This is my first attempt at writing so please be gentle with me :)
You might be thinking “oh, here we go, another load of ….”. But bear with me. The intention of this article is not to try and ram religion down anyone’s throat, put out convincing arguments, or provide a road map for others to follow. Its purpose is to offer a different perspective about religion and religious beliefs and how relatively sane atheist’s can lose the plot so badly as to have to throw themselves into the rescue buoy of religion. Can’t they just swim for it? In telling this tale of adventure I will hopefully provide a glimpse into a different way of coming at the world.
To what purpose?
We live in a world where the biggest threat to our future as a species is the understanding of one another. We go to war over our fear of what we do not understand. A lack of trust, based on a lack of understanding. If we swallow our pride and our ego and seek to better understand people we do not know, from a perspective of “what do we have in common”, it’s amazing how we can gain a new respect for other cultures, genders and yes, even religions.
We seem obsessed with critical argument, with debate as a means of furthering understanding but to my mind, these techniques by and large, do not work. They do not work because of a fundamental of human nature – “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”. A debate has a goal of deciding a winner and a loser. The winner goes away congratulating themselves on the power of their ability to win while the loser is left wondering how they could have put their argument more convincingly, but what about the topic? Just collateral in a game of win and lose.
A more effective way to learning and understanding is to enter the other persons’ model of the world and try to see what they see. This does not mean one must accept what they see. I believe it was Einstein who said “Wisdom is being able to entertain an idea without accepting it”. The only reason I can guess one would not choose to use this method is if either their ego will not allow it or the answer does not suit their agenda – or both. What does one have to lose by considering carefully the full ramifications of an alternative idea? The answer is in the mirror.
Presumption 1: Looking for a crutch.
Let me be clear – as an atheist, I did not set out to “find God”, or find something to cling to for comfort. My belief system said “religion is a crutch for the week”. In fact if that was the case, I failed miserably. Being a believer is one of the most challenging and difficult things I have experienced. No, atheism is a far more comfortable place to park one’s self.
What the World Needs
I had spent many years pondering the problems of the world and how we could overcome them. I was convinced that mankind was following a historical pattern of seeing differences and dividing itself up along lines of race, colour, gender, nationality and religion. We found that when we stick within these defined groups most everything goes smoothly. As soon as we mix those groups and blur the lines, we head for trouble. So the solution was to draw lines on a map and create ‘yours’ and ‘mine’.
This was a path we had followed for thousands of years, with increasingly dire results as interaction between the groups became inevitable and we learned increasingly more sophisticated ways in which we could kill one another. So we fought wars which caused the re-segregation and things went quiet until the next time tensions built again. An endless pattern with the same old strategy of segregation. Divide and conquer.
So I thought “how about we try something different?” Like, what do we have to lose? How about instead of looking to our differences and segregating, how about we try looking at what we have in common and come together? But that won’t work, right? Well, no it won’t if we only do half of it, which is come together. We must also seek to focus on what we have in common and from that build an understanding of one another. Then we might have a chance. I know, I know, we don’t want to have to do that. Back to war?
I believed coming together would work because it made sense. In principle, if you have a new neighbor, you don’t know them. It is very easy to be suspicious and untrusting. But when you get to meet with them, sit down to a meal with them, interact and find common ground – perhaps you have similar aged children – you soon find that there is nothing to fear. Even if you don’t particularly like them, it’s OK because you know them better than you did before. The same principle applies to any human interaction.
So, I saw the solution to our problems as a coming together, a unifying energy rather than a divisive one. If we saw ‘all men as brothers’ and focussed on our common ground, then we should have no need for conflict. It’s worth a try at the very least. This vision of ‘unity in diversity’ was something that underpinned my philosophy of life and would play a large part in my journey and subsequent Faith.
Packing for the Journey
I recognised than in a process of exploration, the ego is not your friend. The ego seeks reinforcement of what one currently believes, shoring up the defences against imminent attack. I needed to be able to be completely open and ‘park’ my preconceptions and prejudices. Yes, I had prejudices I am ashamed to say. A great deal of healthy self evaluation enabled me to ‘get over myself’ and focus on finding the truth, whether it was comfortable or not. This required me to place myself out in the open, vulnerable and alone. Easy prey for anyone who wanted to attack.
Everything is information, not fact. With this philosophy I became a collector, seeking out snippets of information and squirreling them away until the day I could assemble them all into a clear picture. I considered none of it true as that might cause me to become ‘attached’ to the info and prematurely fall back into preconception and judgement. That judgement would have to wait until I had enough pieces of the puzzle.
Independence was also in my backpack. I was not interested in what anyone wanted to offer me. This was my own search and I would go where I felt I should go. Advice from others was recorded but would not influence my choices. If it later turned out that I ended up where someone had suggested, OK. That was just interesting. This was my journey, not someone else’s.
