I spent some time over the past month putting my video editing skills to use in the creation of a trailer to help promote my book. A lot of book trailers are little more than image slideshows, but I wanted to aim a lot higher and craft something professional. Here’s the result. Please share!
A few days ago, I was the guest on episode 227 of the Trans Resister Radio podcast. The host, Aaron Franz, and I chatted for a hour on all kinds of esoteric topics: religion, death, non-duality, the meaning of life, paranormal phenomena, and more. You can access the show at the link below (available as an MP3 download or through services like iTunes, Spotify, and others). Enjoy!
As always, I ,Universe is available from online bookstores everywhere, including…
My book deals with many topics on theme of “question everything,” so here’s another trailer, this time on the issue of mind control, particularly in relation to the first seven years of our lives, when we are like sponges soaking up information with no critical thinking:
[ Link ]
The intellectual and spiritual journey I’ve been on for the past year has been powerful and life-changing. It shows no sign of fading. In fact, the whole picture has gotten clearer and clearer as time has progressed.
I’m really glad I blogged about it all, because I now have a permanent record of what is probably the most important transition of my life. For a while, I’ve been considering turning the past year’s blog entries into a physical book, but I think I need to start afresh and introduce the insights from a more effective angle than the haphazard way that they occurred to me at the time.
I put an outline together today, penned an introduction and the first chapter, totaling some 3,000 words. I’m really happy with the results so far.
I’m not sure how much or how little a book of this kind is going to interest the folks who visit here. I just feel passionately about, so I’m going to do it.
The working title is Reality Check, which is a perfect fit thematically, but is a bit common. I’m sure those words have already been used as titles before now. I’m all ears for an alternative title.
I would like the cover to feature a kitten playing with its reflection in the mirror (i.e. not fully understanding reality), but how I’m going to get a photo of that I’ve no idea.
I want to thank everyone who posted challenging comments to my blog entries over the past year. It’s good to be kept on your toes and also helps me to notice my failure to communicate at times.
The journey is, of course, not over, and probably never will be. I haven’t reached any sort of ultimate conclusion, and I doubt there’s a point where I will say, “I understand it all now. Job done.” So, when is a good time to write a book about the nature of reality? Might as well be now.
I’ve just finished watching an excellent documentary series on TV called Around the World in 80 Faiths. Anglican minister Peter Owen Jones took a year off from his parish to travel around the world and to, as he puts is, “Take the religious pulse of the planet.”
If I were still a Christian, I would have been shocked by his willingness to participate in some of the rituals. He did everything from drinking ayahuasca in a Brazilian rainforest to joining in naked at an urban witchcraft ceremony. As an ex-Christian, I have no judgement whatsoever to make on the man. In fact, his willingness to participate made it all the more fascinating.
The documentary looked at the major religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, various branches of these, cults, and other little known faiths.
I came away from the series with the realisation that you could end up as anything, depending on nothing more than where you were lucky or unlucky enough to be born. I finally started to appreciate what people mean when they dismiss Christianity with words like “Everybody has their own beliefs.” When you have an appreciation of the sheer diversity of religions on Earth, and the sheer commitment that all these people have to their own way being the true way, you start to see how incredibly tiny your own religious experience is in comparison to the experiences of others.
I feel a sense of sadness that the world is in this state of diversity, because if the idea of objective truth has any validity, then something somewhere is true. Of course, as soon as I say that, all of those religions are raising their hands claiming, “It’s us!”
Sadly, religions seem happy to survive and advance by presenting only a single version of reality to the young (indoctrination) and encouraging the herd mentality in all (social conditioning). Some also back that up with terror tactics – viewing life in an alternative way results in immediate damnation. Rarely does the subject of evidence come up.
If I’ve learned one thing from the mammoth task of finding the real truth in the haystack of religion, it’s the sheer improbability of finding it. And that, for me, means that I simply cannot take religion seriously.
You pick your religion (although usually it’s picked for you) and you bet your life on it. You hope that your way is the true way, and that your faith will see you safely through the mystery of death into the arms of God (or to your next life, or whatever).
I refuse to be indoctrinated and conditioned. I refuse to assume that the religion of my birthplace is the one true way. I cannot take seriously any threats of judgement without some serious weight of evidence to back it up.
