Tag Archives: Inspiration

Can you handle reality?

I came across a photograph of an emaciated, defenceless infant being cruelly stood upon by a man. One foot was planted on the child’s neck and the other on his pelvis. The boy appeared to be alive, judging by the expression of agony on his face. I don’t want to share the photo because I think some will find it unbearable. So I will settle for putting an image in your mind with words.

But I must ask myself (and so should you), what does this picture tell me about REALITY? It says that the world is a wild animal park, that there is no one “above” looking out for us, that a successful life involves some degree of pure luck, no matter how much effort we put into it.

I could tell myself that there’s a God who cares for me, but I know I’d be lying. If God values my life and happiness, why does he not value this child’s? I could tell myself that it’s not God’s fault; the evil was done by the man crushing the boy. But I’m deliberately forgetting that God is all-powerful, because I love him and want to let him off the hook. Who am I kidding?

The next time you thank God for his blessings upon you, spare a thought for this child, and ask  yourself why you don’t hate God. I don’t hate him, because I know he is an invention. I choose not to believe in a divine parent, because reality teaches his absense. This is only unclear if we bury our heads in the sand. I prefer a life without comforting illusions, because those illusions only work until they are tested by reality. Sometimes reality is comfortable and sometimes it is horrific. To believe that God orchestrates it all is to make God a monster.

No. The world is a wild animal park; it’s that simple. Any genuine and lasting spirituality must be grounded in reality, not in wishful thinking. Initially, it may feel like staring into an abyss, but if you look hard enough, you’ll eventually find treasure. I wish I could explain it all with a handy anecdote, but real spiritual insight is a lot harder than “Believe in me”. Reality invites you to gaze upon her without averting your eyes. That’s as good as starting point as any, but can you handle it?

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Unmasking the nature of reality

[A Christian friend recently asked me, “What is it that you believe now?” Tough question to give a short answer to. I could say, “I believe I am everything that exists, experiencing a state of separation from the full magnitude of what I am.” Or I could say, “The universe is holographic in nature, like the Star Trek holodeck or The Matrix.” I’ve tried those kinds of answers and I’ve seen eyebrows raise in an expression of bewilderment that seems to communicate, “How on earth did Darryl go from believing in Christ to this bizarre nonsense?” For what it’s worth, I’m going to try and guide you step by step into my headspace.]

What is the true underlying nature of reality? What is my place in it? Does my life have meaning, or am I a cosmic accident? Are the answers to these questions found in religion, or is science where the real enlightenment lies? Is it even possible to know? What chance do I have of finding out? And where the hell do I even begin?

The first step is a willingness to unlearn what you’ve been taught, or more appropriately, what you’ve been conditioned to believe all your life. With hundreds of belief systems on Earth, the chances of you inheriting the right one, by virtue of geographical placement, are miniscule. If you were born in America, is Christianity true by virtue of the number of people around you who believe in it, or the number of times its ideas are repeated to you? If you were born in Iraq, is Islam true for the same reasons? Look around the world and you will find countless differing religions, each one confident of its superiority over all others, one generation indoctrinating the next. The thing that so few people dare to do is to step outside of the zeitgeist – the spirit of the age. But it’s what you have to do if you want to discover the real truth. No belief should ever be so sacred that we are not permitted to look critically at it and assess its worth.

The zeitgeist is not only religious in nature, but also infiltrates the arena of science. Science is concerned with what is definable and measurable. It’s all about weighing evidence and making rational deductions. When there is no evidence for something, it will not become a scientific fact. That is why science has little or nothing to say about ideas like God, or the soul, or the afterlife. And that’s fair. Those things seem to be outside the scope of measurement. I would guess this is why many scientists are atheists. They have decided that if there is no evidence for something, then they have no business believing in it. But therein lies the trap. Absence of proof is not necessarily proof of absence. And although science prides itself on making no assumptions, the entire discipline hangs on one colossal assumption – that the physical universe is the cornerstone from which we do our thinking. Matter is what matters. But if we’re willing to look closely at the presuppositions that shape our thinking, we might discover that we’ve been making deductions using the wrong set of presuppositions – that we have been unwary victims of the zeitgeist. One of the most important things I figured out was that the proper starting point for rational thought is not observation of the physical universe; first and foremost, it is observation of our own self-awareness, as I will attempt to show.

