beliefs

“There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point… The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it.”

Pathology. Horror. Anxiety. Workplace harassment. Bullying. Fear. This blog’s been a joyful little place lately, hasn’t it?

This post is going to be about atheism, but I promise it’s going to be the most uplifting thing I’ve written in a long time. I was doing a couple of shoots this weekend, and was thrilled to be told by each photographer what a great and positive attitude I had – and I realised my blog may have not been projecting that lately. I do always tend to try to be uplifting, even in the face of difficulty and uncertainty – but sometimes there are just Things That Need To Be Talked About, and those things may not always fall into the happiest of categories. I apologise in advance if I offend anybody, as it is not my intention. But I too, am often offended by the ignorance and downright bigotry I see posted in the name of religion all over the place, and I feel I have the right to speak my feelings too, especially when they come from a place of genuinely wanting to rid the world of something so harmful.

My arrival at atheism, however, has finally filled me with a certainty that’s lifted the weight of the world from my shoulders. I’ve only tacked religion a handful of times here, from the time I got banned from every Catholic church in the city, to the time I laid out my entire spiritual belief system as it was a couple of years ago, to when I began to question the whole idea of a spiritual belief system at all, to perhaps the most difficult step in my journey toward atheism: accepting the illusion of permanence, and that this life is the only one we have. A tough one to swallow, at first.

I never was religious. I tried, I really did. I went to Catholic church with my ex husband and I attended devotional series through my former faith-based workplace. Looking back, I have to ask myself why – was it to fit in with those closest to me and avoid personal discrimination? Or was it simply to find an answer to the hopes I’d had all along – that after this life, after we are parted from those we’ve loved with all our hearts – that somewhere we’d get to see them again? I’ve learned so much over the last couple of years, and the toughest pill to swallow has been the lesson that just wanting something to be true doesn’t mean it is. There is something inherently uncomfortable about letting go of a hope guised as a semi-belief, but something so much more assuring and secure when you shift your beliefs toward evidence-based truth. Because with the realisation that this one life is all we have, there’s a push to live the absolute crap out of it, soak up the universe and spread joy and education and build infinite memories and be an instrument of positivity and integrity and leave this planet a little better off than when we found it. To build the minds we were equipped with and actually use them to take control of our own lives. To learn to think, solve, communicate, learn, and better the lives of those around us. That, I believe, is our purpose. Not to follow blindly in fear and hope for a reward while allowing others to suffer.

The first point I want to address is the struggle with hypocrisy when it comes to so-called believers. How many church-goers dress up on Sundays and head to their place of worship, driving right past the homeless or needy on the way there? There, they are asked to give money to support the “work of God”, when they could instead be spending that money in the real world making a real tangible difference. I can count the number of times I’ve been to church on one hand, but I’m assuming the “pass the hat” goes back to the days of tithing, where people would give one-tenth of their income to a religious organization as a divine ordinance and obligation of conscience – despite the Christian Bible stating “you tithe mint and rue and every edible herb but disregard the important duties of the law – judgment, mercy, honesty and love – yet these you have neglected, and ought to have performed.” I’m mixing my Mathews and Lukes there, but the message holds true today: why does the church still ask for all this money and not use it to lessen the suffering of others? Goodness, even for non-believers! We are all apparently created equally, after all. TIME magazine states bankers’ best guesses about the Vatican’s wealth are between $10-15 billion, and of this, Italian stockholdings and investment in banking, insurance and real estate run to $1.6 billion. Why blindly put money into a hat on a Sunday because you feel guilted into doing so when you could donate directly to a charity where it will actually have some tangible benefit in the world? I know many churches do some charitable work with the money. But it largely goes to religious organizations. Why not skip the middle man and give to where it’ll make most of a difference?