The cure for religious indoctrination and conditioning is to reclaim your right to think your own thoughts – to always ask the question “Why?” when you don’t understand or don’t agree, and to never let yourself be guided by so-called “truths” dictated by nothing more than strength of numbers. Only then will your thoughts and decisions be your own, and only then will you have a hope in hell of discovering any genuine truth.
Seven or eight months ago, I abandoned Christianity, after being a Christian for many years. It was a decision that cost me dearly. Four close friends have exiled me from their lives, and two others can no longer see me due to their family’s intolerance. This all happened, not quite because I abandoned Christianity, but because I chose to speak out publicly about my reasons for doing so. Let’s not mince words: I expressed opinions that were anti-Christian.
Looking back, having learned a lot since my decision, I not only stand by it, but my stance has been greatly reinforced. There is not a single thing that lures me back to Christianity except the slight nagging fear of having made the wrong decision. I am fully aware that I am literally betting my life and soul that I’ve made the right choice. I take it very seriously, and only a fool wouldn’t.
In choosing to speak against Christianity, I caused great offense to some people, and it occurs to me now that I don’t think I ever made it clear why I was compelled to say the things I said. It could appear that I am full of venom, but that’s not the case.
When the teachings of Christianity tell me that I am going to hell, that provokes a response from me. I can either accept the Christian claim or reject it, and that rejection can take one of two forms:
1. I shrug my shoulders, walk away, and hope that hell doesn’t really exist.
2. I investigate the claim (with as little bias as possible) to be sure that I’ve made the right decision.
Response 1 would drive me mad, as I would end up constantly living in fear of being wrong. I would have to know for sure, just to put my mind at ease – or equally to lead me to embrace Christianity, should evidence present itself.
So I’ve done my homework. In fact, I’ve done twenty years of it; my relationship with Christianity goes way back. And now I don’t think Christianity is true. I don’t think there is such a place as hell. I don’t think people are damned until they discover “the way.” And I’m betting my life on it. What choice do I have? The choice between doing what I think it right, or giving in to an unjustified threat.
In saying such things, I realise I’m being very anti-Christian, but the thing I need to throw back at the Christians is this: you provoked it. I’m not trying to shift responsibility. What I’m saying is, you can’t threaten somebody and expect them to have no reaction to your threat. You can’t ask me to play Response 1, and simply say, “Gee, I hope what you’re saying isn’t true,” and nothing more.
Okay, maybe you won’t deny me the right to think what I choose to think, as long as I keep it to myself and don’t cause offense. That’s unfair for two very clear reasons.
Firstly, you’re saying you would prefer to relate to a false version of me, a politically correct projection that suits you but is nothing more than an illusion. What kind of a relationship is that? Wouldn’t you prefer me to be honest? Wouldn’t you prefer to know what I really think?
Secondly, you are expressing hypocritical double standards. How can you deny someone the right to say what they think is true (even when it offends), when you give yourself the right to express what you think is true (even when it offends)? If you’ve got the balls to say, “Buddy, you’re going to hell,” then I’ve got the balls to say, “No I’m not, and here’s why.” How can you be intolerant to criticism when you claim the right to criticise everyone else?
I don’t want to tar all Christians with the same brush. Some of my friends are Christians, and they’re still my friends, and we still have intelligent discussions without getting angry. My experience of losing friends has made me see that Christians are divided into two camps. I’m not sure what to call these groups, but I’ll wager the words “moderate” and “fundamentalist” are close labels. They are groups of mind and not of location, although I would say that certain churches fuel the fundamentalist mindset, whereas others fuel the moderate mindset.
I think the driving force behind the fundamentalist mindset is the ideal “I want to do God’s will. Whatever God says, I will do, and it doesn’t matter what you think or even what I think, only what God says.” This is rooted in an understanding of the supremacy of God and the perfection of the religious teachings. It sounds fine on the surface, until you try to put it into practice in a world full of differing beliefs. You give yourself permission to slam everyone else’s beliefs and you get angry at them for slamming your beliefs, but you still think that’s fair because you’re the one’s who’s on God’s side. The trouble is, often the opposition believes the same thing about themselves. This, I think, is the root cause of religious conflict, whether that conflict is as insignificant as an abandoned friendship or as devastating as a war.