Having unlearned (or at least temporarily shelved) everything taught or imposed upon me by science and religion, I begin with the knowledge that I am a conscious being. I am self-aware. Let’s not even assume that I am a body. First and foremost, I am self-awareness. It appears that I have eyes with which to see and ears with which to hear. Five senses in total, allowing me to receive information from outside of myself. But already I’m making too many assumptions. Do I really see with my eyes? No. On closer inspection, my eyes receive information, convert it into electrical signals, and pass these to the visual cortex at the back of my brain. I see with my visual cortex, experiencing a bright world of colour and motion inside the absolute darkness of my skull, which no actual light can penetrate. If I pick up a pencil, I feel the pressure of it in my fingers. But I don’t, really. The nerves in my fingers transmit signals back to my brain, and my brain tells me that my fingers are touching something. Meanwhile, my eyes relay signals to my brain, showing me visual information about the object I’m touching. The principle to remember here is that you cannot get beyond your brain in order to prove the existence of the physical world. All the information is second hand.

Perhaps you think it should be taken as a given that the physical universe exists, by virtue of the rich and repetitive nature of our perceptions. But let’s remember that every night in bed we experience a five-sense environment in our dreams. Dreams are so lifelike that we usually believe them to be real for the duration of their experience, yet they have no physical substance. When we are awake and when we are dreaming, it is our consciousness that does the perceiving, not our physical senses. In truth, when we awake, we simply have no way of knowing whether we are connecting to a real physical universe, or merely a longer dream – one whose rules are more concrete, perhaps because it is a dream-world held together by the collective unconscious of the all those who share it. Either paradigm is possible, and neither provable.

We are perceivers and we can never get past our perceptions to discover the actuality of the universe. You can look out of the window and say, “The grass is green.” Are you sure? Did you ever consider that a cat or a lizard might see the grass in a different manner, since the structure of their eyes are quite different from a human’s. What right have I to say, “The universe really is the way I see it,” when I am perceiving the universe through the machinery of my body. Consider the bat, which is almost blind and much more reliant on a form of radar. Or the dog, who experiences an exotic realm of smells that we humans can barely imagine. Bodies are biological machines that perceive the universe in differing ways. The grass is only green when the body-machine interprets the data it receives in a certain manner.

We cannot be certain what the actuality of the universe is; we can only see it through our own particular lens. We can’t even know that the universe is genuinely physical in nature. Consider the analogy of the modern videogame. We can take part in adventures across city-sized maps, with amazingly detailed roads, buildings, and countless nooks and crannies for exploration. We can make our game character turn his head in any direction and watch the real-world laws of geometry playing out in two-dimensional space on the flatness of our television screens, beaming out texture, light and shadow. Once, I had a moment of clarity when I stood on a hillside, gazing down through the trees at a lake and a castle on the opposite side (in a game, that is). It was a picturesque scene, and in the real world it might have made me reach for my camera. And I thought, “No one else has stood on this precise spot and looked down the hill at this exact angle. Not even the game’s creators. The game is just too vast.” It struck me as profound that something so artistic – something that was just for me in this moment – could spring to life from nothing more than a rapid series of mathematical equations being processed inside my computer. In videogames we experience an interactive world of sight, sound and touch – a limited but spectacularly detailed facsimile of the physical world. The big question, then, is this: if we mere mortals are able to create this 3D experience inside a computer, have we any business assuming that our universe is truly 3D in its deepest essence, in its actuality? The three-dimensionality of a videogame is nothing more than binary ones and zeros flowing through electrical circuits, and yet the laws of physics in a game are as solid and dependable as the laws of physics in the real world. A game’s vistas, although not nearly as detailed as the real world, use the same mathematics of geometry, the same understanding of light and shadow. Put simply: the universe is made of mathematics.

Some people simply will not enter into this manner of thinking, because it seems repugnant that the universe should be telling us fibs about itself. But this is exactly what has already happened and continues to happen. Without any knowledge of astronomy and geometry, we started off believing the Earth was flat. Why? Because our experience told us it was flat. The human form is so tiny in relation to the magnitude of the Earth that we have no conscious awareness of moving over a curved surface as we go from place to place. Only when we started getting our heads around geometry, and noticing things like how the stars travel up the sky as we move towards them, could we begin to deduce that we were sitting on a big ball. When a cat sees its reflection in a mirror for the first time, it thinks it is looking at another cat, one that mimics its every move – until it learns to see through the lie. We’ve invented the hologram – images that stand out from their photographic paper screaming, “I have substance!” Yet wave your hand through one and there’s nothing there. The key question is whether you want to trust your experience or try to see the bigger picture.