My journey began similarly to a story told by the 1998 sci-fi action thriller – The Matrix. “You feel that there is something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but you have felt it your entire life. Like a splinter in your mind driving you mad”. I found myself at a point where I had to know the truth and I realised that everything I had thought to be true had got me to where I was in life and it was not where I wanted to be. I had to suspend everything I had believed and start again with an open and enquiring mind. I had been looking at the world through the lens of an atheist with a materialistic world view, but from time to time I came across compelling stories that did not fit into this model and I had two choices – discard the story as nonsense or consider the unthinkable, that my world view was wrong or at least incomplete.
In the movie, when Neo and Trinity are heading off to rescue Morpheus from the clutches of Agent Smith, he asks for “Guns. Lots of guns.” I asked for “Books. Lots of books”.
The first books I was attracted to were self improvement ones. I recognised that if I wanted my life to get better, I had to get better. This was about empowerment. I was attracted to NLP and found a wonderful human being who taught me among other things, that “life does not happen to you, it happens from you”. This same teacher taught me the skills to take back control of my life – control that I had unwittingly handed over to the world ‘out there’. This same teacher recommended books and movies that completely open my heart and mind to new ways of thinking and viewing the world. No longer was I constricted by ‘conventional wisdom’ or the ‘conventional world view’, cynically casting off anything that challenged the established view. I began to question everything.
This is when I came across quantum physics and its thought challenging ramifications. But this is where things got really challenging because here I found two competing interests and philosophies. On the one hand we have scientists steeped in a materialistic world view who argue that there is a separation between the actions of subatomic particles and the macroscopic world. On the other hand there are a group of ‘renegade’ scientists who posit that there is no separation and that the macroscopic world is a projection of a fundamental subatomic world and more like a hologram than a material reality. Here they speak of the interconnectedness of all things. Some, like Dr Amit Goswami, go as far as saying that “consciousness is the ground of all being”.
So which world view is correct? Well, no one can really say for sure, especially since quantum physics uncovered the measurement paradox. The act of measuring something alters the resultant measurement. It’s almost like we are living in a ‘consensus’ reality. How can we therefore “prove” anything objectively when there may be no objective reality? Every “proof” is limited to the relativity of its parameters.
There are a number of scientists who are exploring this branch of the ‘rabbit hole’ but I get the feeling we are living a reality in which the more things we discover, the more rabbit holes we find – that our discoveries are not converging on the truth but rather finding divergence. Will we ever find the truth? Is there a truth to be found?
By this stage I was beginning to see a world in which the improbable was becoming more probable. Accepted understandings of a material world view were unable to explain, and often wilfully dismissive of a variety of phenomena, which clearly existed. The sole argument against these phenomena is that they cannot be proved using the current standard scientific holy grail ‘go to’ tool, the double blind peer reviewed study. And yet, statistically, it is implausible that there is not something going on which does not fit a materialistic world view.
I began to see evidence of a reality in which some kind of underlying intelligence was possible. But was it true? I did not know – in the sense of knowledge of an absolute and objective truth. But I began suspecting it was.
Now at about this time I was beginning to squirm in my seat. This was beginning to get very uncomfortable. It was challenging everything I had ever believed and worse, it was making me consider the possibility of that word beginning with G. The Big G. To a long time atheist, armed will all the usual atheist arguments and disdain for religious organisations and the wrongs they have perpetrated against humanity, I was staring down the barrel of a very large gun. The urge to turn and run back to the comfort of my cynical, Godless, materialistic world was very strong. I turned and looked, but in the words of Trinity “you have been down that road, you know where it ends and I know that’s not where you want to be”. Bugger. “Why, oh why, didn’t I take the blue pill”.
So now, thoughts turned to “what if it was true? How could it be true? What would need to be different in order for it to be true? How do I reconcile this with all the religious nonsense”?
I needed to know about religion. What was the truth. I needed to cut through the dogma, the manure. I needed to get down to the basement and see if it was built on anything solid, for sure as heck the facade was a real eyesore.
The Truth about God, religion, faith, all that stuff. Where to find it? Well, I knew where I would NOT find it – in a church, synagogue or mosque. My rational mind told me they did not know. There can only be one truth and yet we have a multitude of religions and churches, each with a different story to tell. They can’t all be true, and to assume that one is correct? Which one? No, they must all be struggling just the same as me. I would have to find my own truth.
I could sense myself leaning towards some type of spirituality, but to organised religion? Hell no.