The moderate Christian realises that when he gives himself permission to criticise someone else’s beliefs he must allow them to criticise his. This is nothing more than basic fair play, the understanding that we’re all equal. We don’t all start out with the same beliefs, so how can we live life with the constant expectation that everyone will see things the same way, accept as sacred the same things that we hold sacred? Ultimately, it is as simple as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This principle is recognised by athiest and Christian alike as the most beneficial way to relate to people, and the very fact that it is in the Bible should give the fundamentalist Christians pause to reconsider their tyrannical stance on the world around them.
I have my own imperfections and personal failures to deal with, too. I’ve been known to get a little upset at times – like when a fundamentalist makes snide remarks at me, or calls me stupid, or insinuates that I have some malevolent agenda. I don’t react well to character assassination. Understandable, you might think, but I should learn to simply accept the criticism without complaint. If that’s how a person feels about me, then I would rather have that raw honesty come out than have the experience of polite dishonesty or hidden fury. Let me have the truth, even if it stings. Mind you, the same fundamentalist will be completely mystified why I don’t feel any attraction to the sort of spirituality that leads him to express himself the way he does.
To the Christians who have stood by me, I’m glad of your continued friendship. I know you think I’m going to hell. That doesn’t bother me, because you have every right to believe what you want to believe. To those who are too offended by me to remain friends, I wish it wasn’t so, and I hope this essay helps you to understand why I’ve gone about things the way I have.
Bottom line: you can’t threaten somebody and expect them to take it lying down.
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.
I still feel disturbed by that meeting I had two days ago [see previous post]. It’s like a dark cloud hanging over me. I’m trying to get a handle on why, so that I can move past it.
The man I was talking with is actually the previous pastor of my church, under whose ministry I sat for years upon years of my life. And I wasn’t just a church-goer. I was in this guy’s life as a close friend and confidante for a long time. He was also like a mentor to me. We did grow apart to some extent at one point, because I stopped seeing life in quite the same way as him, even as a Christian. Although he stayed a part of my life even then, because I was friends with his son.
It was a hard experience having him speak angrily to me and condemn me. Hard because there’s still that suspicion in the back of my mind that he’s much older and wiser than me. Those memories are powerful. And combined with his reaction to me, the effect is a sort of irrational dread that tries to creep over me.
The easy thing to do would be to give in to it. To say, “I don’t want to go to hell! I believe! I believe!” I have to remind myself that all I’ve done for the past few months is I’ve followed what I believed to be true. The thing that some Christians can’t seem to understand is that sometimes people learn things that change them. This is true when you become a Christian in the first place, when you make the transition to turn from your sins and believe the Bible. For most people, this change is once only, and forever. I expected it to be that way with me, too, in the beginning. But it has been a rocky road, primarily because I have always been a thinker.
For instance, it doesn’t sit easy with me that the Old Testament God commanded his people at one time, “Thou shalt not kill,” then at another time, “Make sure you kill every, man, woman, child and infant of the Amalekites” (paraphrased from 1 Samuel 15). I use this example a lot when talking to Christians because it is the strongest example I know of the way they refuse to ackowledge serious problems in the Bible. The first hoop they usually jump through is to say, “God has the right to do whatever he wants.” That was never in question. I’m concerned that he appears to contradict his own law, on the most disturbing level. I mean, if I had to spend an afternoon putting a sword through little babies, just because God told me to, I imagine I would probably want to kill myself. Another hoop is to point out, “The Amalekites were an evil people, and God was using his people to judge them.” Those babies were thoroughly evil, huh? People are not evil because of the race into which they are born. All people are born the same. It’s our experience that determines what we become. Still another hoop is, “You’re judging the ancient world, which was a very different culture, by modern standards.” That might explain why the people dutifully accepted commiting this atrocity, but what we’re dealing with here is the law of God, and God is absolutely righteous and unchanging; culture doesn’t come into it. Finally, the Christian may concede and say, “We just don’t understand these things.” But I decided to say, “Hold on a minute. It just isn’t right to keep ignoring what this is actually saying forever.” And can you really condemn me for that?