The universe lies until you figure out the lies. Its purpose is not to tell you its innermost secrets. Its purpose is to provide consciousness with an experience. It is up to us to probe its nature, except most of us have been doing so from the wrong standpoint. We’ve assumed that it’s all real, when that realness – that three-dimensionality – may be nothing more than a stream of data, a matrix, a frequency to which our consciousness is tuned. Is Betelgeuse six hundred light-years away from Earth, or is it sitting right next to us, just another point on the data stream?

You may ask, “What difference does it make which view I take? Life is the same either way.” On the contrary, life is vastly different. If we use the physical universe as the cornerstone of our rational thinking, we can easily lose sight of the importance of our own self-awareness. When you look in at yourself from the outside, through the eyes of science, and you begin to understand the brain, the tendency is to explain away your own consciousness in purely physical terms – as if your consciousness is little more than a computer program performing a task. And yes, there is something very computer-like about our minds. All creatures, humans included, possess behaviour patterns: appetite, sexuality, testosterone, predatory instincts, maternal and paternal inclinations, etc. These things, and more, make us predictable to a certain extent. Similarly, a computer programmer can create an autonomous game character, imbue him with behaviour patterns, and place him into the game environment, where he will interact with it and behave as if he is self-aware. However, you would never say that such a character is genuinely self-aware. And yet you know that you are, in a manner that transcends any form of artificial intelligence. Science has never distinguished mind from self-awareness. The two are not the same. Mind is a brain-based faculty used by self-awareness. Science has fundamentally lost touch with the wonder of consciousness that we all experience. It has no place for such a thing because it cannot seem to grasp it and measure it. “No,” says science, “you cannot be immaterial consciousness interfacing with a brain. You’re just a brain.” And yet, where is this thing called self-awareness on any map of the brain? Nowhere to be found.

If you start from the deeper standpoint of using self-awareness as the cornerstone of your thinking, you end up with a vastly different perspective on the universe. For a start, the one thing you can be sure of is that you exist. As Rene Descarte said, “I think, therefore I am.” Everything else is under suspicion, because everything else is a perception. What this means is, if you want to believe in a physical universe, you have to take it on trust. If you want to believe it’s all a matrix, you have to take it on trust. In this predicament, what do you do with the scientific approach, when you suddenly realise you can’t use it to get anywhere? My answer to that is you use an almost forgotten little thing called intuition.

What do you sense the truth to be? The two most fundamental questions you should ask yourself are “What am I?” and “Where I am?” In my experience, asking those questions starts you on a wonderful journey of self-discovery that brings an end all to the bewilderment of living in the zeitgeist. For the scientifically minded person, the understanding that consciousness transcends matter opens up the genuine possibility of life after death and the mystery of whether our physical birth was really the beginning of our life. For the religious among us, it presents spirituality free from imposed dogmas that must never be questioned. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

(I recommend watching the following documentary for an easy-to-understand visual look at the nature of reality.)

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My perspective on life in Northern Ireland

Sometimes I hear local people talking about what a dump our area (Portadown & Craigavon) is. True, there’s graffiti sprinkled here and there, and you’ll encounter the occasional abandoned housing estate that looks like a set from Escape from New York. But there’s another side to living here that makes it a wonderful place be. And I imagine this applies to the majority of places in Northern Ireland. Sadly, the good side often goes unnoticed, for want of simply turning off the TV and getting on a bicycle or going for a walk. Living here can be a real feast for the eyes, if only we would open our eyes.

On Sunday afternoon I packed a camcorder and went out on my bicycle. I travelled no more than three or four miles from home (from Killicomaine to Craigavon Lakes), photographing anything that caught my eye. Sadly, I ran out of battery before I ran out of things I wanted to film.