On the subject of hypocrisy, a lot of this stems from personal experience. Nowadays, I have a great relationship with my mother, but as some of you may remember, from about 2006-2010 we barely had a relationship after my parents’ separation, which largely stemmed from a drastic character shift following my mother’s religious conversion experience. I witnessed someone quoting the Bible and refusing to attend events on the Sabbath (including performances of my own) and proclaiming we needed to be saved, yet simultaneously being downright spiteful to both my father and myself. I remember it being the biggest reason I had to move out on my own as early as I did, being unable to take the discrepancy between something that was supposed to revolve around love and forgiveness and being spoken to and treated like a piece of dirt. I feel bad writing this now, as after a long and painful journey of reconciliation, we’re now in a good place – but this was definitely a contributing factor in my stepping away from religion.

Then I met, dated, got engaged and eventually married to my now ex-husband, a devout Roman Catholic from a very traditional, Franco-Manitoban family. We all know the story there – family begs son to leave his fiance because she’s not religious, family refuses to speak to the couple following the wedding, and family instills so much guilt into son that son quits his job with no notice, disappears into the country for three weeks, comes back with a shaved head, wild beard, mania and insistence of having “spoken to God” the whole time, lasts a couple of weeks becoming progressively stranger, and then finally leaves for good waving a crucifix around in the air. Oh, and then witnessing via remote webcam his entire troupe of family and friends emptying my house of all my possessions while I was at work. (Movie deal anyone?)

The thing is, I knew our relationship wasn’t how things were meant to be. I knew I was unhappy, I knew we disagreed on so many fundamental things, and I knew we didn’t even enjoy the same things in life. But things weren’t horrible, and I figured, just like anybody else, that this is what life is all about. Fairytale soulmates exist in movies and stories, and it’s through a lifetime of hard work you try to make things work with the one you end up with. (Sidenote: I cannot believe after this ordeal, I was shown otherwise, and I will forever live a lifetime of awe and amazement at how I got so lucky). We did try. I remember a plethora of discussions on our views with regards to religion, and the one thing I could never understand was how someone could proclaim so publicly to be of a certain religious denomination while at the same time disagreeing with much of the Pope’s teachings and actions, disagreeing with some of the Bible itself, and actually placing his own wife and family beneath the almighty God (“I’d be okay if you all died, because I would have the Lord”) – really? How do I even begin to debate this logic? I remember his family begging him in secret in the weeks leading up to the wedding to leave me, his chosen bride, the one he had committed to vow his life to “in the eyes of God” because I would lead him away from his religion. I remember his infinite struggle between trying to be a “good Christian son” and a good husband. The two led to his mental breakdown, a shitload of trauma, and all for the sake of “putting God first”. When it came to the family – again, judge not lest…? (You should see the absolute mortification plastered across their faces in all the pictures. It’s hilarious. It kind of looks like they just lost their son to a Heaven’s Gate indoctrination – somewhat relatedly, this music video is pretty great.)

Now, to address something a friend of mine e-mailed me about when she heard I was writing this post: judgment. I had messages coming in before I’d even finished writing this. The Bible apparently states something along the lines of Judge not, and ye shall not be judged, condemn not and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). My (Christian) friend emailed me a story about how he has found himself “living a life of fear and judgment” due to his heart belonging to Jesus. He compared his experience to one of his own friends, who has “lived a life of that same judgment and downright misery through being gay.” He talked about his own experience of hatred for Christians in the same vein as that that exists for the LGBT community. That he would never judge someone “for their choice” and wished he could receive the same respect. At this point, I didn’t really know what to say. I love this friend dearly, but I was speechless Yes, it’s awful for anyone to experience persecution – but religion is a choice. Sexuality, race, or anything else you’re simply born with is not a choice. Religion is a choice to believe without evidence or critical thinking. It’s a choice to ally yourself to something that claims to stand for peace and unity but instead causes probably more division, judgment, and harm to the world than anything. Look at what Romney was fighting for last election. Look at the masses of “Christians” claiming God would judge America for abortion and gay marriage. Yet that same God doesn’t judge America for its murderers, rapists, and allowance of abuse, intolerance, disease and poverty? Religion is a choice to believe blindly. It’s not the same thing. 

