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.