From my early atheist training I knew that religion was a cause of a great deal of humanities problems but from my NLP training I also knew that man is an imperfect beast and wherever you go you will find that imperfection manifest. The ‘church’ is one such glaring example. So I began to suspect that there could be two things going on here – ‘heaven’ sent spiritual masters to provide humanity with guidance and then a group of self appointed human ‘experts’ pretending to dispense this guidance under the flag of religion. Bastards. There is no doubt that man made religious dogma is a blight on humanity but is it possible that at its foundation there is something valuable? Something that has been lost by generations of power hungry clergy and their superstitious dogma designed to control the masses?
I needed to separate what was useful from what was not. In my heart I recognised the beauty and purity of some religious scripture and the values and attributes it promoted. How could this be associated with the ugly reality of religious fundamentalism? Nowhere in ancient scriptures have I found or been shown texts exhorting man to behave in the horrific way he does ‘in the name of God’. I have heard people claim these texts exist but never been shown them, especially in the context of the complete passages. I know, I know, stoning the adulterers is not that PC these days but are we taking this a little out of context? That’s another rabbit hole.
Better off without Religion
So would we therefore be better off without religion? On the surface that would appear a perfectly rational and sensible response – certainly a powerful case could be raised against ‘organised’ religion. But would we be throwing out the baby with the bathwater? Is there a better strategy, especially if we include a study of those societies which have gone down the religion free route?
My journey uncovered a chasm between what man says and does in the name of religion and what the scriptures of those religions teach. As a principle, should we ban a philosophy if we uncover evidence of man abusing and perverting that philosophy? Well, that might work, but should we therefore ban everything man lays a hand on because for sure we can see his handiwork in every well intended organisation, and the church is a man made organisation despite claims by some to the contrary?
To this day, I am still in two minds over this issue. It is heart breaking to see what man does to fellow man, and to say this is “Gods will” is a blasphemy. If there is a God, no one on earth knows what that God’s will really is and the God I pray to doesn’t advocate corruption or violence in any form.
The ugliest thing I have ever seen was a man holding aloft a Bible and screaming at people to repent their evil ways while claiming to hold the truth in his hand. I was revolted to my core. That’s enough to turn the Pope atheist.
So I get it when people think we would be better off without religion. I want rid of that rubbish too. But is that really religion or is it simply a bastardisation of it? Is corruption in politics just politics, or a corruption of it?
These were some of the vexing questions I had to confront, to reconcile. Sure, the easy out was to just write it all off and go back into the Matrix. Who cares, right? I mean, it’s not like I can change any of it, right? Let someone else worry about it and just relax and buy another lotto ticket. But I can’t! I just cannot stop thinking about it! Oh, what have I started??!!
The Tipping Point
My journey had taken me from wealth creation seminars to speed reading courses to share trading courses, to NLP training and finally to a movie on quantum physics. All the while consuming books at an alarming rate. It was finally the movie that led me to my Faith. Not immediately but a few weeks later. This is interesting because the movie was very scathing of organised religion and I completely agreed with its criticism. I should have been heading in the other direction. What happened?
What the movie did was show me a picture of the world which I recognised. I had seen glimpses of it over the preceding years of my journey in the information – the pieces of the puzzle I had been collecting. I was able to at last begin assembling the pieces and could see the picture emerge. This was beyond shocking. It shook me to my very core. I vividly recall going home one night and looking in the mirror and seeing someone standing there that I had never seen before. Sure the face was familiar but there was something different. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I just stared at this new person wondering what the hell was happening to me.
I sought out and bought the DVD of the movie. I watched it over and over, there was so much to absorb. Eventually I began watching the ‘extras’ on the DVD, interviews with the movies directors.
One of the directors was asked about the reaction they had got from religious groups regarding the battering they had received. I thought “this will be good!” The reply was as expected – “work of the devil” and various other negative sentiments. “But” said one director, “we were very surprised when folks from (my soon to be) Faith came up and said “that is who we are, that is what we are about”. They were referring to the concept of Unity that was a central message of the film – the interconnectedness of all things and people.
I was fascinated and surprised by this. I had never heard of any religion talking of unity in that sense before. Usually they talk about unity on the condition it is unity with their ideas and their religion.
So, I began to investigate this faith and its teaching and the rest, as they say, is history. A number of things finally came together to cause me to look past my disdain for organised religion and join one. I will not go through them all because that is a very long story but one stands out. The puzzle from which pieces had been collected over a number of years of searching and which the movie had allowed me to begin to assemble had shown me the final picture. A wonderful picture of exquisite beauty. A picture that made perfect sense and confirmed to me my search was not in vain. But when I say “final” picture, I mean final in terms of this material life, not necessarily in terms of all existence. Sure some of the pieces are still missing but it doesn’t matter because I know what the picture is of and I am now free. Like, really free. FREE free. Unplugged from the Matrix.