So here’s a brief snapshot of the natural beauty of Northern Ireland without any special effects or filters. This is where I live, and this is why I have no desire to leave …

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The inexorable oil crisis: Reasons to be glad

I saw a documentary recently called A Crude Awakening, where a bunch of experts said what they thought about oil. Documentaries tend to have an agenda, so you’ve got to be cautious about what you take from them. In the 1970s, scientists worried over the coming of a new ice age; now it’s global warming. As for oil, the experts seem to think that it’s all going to be gone in the next twenty years.

I’m not going to get too attached to specific projections, but there are certain inescapable facts we can take away from a documentary like this. The main one is: it doesn’t matter when the oil’s going to run out, it is going to run out. Oil is a limited resource. It doesn’t matter how many new repositories we discover, there can only be so many. Whether we use it all up in twenty years or a hundred, one day it will be gone. And the human race will be in big trouble. And I can’t help but smile.

You see, I don’t like the way the world is. On a simple practical level, as a cyclist, I hate these lethally fast, carbon-monoxide spewing, four-wheeled metal monsters that I share road-space with. I can’t help but smile at the thought of oil prices rising and rising, as oil becomes less and less available, while our pay checks stay the same. Eventually, I think people will have to consider bicycles, as it will simply be too expensive to drive. Flying somewhere on holiday may become a luxury that only the elite can afford.

I’ve been a fan of the idea of the electric car, but this documentary gave me a new perspective on that. With electric, there’s no longer any need for petrol, so that solves the immediate oil crisis problem, but all we’ve done is transfer the demand for the needed energy to our home electricity supply. And where does that come from, in the majority of cases? Electricity power plants based on non-renewable fossil fuels: coal. The electric car is also almost as much a pollutant as the regular car. It’s just that the pollution is all spewed out at the power plants instead of distributed evenly across the country via the tailpipes of millions of cars.

Even nuclear power isn’t the answer to the oil crisis. I personally hate nuclear power because of the deadly waste product it generates and our need to store it somewhere safe on our very unsafe planet. But even if I could get my head around that objection, nuclear power depends on – surprise, surprise – a limited, non-renewable source: uranium. And when it’s gone, it’s gone forever. So, with nuclear power, all we’re doing is pushing “The End” forward another by another few years, and not very many years according to the documentary.

They say there’s no way to build enough wind turbines to serve entire countries, in keeping with the energy consumption that we’re used to. Solar panels are very expensive to buy, in comparison to the small amount of the energy they generate. The bottom line is, the oil is going to run out, and there is nothing to replace it with. The modern world is living in a state of addiction to a drug, and someday the dealer isn’t going to have any more product. When that happens, we’re all going to experience withdrawal symptoms. No more long-distance travel. No more import-export trade. No more plastics. The impact sounds monumental, but it will likely happen in stages. Everything will simply start to get more and more expensive, and we will lose our privileges by degrees.

But you know what? It’s absolutely fine by me. Funny, even. I have grown to care a great deal about the environment, and it’s heartwarming to know that man can’t keep doing what he’s doing to the world, in the name of expedience and big business, indefinitely. The means of his destructiveness will run out and the earth will recover. I would love to see the roof of my home decked out with a big solar array, and a wind turbine blowing in the garden, while I learn to live a simpler life (something I’ve already started doing in many ways). Mankind lived for thousands of years just fine before the invention of electricity. We’ll never have to go back to that, but we won’t be able to enjoy anywhere near the level or energy we’re used to. I can’t help but think that in several hundred years time, our children might be sitting in schools having history lessons about the horrors 20th and 21st centuries. And they will be shaking their heads in disbelief at the things we’ve done to the planet in our pursuit of wealth and affluence. “Yes, children. In some population centres there were so many motor vehicles causing so much pollution that entire cities became encased in a smog that was so dense you could photograph it. The smog made it more difficult to breathe and caused illness. But people thought this was normal life, and they refused to change.” And the children will gasp in disbelief. People don’t accept their personal responsibility for the planet’s welfare when they see themselves as one among billions. But when all those billions are spewing out pollution, we are indeed all collectively responsible. There’s a saying that I love: No snowflake in an avalanche ever felt responsible.