We’ve got the more heartwarming story of Abraham and his son Isaac, where God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to him on an altar. At the last minute, while Abraham is literally holding the knife over his son, God intervenes and tells him to stop. Abraham’s obedience is tested to the ultimate standard, and the readers think, “We knew you weren’t really going to do it, Lord. We know you’re a loving God.” But we’re all too quick to put out of mind the harrowing story of 1 Samuel 15.
Am I against God? No, no, no! My point is, this isn’t the true God; it’s an illusion. The ancient world is filled with stories of cultures sacrificing animals (or people) to so-called gods. I don’t think the God of the Old Testament is any different. I mean, when you read the early books of the Bible, you learn that this religion demands the constant flow of animal blood. What on earth does the infinite, eternal, all-knowing, transcendent God need with the endless slaughter of animals, day in and day out, all year round? “A pleasing aroma to the Lord,” the Bible says. I’ve heard the usual Christian defence of this, of course, that it was a prophetic picture of the death of Christ, sacrificing his life for the sins of man. But that just doesn’t make sense. Millions upon millions of animals had to die over thousands of years for a mere metaphor?
I refuse to ignore these things any more. It’s like I said before. When you dare to deconstruct your belief system and re-examine it without any emotional attachment to it, it all starts to look very different. I can choose to bravely face the implications of this new awareness, or I can cower away because I’m afraid of what people will think of me if I step away from the herd. Likewise, I can be afraid of some eternal punishment on the shaky grounds thats it might be true. It’s one thing to warn someone of an actual, real threat, but another to manufacture the reality of a threat by using a warning.
The pressure to conform never hit me so strongly as it did two days ago, when I was confronted by the pastor and his wife. But I see it for what it is: manipulation through fear. We’re not allowed to make our own minds up. In essence, it’s like a voice in my head saying, “Forget what you’ve learned, Darryl. Forget all your objections and be afraid. Believe what they tell you, because you might be wrong. And if you’re wrong, you’ll end up in hell. Believe in Christianity, Darryl. It doesn’t matter about all that horrific stuff that doesn’t make sense. Don’t think. Just be safe and snug. Take the easy way out and believe.”
I have no doubt that the pastor and his wife would be delighted if I did exactly that. How many Christians actually care why a person believes, just as long as he believes? And they say Christianity isn’t mind-control. Am I going too far? Well, let’s look at how Christianity advances. We have a society today that, in general, doesn’t believe in Christianity, and hasn’t got much of a clue about the Bible. So we assert that the Bible is the word of God, and we present its message, which is essentially, “You didn’t realise this, but God actually holds all your ‘sins’ against you. You are condemned to go to hell when you die. But there is a way out. Turn from your sinful ways and believe that Jesus sacrificed his life to pay the penalty for your sins.” We tell this to our children from a young age, rarely encouraging them to question its validity. This is how Christian families are perpetuated from one generation to the next. “The Bible is the word of God” – that’s the great assumption of our lives, and the starting point we want our children to cling to. Let’s face it, few of us are scholars. I once read a portion of a book on the reliability of these 2,000-year-old manuscripts that we call the New Testament, and the whole topic got so complex that I didn’t know what to think. You’ve either got to assume you’re dealing with the word of God, or not. But if it’s all based on an assumption, how can you condemn someone for choosing a different assumption? Or how do you spread the Christian message to the world when people in general no longer assume the Bible is the word of God? Answer: you use fear. You tell them that the consequences of not believing you are so dire that they must believe. Forget the question of whether it’s true or not – just believe. I ask you, does that sound reasonable?
I hear this all the time from Christians: “I believe the Bible is the word of God.” Well, why do you believe the Bible is the word of God? I don’t believe the Bible is the word of God. And I’ve got reasons for not believing, some of which I mentioned earlier. I actually don’t have a problem with anyone who wants to believe in the Bible. They’re free to believe anything they want to believe. You won’t hear me shouting threats at people, or hanging them out to dry, because they want to believe something different from me. Unfortunately, Christians not only say, “I believe the Bible is the word of God.” They add, “And you too must believe.” In my experience, some Christians will respect a person enough to try and find out where he’s coming from, and to coach him with reasonable arguments towards what they believe. Others don’t care what you believe and just want to metaphorically slap you across the face with “Turn or burn!” My stance is, if all you’ve got behind this is an assumption, you can’t expect the rest of the world to fall into line and see reality as you do. And yet some of my Christian friends will insist on condemning me and holding our friendship to ransom on the condition that I see life in the same way.
