVD of a movie we had both produced. He declined to help, but asked for a copy of the DVD when it would be finished. I said, “The DVD was offered in exchange for your help.” He replied, “You’ve got a nerve. Don’t contact me again.” That was the last time we spoke … until a couple of months ago.

Circumstances had conspired to put us in touch with each other again. I decided it was time to reach out and try and rebuild the bridge I tore down, without any request or demand or expectation of apology, and especially without any pride or self-defence. I said something to the effect of, “I regret speaking harshly to you those years ago. Would you like a copy of the DVD?” He suggested I could post it to him or we could meet somewhere. That was all the encouragement I needed to invite him to my home.

I’m really glad I did. We chatted for well over a hour, talking about our lives. We also cleared the air about old times. Neither of us were interested in apportioning blame, only in being reconciled. “I think we should keep in touch,” he said at the end, and we exchanged phone numbers.

I’m talking about this now because I’ve been reflecting on how easy it is to hold on to bitterness and resentment. When I was a Christian, I lived with a sense of reality that said for every sin there is a punishment, and forgiveness only comes with a price. For God to forgive man, it was necessary for him to send his Son to die on a cross – the transferrence of our debt and punishment to another. And for man to forgive man, it is written, “If he repents, forgive him.” The Christian message is one where every wrong deed is of great import, and forgiveness is withheld until certain conditions are met. It makes bitterness and resentment so easy to cling to and justify. And I did, for so long.

I remember hearing a funny sketch by comedian Bill Hicks. Hicks has no problem poking fun at religion, and it often comes up in his stand-up sketches. In one sketch, he talked about how a couple of guys once came up to him after a show and said, “Hey, Mr. Funny Man, c’mere. Hey, Mr. Comedian, c’mere … We’re Christians. We didn’t like what you said.” After a pause for dramatic effect, Hicks replied, “I said, ‘Then forgive me.'” The audience roared with laughter. When it subsided, Hicks went on, “Later, when I was hanging from the tree …”

There’s something ironic in the fact that I had to let go of Christianity in order to learn how to forgive people. When I reflect on my own attitudes as a Christian, it’s not surprising to me that some of my friends have cast me off. All I’ve done is express a difference of opinion, and that’s all it has taken for some of my friends to wave bye-bye. They view life with a sense that everyone else around then should conform to their personal expectations of what’s sacred, and when I refuse to agree with those expectations, they turn their back on me. A Christian (one who has stuck by me) recently said, “Christians are the only people who shoot their own wounded.” Of course, I don’t see myself as wounded, but I imagine that’s how I look to a Christian. The truth is I have never felt more clear-headed or in control of myself. I feel like my mind belongs to me for the first time in many years.

One of the major shifts in my understanding is in the areas of guilt, punishment, forgiveness, retribution – all those inter-related themes. I have come to believe that the entire concept of punishment for wrongdoing is incorrect (that is not to say there should be no prisons, but I think the focus of such places should be rehabilitation and the protection of society, not punishment). I made the transition to this kind of understanding after I started to see that human beings are not separate from each other. We do not have individual souls. Individuality is an illusion that plays out in the arena of the physical world. From a wider perspective, everything is one consciousness, eternal and all knowing. But in these bodies, on this physical phane, we are conscious of only a tiny fraction of what we truly are. We are everything that exists. I am you and you are me. Oh, I know how this sounds to a lot of ears, and I feel so frustrated that I can’t communicate the extent to which I sense this to be true or indeed why I sense it to be true. But let’s at least take a look at the implications of this kind of understanding.

When we see ourselves as separate from one another, it is so easy to dismiss another person. If they do something wrong, we can say, “They made their own bed; they have to lie in it.” But if we are all one consiousness, then the thing that is happening to someone else is also happening to me. It makes no sense for me to condemn that person, only to help them. Our belief in separation facilitates everything from the holding of grudges to the belief in eternal damnation. I spent so much of my life trapped in that understanding, but when you open your mind to challenge these preconceptions, it can open to door to wonderful change.