I understand the predicament people are in. Not everyone is free and single like me. Not everyone works within two miles of their home. Not everyone can say, like me, “Screw cars. I’m gonna ride a bicycle from now on.” Not everyone feels they can change. But the change is coming. And I think that’s great. You can cling to the present system tooth and nail, feeding your oil addiction while the government makes you poorer and poorer through rising prices, until finally you are broke and beaten; the oil is gone and your money is in the hands of the fat cats. Or you can look for ways to beat the system and turn it into personal empowerment.

Of course, the discovery of alternative energy isn’t something that I can completely write off, and it’s certainly something to hope for. The past hundred years have seen massive technological leaps, and I think we can expect more. It’s only fair to say that change of one kind or another is coming, and none of it looks bad to me. The sooner the better, for the sake of the health of the planet and ourselves. To quote a song by REM: “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

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Overcoming the fear of hell

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.”

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Turning Hyde back into Jekyll, permanently

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

Yeah, loser
I’m a secret loser
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.

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Salvation, damnation, and alternative information – the rewrite

The pen is mightier than the sword, they say. Words certainly do have power. And that power has to be wielded carefully. I discovered that when my original version of this post (and to some extent the whole direction of my blog over the past few months) cost me the friendship of someone I’ve been close to for about fifteen years. With that in mind, let me attempt a more personal and respectful rewrite of some of what I was trying to convey …

When you’re in a situation like I’ve been in for the past few months, where you sense your Christian faith changing into something else, there’s a certain degree of nervousness about the experience, because part of you is wondering if you’re damning your soul to hell. The Christian message is pretty clear. Entrance to heaven requires faith in Jesus. Ultimately, though, I feel I need to take a deep breath and remember that fear is not a particularly healthy motivator. When I first became a Christian, aged seventeen, there was a certain amount of fear that spurred me into the necessity of taking action, but in fairness my decision to become a Christian was really grounded in the idea that God is all wise and his way is therefore the right way, regardless of what I might want to do with my life. I have to say, to the credit of my Christian friends who are debating with me out of great concern at the moment, none of them have tried to scare me back into believing with a “big stick.” Instead, they have sought to reason with me. Jesus, too, when he was on earth, did not use a kind of all-encompassing fear-mongering; if you read the Gospels carefully, you will see a great variety of actions that Jesus used, depending on whom he was talking to.

So, taking all this into account, I think it’s important for me not to give into fear. If I should return to Christianity in time, it should be because I have become convinced of its validity, and for that reason alone. So, my reaction to my current situation is: take a deep breath, don’t be scared, be wary of those who would control by fear, and above all keep thinking.

One reason why it’s very difficult for me to believe in hell is because my parents aren’t/weren’t Christians. I lost my mother to cancer three years ago. She made no claim to being a Christian during her life, and I only worked up the courage to talk to her about it when she was on her death-bed, drifting in and out of consciousness on morphine. I only got a couple of minutes of lucidity from her while I was talking and she gave me a vaguely positive reaction, but nothing that I could hang my hat on and say, “My mother is saved.” You would think this uncertainty would have played on my mind. It didn’t – at all. The bottom line in all this is that I am psychologically incapable of believing my mother is in hell. That is evidenced by how easily I can talk about it. The idea of hell just doesn’t compute – that this precious person who loved me so completely throughout her life is now suffering in eternal torment. We are connected to people we love in ways that make facing a reality like this so utterly horrible that it becomes simply unreal. And I will face the same thing again with my dad in the not too distant future.

I have to admit to feeling a certain amount of relief that, with my current mindset, I don’t feel I need to warn my dad about that he is (hypothetically) facing fire and brimstone. I’ve always been uncomfortable, as a Christian, with the idea that I should impose the way I see life upon others, with warnings of a dire future, when I’ve never really been one hundred percent certain that Christianity is the true way and that any such grim reality truly insists. I have memories of taking part in missionary activities and feeling uncomfortable about what I was doing in a way that I think goes beyond mere nerves.

Let me be clear about what I’m not saying. I haven’t stepped back from Christianity because I don’t like the idea of hell. I’ve stepped back from it because I see major problems with it. Letting go of the belief in hell is just a major plus for me emotionally, as a result.

In the absense of Christianity, I’ve been looking to a different view of life; considering evil not as a thing to be punished but as an imbalance to be balanced; seeing forgiveness not as something which we should withhold until certain conditions are met, but something which can be given freely by just letting go of any requirement to make the offender pay, whether that requirement is as simple as “Say you’re sorry!” or as drastic as “You should be made the pay for what you did! They should lock you up and throw away the key!” It’s a breath of fresh air for me to realise that I don’t have to embrace the vengeful negativity that I’ve been conditioned to think is normal.