This matter of “assumptions” is equally true of me with my belief that we are all one consiousness. I can’t prove it to anyone. And I only “feel” it to be true intuitively. I talk about it because it’s a way of looking at life that helped me be more compassionate to others. And I’m hoping this may be interesting to others who are open to the idea of intuitive knowledge – knowledge that comes from within, from a higher aspect of our consiousness, rather than from our observations on the world around us.
The experience two days ago was actually slightly scary to behold. I realised that the minds of these people had been utterly absorbed by a complex and rigid belief system that was in total control of their actions. And their belief system is just one of countless factions of Christianity – which is why I’m experiencing more tolerant reactions from other Christians. The experience scared me, because I realised I was looking at something that wasn’t so different, in principle, from the religious extremism of the Middle East. I saw that these people would do whatever the word of God (or their interpretation of the word of God) told them to do, no matter what the consequences to those around them. In this instance, the consequence was their denial of me as a friend. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if their own son ever decided to change his worldview. Would they break their own hearts and insist that he move out of the house on principle? I had the scary realisation, “I really don’t know what these people are capable of.” And I’ll never forget that.
As for me, I intend to continue being the open-minded, caring, spiritual person that I am, open to new information, wary of manipulation, always searching for the truth about life. All I can say to the Christians who now find me unacceptable is, “I’m doing what I believe to be right. This is me. Take it or leave it.”
I’ve just had a pretty harrowing evening. A Christian man and wife in their fifties/sixties recently discovered my change in belief. I knew it was only a matter of time before they found out. I didn’t want them to remain in the dark indefinitely, but I’ve been dreading this day, because I know how hardcore they are about their faith.
So I called round to their house to talk it through with them. It didn’t go well. They believe I have committed apostasy, that I have “rejected the saviour.” It doesn’t matter that in my mind I haven’t rejected anyone. All I’ve done is changed my mind about what I believe is real. You can ask me, “Do you deny that Jesus is the son of God?” How can I deny something that isn’t even a reality to me, because I question the reliability of the documents that explain this person to me? Yet the idea that I have rejected an actual person is what will be imposed upon me, because they will only see it from their point of view.
They listened to me for a while. And they got their own concerns off their chest, too. It was mainly prophecies of doom upon my life, and the heavy suspicion that I had never been a true Christian in the first place. Furthermore, I’m no longer welcome at their house, nor do they want me to maintain a friendship with their twenty-two-year-old son, whom I’m quite close to, in case I lead him into deception. How about the idea of respecting his ability make up his own mind about what he hears? That doesn’t come into it, apparently. I left with a heavy heart, and feeling like I had been poisoned.
I also saw how real this was to them. The lady even wept slightly during the proceedings, so I know there is real love for me in these people, but they have lived so much of their lives within Christianity (or their particular Calvinistic brand of it) that it appears impossible for them react any other way than they did. And yet it’s the most bizarre kind of love. The underlying attitude seems to be, “I love you, but I must reject you. You are only acceptable to me if you believe what I believe.” Or, “I love you, but I must hang you out to dry.”
As fate would have it, a few weeks ago I bumped into the very guy who led me to Christ when I was seventeen. Hadn’t seen him in many, many years; he lives in England but was back here for a visit. This guy’s Christian faith has been a rocky road, like mine. Many years ago, in an email, he admitted to me that he was gay. And, you know, it was great to actually have the chance to tell him in person, “I just don’t care. You’re all right by me.” To allow myself to empathise with what he has had to go through and to express true unconditional love – not the love that says, “I love you but I don’t accept you.”
As for me, the experience this evening only reinforces my views about religion, and the problems with accepting any rigid belief system that tells you what you’re supposed to think en masse. The craziness of the extreme reaction to me is illustrated by the simple fact that I’m the same guy I always was. Better, morally, than I’ve ever been. To some extent, it’s even true to say that I was living a double life as a Christian, and for the first time in I don’t know how many years, I’m now the same person in private that I am in public. What’s a guy to do with that reality except embrace it?
Trapped in a lonely body
I’m losing control
Can’t show my emotions
And I’m losing my soul
Could it be that I’m obsessed
With feeding my disease?