I once believed that it was profound that a saviour had to die in order to save me from my sins. I now believe that there is no vengeful diety marking my every action, no need for such a sacrifice, no eternal punishment for any actions that anyone every did. It sounds like a free-for-all, like we can all do whatever we want without consequences. Well, take a look at what I wanted to do. I wanted reconciliation with a friend that I had cast aside. Where did that desire come from? From this thing called Original Sin that we’re all supposedly born with – this predisposition towards evil? Or is that yet another smokescreen in life – another illusion that actually has the effect of luring us towards negative behaviour because we’ve been made to believe we’ll never do better? In my experience, that’s exactly what Original Sin is, and my rejection of it has done nothing but improve me morally.

I’ve come to see that our beliefs can cause us to fill our lives with such high-and-mighty nonsense. Recently I’ve been on the receiving end of so much “How dare you say such-and-such,” “I can no longer be your friend,” etc. And in the past I’ve dished out my fair share of it, too. But I’ve come to understand that so much of the human drama is a joke. Here we are, Infinite Consciousness, incased in these egos, unaware of our true magnitude, identifying ourselves with these finite bodies, with the mental chatter and chemical addictions of our brains. We look at the ego and say, “This is me,” and quickly add, “Screw you.”

But when you understand that we are all One, there is only one attitude to others that makes any sense: love. That is why I can put aside pride and ego, and the need for apology, and reach out to someone whom I had been pointlessly resenting for years.

I have no doubt that some of my friends who have been following my blog for a long time are going to see me as slipping further from “common sense” into la-la land. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I can’t ignore the good changes that have happened inside me, as a result of embracing an openness to possibilities outside of a Christian worldview. I have conquered my personal vices; I have courageously spoken out about a sensitive issue and refused to be silenced when pressurised; I have learned to love unconditionally, putting aside grudges and resentments. There is no pride in stating these things, only an encouragement for others to step outside of their conditioned reality to discover the same things and more. Frankly, when I look back on my Christian experience, I was a blundering oaf by comparison, blown to and fro by dogma and doctine that was making a mess of me.

But someone will say (and has done), “Your life may be better morally, but that’s only because Satan is making it easy on you. He will use any methods to get you, as long as he gets you.” Frankly, from a Christian perspective, that’s borderline heresy. Christianity is supposed to have a positive transforming effect on the lives of those who embrace it, with the power of sin broken by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But when rejecting Christianity has the effect of changing you dramatically into a better person, something is seriously wrong somewhere.

Forgiveness is there for the giving. That’s the simple truth I learned recently. No need to hold resentment, to demand apologies, no need for keeping a catalogue of wrongs. It’s just a choice – one that can be made without condition. Of course, it may not be easy. Someone may do something horrible to me, and my reaction might be to wish harm upon that person. That’s when I need to remember, we are all one consciousness. There are no good guys and bad guys. Even people who do great evil are an expression of Infinite Conciousness. Such people need to be loved and helped, not punished.

12 thoughts on “Building bridges while others burn theirs

  1. I can only say from my personal experience in Christianity, my understanding of forgiveness and repentance is very similar to that you have now.

    I was taught to forgive everyone, regardless of the sin, because it wasn’t my place to judge, lest I be judged myself.

    My understanding was that we all make mistakes, we all mess things up here and there, we all hurt people, out of selfishness, ego, being misguided, etc. The aim was to try and cut back on those things, to be more understanding of other people and to show by example, in my own life, by trying to be the best person I could.

    I have known and seen certain religious types who use religion as an excuse to look down their noses at people, and judge them to be lesser than themselves, but I’ve also seen the same behaviour from non-religious types too.

  2. “If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.” – Romans 12:18.

    We can’t control how people treat us, but we can control how we treat them. While the New Testament fosters the idea of God forgiving only those who are repentant, it also promotes the concept of treating others the way we ourselves would want to be treated.

  3. Rob Miller

    Is this forgiveness you talk about not the same forgiveness that the last Gordon Wilson epitomized when his daughter died in the aftermath of the Enniskillen bomb? Although I think he would have seen the forgiveness he was embodying as an extension of his Christian faith. Many people berated him for his naievity and foolishness and suggested that the forgiveness he demonstrated was not real forgiveness.