I believe we are all aspects of infinite consciousness. We are all connected to each other, part of the whole that is Creation or God. And the only motivation that makes any sense at all in this view of life is love.

Let’s use a radical example. Someone murders your brother. You feel that he should pay. The police catch him and he is convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. You’re satisfied that he got what he deserved. This is the view that is typical of us when we see ourselves as disconnected from each other. But if you can believe that we’re not disconnected from each other, that we are all unique parts of the same whole, the situation looks radically different. When you understand that from a wider perspective he is you and you are him, the only reaction that makes any sense is love.

Am I saying that all criminals should be let out of the prisons to run amok? Of course not. What I’m saying is that it’s one thing to incarcerate a person for the protection of society and it’s another thing to do it to punish him. Ideas like punishment and retribution make no sense when you are motivated by the desire to help everybody. Yes, even the scum of the earth. The Christian ideal also agrees with the sentiment I’m proposing: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.” But what I’m suggesting is that I’ve found an underlying understanding that makes this kind of love possible.

I don’t believe I need to find salvation. I don’t think there is anything to be saved from. I believe the answer is to transform our understanding, then we’ll start realising our potential for goodness and love. For instance, the person who understands that he is infinite consciousness won’t be trapped in materialism, will not be greedy for wealth, and is very unlikely to end up a thief. This life is just a tiny little ride on the vast plain of eternity. When you understand that, so many negative motivations lose their hold over you. On the flipside, a person who lives with the understanding that death is the end is so much more susceptible to this negativity. I don’t think evil is caused by a sinful nature; I think how we choose behave is a direct reflection of our view of life. And I’ve found that the answer to my own personal evil inclinations and urges is the transformation of my understanding.

Too simple? Too idealistic? But I see evidence of it all the time in the school where I work. The kids who struggle the most with bad behaviour are those who have the hardest things to put up with at home. They grow up in a destructive home environment, imbibe an imbalanced outlook on life where they see a bleak future for themselves, and they become “bad.” The answer to these kids is not punishment for bad behaviour; it’s love and compassion. They are no more outside “the grace of God” than more fortunate kids who grow up in a loving Christian home and to whom becoming a Christian is as easy and expected as putting on your seatbelt. The idea of evil coming from a sinful nature is too simplistic to me, and is not a true reflection of what you see in the world.

This alternative view is there for the taking or leaving. If you ask me to prove it, I can’t. All I can say is I am a more loving person for having embraced it. It is simply the intuitive knowledge that everything is consciousness and you and I are aspects of that consciousness. And we are all one.

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From Christianity to … spirituality?

For those of you who have been following this spiritual transformation of mine, it’s about time I told you the specifics of what I’ve now come to believe.

I suppose it started off with me reading about “chakras,” energy vortices that are beyond the physical realm and aligned with the body – seven of them, from the crown of the head to the base of the spine, each with its own function. Whether this is your soul, part of your soul, or whatever, I’m not sure, but it’s seen in terms of energy, rather than something far out that can never be understood.

This gelled with me, because of an experience that I had when I was twenty-four, when I was praying with my girlfriend. She prayed that God would touch me, and I experienced an intense vibration in the stomach area for several minutes (skip the dietary, jokes, please; I’ve heard them all). Very pleasant, very exciting, and very real. Also documented by other Christians. Touched by the Holy Spirit? I thought so initially, but the conservative Evangelical in me soon dismissed the whole thing as purely physiological. Over a decade later, now reading about chakras, I couldn’t help but wonder, did I experience energetic activity in my solar plexus chakra?

The trouble is, rationality is king with me. I needed to bring this knowledge down to a level where I could hang it on something rational. And so, I decided to experiment with something I remembered from my teenage years: I saw a friend perform telekinesis (more correctly called psychokinesis), the moving of an object with the mind. So I tried to do it myself, and as you’ve seen lately, I got some excellent results. Whilst this doesn’t prove anything specifically about chakras, it does bring the view that we are beings of energy a little closer to credibility than the laughability that many people attach to it.