Really?

What about God supposedly never giving us more than we can bear? I hear this a lot from people either going through difficult times themselves, or trying to offer some form of encouragement to someone who is. “I’ll pray for you”, they say. Can we stop for a second and see how much prayer has actually affected the outcome of something in the real world? I’ve had people offer to pray for The Professor as a result of his recent situation. The legal system in place to provide assistance to those in dire, life-or-death need, is such that he has to leave our home and live alone just to qualify to have medications covered a little more than they already are. Medications he needs to stay alive. It’s heartbreaking, and wrong, and I’m sorry, but prayers are not going to take away cancer. Science is, medicine is.  Homeopathic remedies and words uttered into the void aren’t going to make this stop. “God never giving us more than we can bear” is a crock. People get dealt shitty hands in life sometimes. It’s statistics. To personalise them and say “God did it” is childish. I get it – it goes back to the idea of hope. To place hope in something that doesn’t exist I guess may lift some of the anxiety from the reality – especially when countless people across the world are doing the same thing. But if we’re going to invest time and thought and energy into something that’s never been proven to actually accomplish anything – can’t we instead begin to invest in things that actually help? Your life would look very, very different were it not for science. I don’t know if I can say it’d look much different without God.

One of the last things I want to address is the issue of religion in schools. This could be a blog post all of its own, but (and you’ll have to excuse the irony here) – holy crap. Something that is a choice of lifestyle and has no base of fact or evidence does not constitute an education. I know people who went through private religious education emerging as fully grown adults having no concept of procreation. Genuinely believing that nothing more than “loving each other” and trusting in “God’s right timing” was al that was needed to produce a baby. These places have no right being called schools. They dilute the world’s knowledge base by injecting it with blind faith, ignorance, stories and prejudice and teach the vulnerable that it’s fact. They teach new generations not to think for themselves or seek out knowledge, but to rely on an invisible creator as the driving force behind everything that happens in their life. With this mentality, as a species, we will go backwards. Schools are in desperate need of classes on critical thinking, on debate and philosophy, of scientific advancement in health and astronomy. On how to be a fucking decent human being. As Douglas Adams once said, ““I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.

A religious “education” is a fear spread to the children of theists at an age where they are not capable of fully forming their own opinions, teaching them to ignore logic and fact and brainwashing them into accepting something with no evidence as truth.  It promotes division, not equality, and is based on a system of fear and punishment. Where is the good in a human being if that good comes not from a place of strong morals and the desire to be a good person, but a place of desire for reward and fear of punishment instead? I don’t think I’m going to burn in hell for not believing. But I’m going to keep trying my damnedest to be a decent person anyway.

I’m at 2,600 words here. I’ve got to wrap this thing up. So I’m going to leave you with a quote from the ever-brilliant Ricky Gervais:

“Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence -­- evidence that is constantly updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along. It embraces the body of knowledge. It doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition.”

I think I’m a pretty fucking awesome person without God, but I might be a little biased.  When I was agnostic, I kind of always suspected that if there were a God, this was all some colossal game of his own devising, and if there did happen to be a heaven, the ones who’d end up there were the ones that had the guts to use the brains with which they were equipped, to question the stories, to forge their way in the world with the knowledge and the universe that surrounded them. Not the blind servants who accepted without question tales of talking snakes and promoted human division and repeated empty phrases and built structures in his honour and sucked the hell up to buy their ticket in. I think there’s the making of a good story there.

I apologise if I’ve offended anyone. It really, really was never my intent. But if – and there is such a thing as “religious freedom of speech” – then if the intent is simply to state why I believe what I do, and who I am, with the genuine intent of opening minds and raising questions that may lead people to a better way of life… then all I ask is that even if you disagree, you’ll be respectful in doing so. Ironically, religion sometimes has a way of bringing out the worst in people. Whether you believe in a God, many Gods, demi-Gods (I’m getting a bit Doctor Who here), you have a brain. My only hope is that it’s put to good use in this world – this world that could be so, so much better if only more brains were used in a more practical, moral, and logical way.