  4. When I was a Christian, I thought of Gordon Wilson’s type of forgiveness as unrealistic and unworkable in the real world. Although the Lord’s Prayer says “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” I have always interpreted that to be a generalisation about forgiveness, not an instruction to forgive everyone without condition. This view is supported by Luke 17:3-4:

    “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

    I’ve always thought that if a terrorist killed someone’s daughter, we are not required to forgive them, but if the terrorist should repent, then yes, we must forgive that person, because Christ has. What right have we to hold against a person what God has forgiven?

    But the idea of saying “I forgive you” to a terrorist whose only reaction is “Haw! Haw! Haw!” and whom God will condemn for his sins – how is that possible psychologically, and is it even something that God requires?

    This all hinges on an understanding of morality that is based on judgement. I started to form a different understanding, from a non-religious perspective. I think complete unconditional forgiveness is possible, when you move away from the entire idea of a judgement-based morality.

    The breath of fresh air in all this is when I look back on my own Christian experience and see myself as someone who looked at those around me from a very narrow perspective of what I considered to be acceptable, and I continually formed judgements about people. I have also been at the receiving end of such attitudes. The difficulty is, people have different perspectives, even different groups of Christians have different perspectives. One Christian will think it’s good fun that I make horror movies; another will think it’s sinful and evidence that I was never a true Christian.

    I’m glad I’ve moved on from the noise of all that conflicting, bickering, condescending dogma.

  5. Robert Miller

    But is the forgiveness that Gordon Wilson demonstrated the same type of forgiveness you seek to foster in your own life also, namely:

    “Forgiveness is there for the giving. That’s the simple truth I learned recently. No need to hold resentment, to demand apologies, no need for keeping a catalogue of wrongs.”

    And you do need a judgment based morality at any rate – people do wrong by us – so to some degree we need to judge in order to forgive.

  6. It’s the same, yes, but probably coming from a different internal perspective. My suspicion is that Gordon Wilson might still be seething inside at the injustice to his daughter, despite his proclamation of forgiveness, because Christianity has a judgement-based morality.

    Let me clarify what I mean by judgment-based morality: “You did wrong … and you should PAY!” It’s the mindset that cheers when murderers and rapists are locked up.

    I’ve found that a different kind of morality emerges when you embrace the belief that we are all one consciousness – a morality based on love, where it becomes difficult to condemn because the people you would condemning are you (if you can get your head around that). What you feel instead of anger is the lament that people do these things to others, and the desire to help the offender become a better person.

    When this is established in your heart at a deep level, it becomes something inspiring inside you, empowering you to reach out to the apparently unlovable. And even in day-to-day experiences, it allows you easily disregard those minor grievances in relationships that can so easily grow into major resentments when left unresolved.

    In a judgemental mindset, you can disregard grievances, and they fester inside, because there is no true resolution.

    In in non-judgmental mindset, you can disregard grievances, and they don’t fester, because you’ve realised that the concept of judgement itself is nonsense.

    I don’t know if you’ll resonate with any of this. I just know I do.

  7. When I was a Christian, I was taught, and believed, that forgiveness was something to do at all times, whether the person was repentant or not, because only God knew if their heart was truly repentant, and if I was caught short, having not forgiven that person, in the same way that Christ forgave me, then it was I who would be judged.

    Of course it wasn’t a 24/7 thing, no-one is perfect, no matter how they try, even when the belief is so strong. But it was certainly what I aspired to be.

    I find it interesting though, that you don’t believe that Gordon Wilson truly forgave those who killed his daughter, on nothing more than knowing he’s Christian? Isn’t that itself quite a harsh judgement against the man, and indeed calling him a liar, if he’s proclaiming to have forgiven, but hasn’t really? And you’re basing it on nothing more than his belief system? Which itself shows you hold a grudge against Christianity (organised religion), much like most people who have new age beliefs, do.

    I’ve seen people capable of fantastic forgiveness, both Christian and non-Christian. I personally think it’s very arrogant of you to think that only people who look at it from the basis of your new found beliefs, can truly forgive. And anyone else must not be honest, either with the world around them or with themselves.