There are other reasons for believing in chakras, too. For instance, the heart chakra, in the centre of the chest, is our emotional centre. We don’t feel emotions with our brains. Our souls experience them in the chest area. Anyone who has felt deep emotional distress knows the crushing pain in this location. It’s where we get the expression “broken heart.” It’s certainly not the organ that pumps blood around the body that is suffering. It is the energy centre that occupies that physical space. The throat chakra is said to be responsible for matters of the will. Think about some of the contexts in which our throat becomes uncomfortable, or dry, and makes us gulp.

Okay, so I can connect some of the dots to things we know from this physical world. It isn’t proof; it’s just a way of looking at things. Here, briefly, are more ways in which we can look at reality. I’m going to use some terms that I will be hard pressed to define accurately, because I don’t fully understand the concepts myself, and it’s going to sound like I’ve jumped off the deep end.

Everything that exists is consciousness. All matter is consciousness. Yes, that means that every blade of grass, every rock, every piece of matter in the universe, is in some sense conscious. Everything is in a state of vibration, and matter is consciousness condensed to a slow vibration. What we see as the physical realm is only a fraction of what really exists.

Our own consciousness is tuned into this “frequency” – one of a great many frequencies. Our birth in this life was not our beginning. We didn’t have a beginning because we are each an aspect of the infinite consiousness that is everything – God, if you like. It is very likely that our consciousness experienced other incarnations before the one we are currently in. Being born is not the beginning of your life. It is like your consciousness chose to incarnate, to condense itself into this body, thus shutting off a great deal of its “higher self” including all the memories of every life it has lived. After the experiences of this life, your consciousness with leave the body and reconnect with its higher self and you will move on to whatever’s next, whether that is another incarnate life or something different.

On a more down to earth level, we perceive the physical world in a certain way, and we think that’s the way it really is; we say that a blade of grass is green or the sky is blue, or whatever. What we should realise is that that’s not strictly true. Other creatures are perceiving this world in different ways. The cat or the lizard see the world differently, with their slit-like pupils. Flies, with their compound eyes, have a vastly different means of processing visual reality that our eyes do. Bats are near blind and rely on a form of radar. Birds migrate by sensing something we don’t. Dogs experience a world of smells that we know little about. My point is the world isn’t actually as humans see it. The physical world is just an energetic frequency, and the body is just a computer that interpets the physical world in a certain way to the brain. The old philosopher, I think it was Rene Descarte, who said, “I think, therefore I am,” was onto something: the view that you can’t really prove that anything exists beyond your own consciousness, because everything that you gather through your five senses is transformed into impulses in the brain that your consciousness interfaces with and experiences. Your brain is between you and the world.

There’s a book called The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot that I’m dying to read on this theme. If you have the time, here’s a good video that explains the idea behind it. Be warned, it’s 20 minutes long:

So, try to stretch your mind to conceive that we may all experiencing a collective “illusion.” Something like Neo in The Matrix. When you rap your knuckles on the desk, it feels solid, but it’s actually the illusion of solidity created in your consciousness by the “computer” that holds all this together. Not even your body or brain is real. It’s all part of the program. A screwball idea? Remember, the illusion of solidity is something that even we mere humans have made great strides in. We invented the hologram. Look at the incredibly detailed worlds that you can interact with in today’s videogames, a three dimensional illusion behind a flat TV screen. I’m suggesting that physical reality may be the same thing on a vastly more spectacular scale. And behind it all is not Neo sitting asleep in a vat of smelly gunk in a human battery farm. Behind it is infinite consciousness, of which you are a tiny and unique aspect undergoing an experience in your evolution. You, and everyone else, and everything else that has conscious reality are one.

Oh boy. I really did jump off the deep end, didn’t I? Do I really believe this stuff? I’m afraid I do. But who’s to say it isn’t just the biggest load of poppycock? Nobody. I can’t prove this stuff. These are hard admissions for me because I’ve started believing certain things without knowing quite why I believe them. That’s a strange thing for me to say because anyone who knows me knows I prize rationality above anything. While these beliefs aren’t irrational, they are unprovable. The only thing I can attach these beliefs to is “intuition.” And that’s another weird thing for me to say, because I’ve never thought much about intuition until now, and I’ve certainly never lived by it.