I couldn’t make it known
The hidden things that no one sees
I’m a secret loser
I’m a secret loser
Seeing is not believing
It don’t mean a thing
Although it appears to be that
The loser is king
I can understand that what you see
You think is real
But underneath the surface
Is a wound that cannot heal
Those are some of the words to “Secret Loser” by Ozzy Osbourne, which is the song that came immediately to mind regarding the topic I want to discuss. Anybody feeling any sense of kinship with old Oz here? I sure am, and I’ll bet a lot of you are, too.
In the last post, I touched briefly on how my new spiritual views provided a pespective that made it easier to love other people. But what about that other side of morality, where it’s not a case of how our actions affect others, but how our actions affect ourselves. We all have our “secret sins,” things we do (or even just things we think) in private that the world doesn’t see – things that fill us with a sense of shame and guilt, and even the feeling at times that we’re living a double life. Is anyone empathising with this? I’ve had plenty of intimate conversations over the years on this topic, and I know I’m not alone. Last year, at school, I even dared to give a talk on the subject of “vice” to the eleven- and twelve-year-olds at Scripture Union. It made me nervous, because I personalised it. Especially nervous, because a couple of teachers decided to sit in during that particular session. At the end, to my surprise and delight, the teachers expressed how brilliant they thought the talk was.
What’s clear to me is that everybody’s suffering here. And if anyone has some information that can help people, it should be expressed, and not hidden out of a fear of condemnation by people you assume to be better than you. It’s a big relief when you realise we’re all swimming in the same sewer.
The Christian idea that we possess a sinful nature (or “the flesh,” as some Bible translations phrase it) is what once allowed me to put some substance around why human beings have this perverse streak. We have a predisposition towards evil, it seems. Right now, though, I find myself questioning the validity of that, for several reasons. Firstly, I asked myself, can evil behaviour be put down to a combination of free will, bad decision-making, outlook on life, upbringing, environment, education, indoctrination, etc? In other words, are your problems with sin down to a combination of things you’ve done to yourself and things that have been done to you? Does man necessarily have to be rotten at his core? Secondly, I asked myself, has the belief in a sinful nature helped or harmed my ability to better myself?
Rather than give definitive answers to those questions, I would rather let you ponder them (heh-heh, there’s a handy way to curtail another blazing argument). Instead, what I want to do is present a different way of looking at things that certainly has helped me lately.
What is it that prevents us from being as bad as we could be? I think the main motivator is the realisation of consequences. I don’t mean fear of consequences; I’m choosing my words carefully here. We restrain ourselves from doing evil to another person because we know that what we do will hurt them, and we possess empathy with the victims of ours actions. Of course, not all of us choose the path of good; I’m just illustrating how I think the anatomy of the conscience works. There’s an interesting movie called Equilibrium, starring Christian Bale, about a future society where mankind is drugged 24/7 into a condition where they can no longer feel anything, because (according to the movie) evil is caused by our ability to feel. A disturbing kind of peace reigns supreme – except when someone decides he doesn’t want to take the drug anymore. Then he is mercilessly killed by the authorities. The philosophy of the movie gets a little messed up in places, but you can make interesting observations watching it. Principally, it’s not the ability to feel that makes you evil; it’s the absense of feeling that makes you capable of doing anything to anyone! Empathy is the key.
But sometimes we are put into a moral arena where empathy towards others doesn’t even come into the picture. When you’re sitting alone in front of your computer with a box of Kleenex at hand, feeling the temptation towards wrongdoing, your actions are affecting no one but youself. It gets worse when you can’t even see any real consequences for yourself. I’m still alive, still healthy; I haven’t been struck down by God; everything’s okay, despite how often I’ve gone through the neverending cycle of guilt and repentance. What I’m saying is, it’s very hard to stop yourself from giving in to temptation when you can’t see any permanent consequences. The mere knowledge or feeling that it’s wrong doesn’t seem to be enough. Even grasping an awareness that it’s an offense to God doesn’t seem to be enough. The only consequences appear to be feelings of guilt and shame that will dissipate in a short while. If that’s what it means to possess a “sinful nature,” then I would say yes, I possess a sinful nature.