    I’ve seen people forgive for no other reason than they know it’s killing them inside, holding all that hate. They had no belief system, no reward other than the hope of cleansing themselves of the feelings.

    I’ll put my hands up, I find it hard to forgive. I found it much easier when I was Christian. I felt like I had a reason to forgive. But now, I struggle with the concept. Even when I know it would actually do me good to find forgiveness, I really struggle with it.

  8. Difficult to debate about an idea when it has been placed in the context of a person. Notice I very carefully said, “My suspicion is that Gordon Wilson might still be seething inside at the injustice to his daughter.” I chose my words carefully, as I don’t know the man, and so I have nothing concrete to say about what’s inside his head and heart. So put away the guns, please.

    I gather you were part of a church that taught unconditional forgiveness. I was not. Once again we are faced with the diversity of Christian belief, which isn’t surprising in light of what you read in the Bible.

    I think there are three ways to look at it, from the Bible:

    1. You can take what’s said about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer as a definitive statement about the need for unconditional forgiveness. But you then have to ignore or suppress what’s said about conditional forgiveness in Luke 17:3-4.

    2. You can take both the Lord’s Prayer and Luke 17:3-4 and see if there’s a way to interpret them in a fashion that allows both to be true, comparing Scripture with Scripture. You can then say forgiveness is indeed conditional to repentance, and the Lord’s Prayer is making a generalisation about the importance of forgiveness, presupposing that the reader undersands that the offender has repented.

    3. You can say that the Bible teaches both conditional and unconditional forgiveness, giving a contradictory message.

    I tend to side with number 2, as far as what the Bible teaches. That said, I’m glad I’ve found the means of embracing number 1 in my life.

    “you hold a grudge against Christianity (organised religion), much like most people who have new age beliefs, do.”

    I wouldn’t say I have a grudge. I would just say I’m following what I believe to be true and speaking against what I believe to be false. And I won’t be pigeon-holed into being called a New Ager, just because some of what I believe is compatible with New Age thought. I am just somebody thinking his own thoughts, wary of manipulation, and sick of having “truth” dictated to me instead of me being allowed to figure it out. When you can see the manipulation for what it is, there’s no looking back with rose-tinted glasses.

    I would add that Christians have every right to believe what they want, and I think no less of them for doing so. In fact, nobody empathises more than me, because I believed it myself for so long. What I am speaking against is the imposition of their beliefs into my life and the propogation of them throughout the world by means of coersion through fear. And I even dare to hope that what I say might help some to consider the alternative. But the choice will always be theirs.

    Of course, belief in Christianity is so sacred to those who hold it that the mere mention of an alternative way of looking at life is often tantamount to me being seen as the devil. All I can do is absorb the punches, becauase I have no intention of shutting up.

  9. But you said you suspect he is seething inside. With absolutley no reasoning behind that, other than the fact he’s a Christian. Even though you know that there are many different factions of Christianity, who all believe it in different ways, and even in those factions, there are differentials. So I don’t understand why you would possibly presume he isn’t being honest, just because he aligns himself with Christianity?

    I agree with you on the bible and it’s quotations, and it’s why I just can’t put all Christians in one box, because different people take different scriptures as their core teaching, than others. For example some don’t even believe Jesus was real, but they believe in God and that the bible is just a gathering of teachings and little stories that outline the teachings.

    In the same way I wouldn’t bunch all new agers together, as for every David Icke there’s a Bill Hicks, etc. But it does seem to be a common trait among people who believe in the whole one consciousness thing, that Christianity is shit on the proverbial shoe, and it’s followers are dumb and nasty for following it.

    A quick perusal through your own blogs will show that you have certain angers towards what you were taught, and to a lesser degree, some people who still follow it. I think the Gordon Wilson point is a perfect example.

    You said: My suspicion is that Gordon Wilson might still be seething inside at the injustice to his daughter, despite his proclamation of forgiveness, because Christianity has a judgement-based morality.

    It would be like me suspecting that you believe in Lizard-aliens, conspiring to capture all of mankind, because you share a core belief.