I think it works like this. Once you let go of the mind prison that says “this world is all there is” and the other mind prison of religious belief systems that restrict you to a strict set of beliefs – once you open your mind to all possibility – then you connect to your higher self and to knowledge you had before you were even born. People live lives shut off from this knowledge because they are disconnected, at a mental level, from their higher selves.

Of course, it’s very convenient for me to believe something and then to say I don’t have to prove it because it’s intuition. And I know someone will accuse me of just believing what I want to believe. But for me, the strength of conviction I feel goes beyond wishful thinking. That’s why I’ve been reluctant to really let fly and talk about this stuff. I also want to be careful to say that this isn’t something I want to impose on you. It’s just another way of looking at life. Take it or leave it, it’s up to you.

For me, I can’t understand rationally why I believe so strongly in this stuff – so stongly that it has transformed my life. Did I merely read some good material by David Icke and decide to take the rest on faith? Come on, I’m smarter than that. Something else is going on here, and I don’t know what to call it except intuition. For me, the proof of the pudding has been in the eating. And next time I’ll talk about some of the ways this new understanding has benefitted my life.

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The light side of Christianity

So I have abandoned my Christian faith. But to what extent? Was it so bad that I would spit upon the Bible? Am I looking forward to returning to the pleasures of sin without a guilty conscience? Do I feel as if I have been wasting my life on a pipedream up to now? No on all counts.

I’ve been speaking quite negatively about Christianity recently because it was necessary in explaining the changes I’m going though, first in the reasons why I felt I had to abandon organised religion, then ultimately why I abandoned my Christian faith. But the truth is, it wasn’t all bad. Far from it. And this post is to reclaim that balance, lest I be viewed as someone who abandoned his faith out of bitterness for past experience.

The Bible is full of excellent standards to live by. A couple of weeks ago I accompanied a young Christian friend of mine to a church quite far away where he had been invited to preach. I went purely to give a friend a little support. But you know what? It was a pretty good sermon overall, even though I was listening as someone who had abandoned his faith. He preached from the Book of Daniel about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and how they refused to submit to the Babylonian king’s laws because they conflicted with standards of their own. My friend talked about how we can choose to do what we believe is right, regardless of circumstances, or be as changeable as the wind when it starts to cost us. Great stuff.

And the Bible is full of great stuff. I’m a wiser man from having studied so much of it. I am free from the mindless pursuit of material wealth because of the Bible. I am aware of the meaningless of life without an eternal aspect. I prize honesty. I believe in sexual purity. I could go on. The Bible is responsible for many good things in my outlook on life.

On the athiestic flipside, which I fell into at times, there was merely a brief respite from some psychological problems that had crept into my life as a result of a distorted church experience, followed by a depressing reality that death is the end. I won’t elaborate. I’ve discussed this in depth in previous posts. Suffice it to say, you can tell that, even having abandoned my faith, I feel a lot more positive about Christianity than I do about athiesm.

Possibly a slightly wrong impression is given when I talk about abandoning Christianity. It’s closer to the truth to say that I discovered something that was a few steps closer to the truth that what I had been believing as a Christian. I did not leave Christianity because I was looking for a way out. The new information that led me in this direction came upon me unexpectedly. In fact, I felt quite disturbed by it initially, because it made sense to me and challenged my beliefs. It became a choice of whether to bury my head in the sand or rise to the challenge of contemplating what I was reading. I chose the latter, and this is where I ended up. Not a pissed off ex-Christian fuelled by bitterness. Not somebody who’s been dying for the chance to do the bad things he misses, without having to feel guilty anymore. I haven’t changed one iota morally, except for the better (and I’m looking forward to discussing the specifics of that when I can work up the courage to be open about it).

I suppose it has to be asked, then: why did I stop being a Christian? Because I don’t see the Bible as the infallible word of God. Because the problems are there, not only in the Bible, but in the church, and in the church’s chequered history. And in some of the concepts the Bible demands that you believe (I will elaborate, in time). For the past seven years, I think I felt that Christianity had to be true because the polar alternative to religion, athiesm, is was so obviously untrue to me. Lately, I started to see that there was an alternative to both athiesm and religion. And when you consider that I’ve always had problems with both of those (I’ve done a lot of hoppng between them in my life), it’s maybe not so surprising that I would choose this new avenue of thought.

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I am the one and only

“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.”

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