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My New Confusion (and other future album titles)

Caveat: This post was very nearly entitled How to Lose Friends and Alienate Everyone: Further Lessons in Social Suicide. Another: This post is rather long. You may want to put the kettle on. You should really know that this post is not intended to offend, and if incidences of such result, please accept my most sincere apologies. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably fully aware that I don’t hide my thoughts – and this post is simply an exploration of some new ideas, written in the hopes of hearing some of yours.

Now, studying the psychology behind human personalities, thought processes and social interactions has always been a passion of mine. Perhaps it’s the science geek in me, but I’ve always had a keen interest in examining the inner workings of something to figure out how and why it works the way it does. Throughout the process of self-investigation, I’ve learned an awful lot that’s helped me become more comfortable in my own skin – desperate desires to be something else have transformed into the aspiration to simply develop and hone who I already am, and an understanding of true introversion, personality type and priorities has helped certain social anxieties evaporate. One thing I’ve learned about being an INFJ (also known as “The Counsellor”) is the tendency to want to fix things: whether it’s a problem in the workplace, in a friend’s life, or in my own, my first instinct is to go into action plan mode and set about restoring the balance. I derive an immense satisfaction from problem-solving, which I think can be a good thing – but on the flipside, it gives way to intense feelings of discontent when a solution cannot easily be found.

Lately I’ve been faced with a bit of a problem – a problem of the soul. Not too long ago, I posted a giant essay on my spiritual belief system – on how I came to believe what I do, what I don’t, and how it shapes my world view. For the majority of my life, I never really had a solid set of beliefs – I was open to a lot of things, but growing up, no one belief system was laid down as fact (something for which I am incredibly grateful; I believe curiosity and learning one’s own lessons results in something ultimately far more meaningful than something that at the end of the day is only somebody else’s version of truth). Over the years, I’ve been exposed to Christianity in various denominations and guises — Seventh Day Adventism, Atheism, Buddhism, Taoism and simple spiritual curiosity, and subsequently have pulled pieces and ideas from here and there to shape what I can get behind, and what I can’t.  As I’d previously written, something I’d decided was that I simply wasn’t able to stick any sort of label on myself: if you do, you acknowledge that you are different from everyone who believes anything other than you, and subsequently participate in the continuation of human division. Instead of uniting and focusing on the main principles of a religion, people get caught up in the politics of what makes “my” denomination different from “yours”. And that doesn’t make any sense to me at all – surely a spirit of unity would make this a better world than a splintered race divided?

You may have noticed I’ve made an ongoing reference to the Universe in many a post, and in recent years, the idea that life events play out as signs from such to steer us toward the right path is something that’s helped me deal with a whole lot of crap. But a recent conversation has made me think of this philosophy in a whole new light: where do the people who are condemned to live awful lives fit in? Sure, we all go through major challenges in life. And I firmly believe every one of us possesses the ability to choose the attitude with which we face those hurdles. Seeing them as signs from the Universe to open my eyes to what’s really important in life is something that’s facilitated dealing with the tough stuff – it’s made me evaluate how I really feel, what I really want, what I’ll bear and what I won’t stand for, and has helped me more and more when life throws curveballs to apply the philosophy that this too, shall pass. But what about those people forced to live an existence in a war-torn country, or people born into families whose households explode with domestic violence? What about those people with terrible diseases, or who lose everything in giant natural disasters? Is the Universe asking them to “just learn from it”?  I’m almost furious with myself for allowing my outlook to become so limited. I feel I’ve done nothing more than observe patterns, hypothesise explanations, and conclude it as fact simply because it’s what suits me. I feel incredibly unsettled if so, because it means my world view extends to nothing beyond my own field of vision. And that’s incredibly small-minded, and in direct conflict with how I want to live.