    It’s also a lot like when Christians say people aren’t capable of love, without God. That somehow the love we’re capable of isn’t as good as the love we’d be capable of, with God. It’s that type of arrogance. Of course, if either is right, then the arrogance was deserved, but for now, we don’t know what the real truth is.

    On this same point, i remember having a discussion with my Mother In The Lord, when I was Christian, about forgiveness. I remember discussing the merits of “God will sort them out.” And she, and others, pointed out that for me to want retribution on that person, because they had wronged me (It wasn’t an actual case, just generally speaking), was wrong in itself. I shouldn’t forgive a person because I knew God would kick their asses. I should give up my right to be mad, or I guess my “right to be wronged,” as it’s referred to in secular circles. The reason for this being that Jesus didn’t just forgive me, knowing i’d pay the price in the end, he took it away completely, washed it clean and set me free. I should aspire to do the same thing. I hope that makes sense, it seems a little drawn out, now I look back on it. lol.

    Personally speaking, I wish I could find that again, without the need for a belief and/or faith. Giving up the right to be wronged is so much more difficult than forgiving those who tresspass against me, as God forgave me my tresspasses.

  10. “A quick perusal through your own blogs will show that you have certain angers towards what you were taught, and to a lesser degree, some people who still follow it. I think the Gordon Wilson point is a perfect example.”

    Let’s be clear, I have no problem in judging ideas and concepts. If we didn’t do that, we might as well believe in flying pigs.

    As for judging people, I may have unfairly judged some. This is all a learning experience for me, too, remember. Although I’m not sure if feeling anger at how I’ve been treated constitutes judgement. What’s important is that I don’t hold their actions against them. They’ve made their choices. It’s who they’ve chosen to be. I accept that.

    As for Gordon Wilson, on retrospect you’re right. For all I know, he doesn’t live by a judgement-based morality. Some Christians do, and some don’t.

    Your own church experience certainly was very different from mine, and I think this matter of forgiveness might be one of the central factors in that. Regardless of the presence of Luke 17:3-4, I think what your church believes is so much better than mine. I’ve been left in a position right now where I’m not even sure if I’m welcome to attend a church service, if I wanted to. I was told that I could return to the church if I repented of my unbelief, but I don’t know if that meant church membership or church attendance.

  11. “It does seem to be a common trait among people who believe in the whole one consciousness thing, that Christianity is shit on the proverbial shoe, and it’s followers are dumb and nasty for following it.”

    I can’t speak for others who believe in “one consciousness” (because I don’t know any others!), but it’s interesting to compare you and I.

    Neither of us believes in Christianity, but you seem to look back on it very favourably, to the point of longing for it, wishing you could embrace it again, seeing yourself as a better person and a more fulfilled person back when you were a Christian.

    I, on the other hand, emerged from Christianity into a new belief that changed my life for the better and enlightened me to the manipulation that was going on in my mind through my religion. Right now, I see myself as more healthy, physically, psychologically, morally, emotionally, than I’ve ever been, and I look back with a relief that I was able to emerge from what I used to be.

    No, Christians are not “dumb and nasty.” I respect their right to believe what they want to believe, and I empathise greatly with the fact that they believe they are doing the right thing.

  12. As you’ve pointed out, that’s one of the main reasons I strongly believe in “People are people are people,” regardless of their beliefs. The bible contains verses that will pretty much support anything and everything, if twisted enough, and some as you’ve pointed out, don’t even need twisting, they’re just plain contradictory. The deciding factor seems to be in the people following those words, and the people teaching them. Some use them for good, others to push their own hate-filled agendas.

    But I also think that judgement is a natural process we must go through, in every day of our life. There’s cases of taking it too far, like when a bunch of neanderthals rise up in fury because they find out a sex-offender lives in the area, then go torch their house or beat the person to death. Much like the old witch hunts. But, there’s also not taking it far enough, trying to live in a dream where no-one deserves any punishment at all and to be forgiven no matter how many times they offend, etc. Where that sex offender would just be allowed to re-commit their crime over and over again.

    The secret is finding balance. And as you say, it’s a long, difficult learning process.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s