But that’s as far as it goes with me. It is too easy to let this belief in a sinful nature cloud your mind into believing that you will never overcome the vices you want to overcome. Recently, and for maybe the first time in my life, I have found that when I’ve opened my mind to some different ideas, I have changed remarkably for the better. I’ll try and communicate these ideas.
You can overcome personal evil because there actually are consequences. I just wasn’t fully clued into them until recently. Everything is consciousness. Consciousness and energy are the same thing. When you think something, you either create positive or negative energy, and that energy has a direct and immediate effect on you. This is why we can feel literally sick our stomach by something we’ve done. All negative thought creates a negative imbalance within you. The worst aspect of it is that like attracts like. This is true on the physical level with the types of people who gravitate towards us, and I suspect equally true on the spiritual level with what sort of entities gravitate into our lives. Yes, I am talking about demonic influence and oppression. What we do on the physical level has a massive impact on the hidden spiritual reality all around us. Our actions, and more importantly our very thoughts, affect our spiritual/emotional/phsyical balance – the whole of our being, because everything about us is interconnected. That imbalance can be subtle or great. The important thing to realise is that the imbalance is happening, and it doesn’t have to happen. This is the knowledge that helped me to get my feet planted firmly in the right direction and to stop playing with darkness.
For me, forgiveness from sin doesn’t really come into the equation. I’m actually concerned that the awareness of being able to claim forgiveness after I’ve committed a wrong will encourage me to get away with doing that wrong, time and time again. I’m also concerned that constantly feeling guilty before God is so detrimental to self-esteem that it often keeps me locked in a self-destructive attitude. I think I’ve fallen into these states of mind plenty of times. Now, I feel a greater ability to pursue good when I embrace the idea that it’s all up to me, and when I shun the idea that I’m being stared at with a disapproving gaze by God. Dropping all that baggage, it comes down to this: I can choose to keep harming myself and face the consequences in my life, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and in every other way, or I can get my act together.
And I have got my act together. Gone are the little voices that say things like, “I’ll never overcome this”; “I’m such a disappointment to God”; “People would hate me if they really knew what I was like.” I’ve discovered that I can, and have, overcome my personal vices. I don’t think I’m a disappointement to God because I don’t live with the reality of a God who holds everyone to account for everything they do. And some people probably would hate me if they knew what I had been like, but any lack of understanding they might have towards me is no concern of mine, because I’m overcoming my problems and forgiving myself for what I’ve done; I know what I am and I like what I am.
The key to overcoming evil (overcoming moral imbalance, which is what it really is) is to promote balance within yourself, in every way you can. Learn to see this as the most vital thing you can do. Start disciplining your own thoughts. Take your mind away from negative thoughts and intentions as soon as they occur. I think we’ve been conditioned to think that it’s normal to have good and bad days – days when you’re on a bit of a downer for no good reason. Total nonsense. There’s no reason at all why we can’t live lives that are characterised by emotional, spiritual, physical and moral balance. We just haven’t prioritised it. Realise that there is much that you can do to maintain balance within yourself. Part of that means embracing a healthy lifestyle, choosing not to eat all the crap we’ve been led to believe is a normal diet. Health on the physical level and health on the spiritual and emotional levels are all connected; feel unhealthy and you will feel emotionally imbalanced. Everybody has experienced that, right? When you feel sick, it’s a short step to feeling depressed. Sometimes promoting balance in your life can be as simple as going for a walk to clear your head. What I’m saying is, start to see the importance of these things and how they relate to all parts of you, including your morality. A person with a balanced life feels no inclincation to give in to negative impulses. In short, if you’re a mess in other areas of your life, don’t expect to be healthy morally.
I don’t know if anyone feels any kind of resonance with what I’m saying. All I know is, this way of looking at life feels real to me, and the actual benefits it has brought to my life are very real. Aspects of what I’ve said are certainly compatible with Christianity, and possibly I should have been able to implement them into my life effectively as a Christian. All I know is that I couldn’t, not for all the years I’ve been a Christian. According to a poll conducted by ChristiaNet.com, 50% of Christian men are addicted to pornography. I say that without any condemnation, only with empathy. I feel that I’ve now found a greater measure of understanding that I only possessed in a half measure as a Christian. I feel like I’ve found the truth that really has set me free.