When it comes to faith in something more, I’ve always harboured a slight opposition toward those who put on their Sunday best, drive past all the homeless people and go to church every Sunday while allowing the words they utter inside evaporate the moment they step outside after the service. I was talking with a friend of mine recently whose mother’s behaviour had wildly affected her view toward religion: she’d attended services daily, preaching love, forgiveness and servanthood, and would get home afterward and beat her children for not doing as they’re told. But read Proverbs 13:24Proverbs 22:15 or Proverbs 23:13-14, and apparently, that’s perfectly okay. And I don’t understand how something that permits such actions could be a good thing. As well, hypocrisy has always bothered me immensely, and I’ve never been able to stomach the idea of so-called believers whose daily actions defy the doctrine to which they are supposedly devoted. I’ve witnessed first hand people who claim to be “good Christians,” yet partake in all sorts of behaviours that fuel division, malice and hatred. I’ve never really fully understood why something that makes people feel unworthy and guilty, and holds the promise of a reward like a carrot on a stick is seen as a model for creating good people. Surely people can be good on the basis of making intelligent decisions and doing good deeds regardless? But that’s not to say there aren’t an enormous amount of truly wonderful people who live lives of integrity founded on their belief in a higher power. The Dalai Lama once said that he fully believed anyone was capable of living a good life with or without religion. I completely agree. I saw this recently, and found it rather interesting indeed.

I see so many hypocritical so-called religious people, and I see just as many non-religious folk going about the world spreading love and making a real difference. I don’t believe one has to have religion in order to be considered a good person. Like I said, if I can’t get behind something 100%, then I can’t call myself a follower of anything at all. So where does that leave me in terms of what up until this point has been my answer to life? No longer does my equation solve every problem. My eyes have been opened to the fact that it has only ever really suited the ones to which I selectively applied it. And that makes me feel nothing more than a fraud, and leaves me stranded at a crossroads of blank signs.

Where does one turn when a belief system has been proved flawed? When one size no longer fits all, yet has provided comfort in terms of being able to deal with life’s challenges? Just because something is comfortable doesn’t mean it’s real. Surely everything would be much more comfortable if we were always surrounded by a nice fluffy cushion – it doesn’t make it real life. But if the idea of the Universe providing signs to steer us each onto our respective life paths is unfounded in terms of the grand scheme of the world, then what the heck does it all mean? On one hand, if life really is entirely within our control, perhaps what’s been a prevailing force as of late is exactly what it’s all about: realising our innate power of choice and making the right decisions even when they’re difficult. That doesn’t really address the topics of causality, free will or determinism, but that’s far too complicated a topic that’s better shelved for future discussion. But on the other, if I abandon the philosophy that I genuinely believe has helped me grow into a better human being, I risk dealing with future blows in unhealthy ways. Plus it doesn’t explain at all why those fated to all sorts of terrible circumstances must live with the hands they are dealt. My belief has allowed me to quickly move forward with life following challenges: knowing that it happened for a reason has helped me accept it, and focus my energy on the here and now instead of futile questioning and endeavours at rewriting an already written past. But if there is no reason for anything and our fate really lies solely in our own hands, then how does that explain why bad things happen to good people?

I realise I’m starting to wax ever so slightly philosophical here. But I’m a geek, and I like my problems to have solutions. Being unable to come up with an answer leaves me feeling a little helpless, and I don’t think any of us deal well with a loss of control. I’m in a bit of a limbo, I think, and I’m not really sure where to go from here. Faith in the Universe, fate or destiny just because it makes things easier sometimes goes against my advocacy for intelligence and education. Yet I can’t help but channel Fox Mulder a little here, and still feel I want to believe. But what I’m not certain about is the real reason why. I’m curious though, to hear of how you arrived at your personal belief system, and why it makes sense for you. How did you come to believe what you do, and what makes your truth real?