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Theist, Atheist or Agnostic?

I’m often asked if I’m an atheist, or most Christians assume I’m atheist. After engaging in discussion, some will assume I’m agnostic. Often atheists assume I’m still a theist or haven’t got the guts to ditch the whole god thing.

Whichever way it goes, people want to label me as being in one camp or the other, or simply agnostic.

However, I simply can’t define my beliefs that simply. In fact I think it’s asking the wrong question entirely!

The whole premise is usually based on the assumption that we are talking about some permutation of the Abrahamic God, which is fair enough given it’s roots in our culture. This is true for theists and atheists. Because of this, most struggle to understand someone who has moved beyond those concepts entirely. As a result I get labelled as a “new age” thinker, or some other sort of spiritually nebulous wanker. Some think I’m more Buddhist/Zen these days… you get the idea.

However, I could only define myself as one who sees the “big picture”. Someone who strives to understand the interactions of ideas, philosophy, spirituality, religion, science and the empirical methodology it embraces, and many other factors. I get equally annoyed by Richard Dawkins as I do by Franklin Graham – because they both have such a shallow and ignorant view of religion. I’m frustrated by the politicising of spiritual disciplines such as Buddhism in far eastern countries. I revolted by the cults of christianity in Africa and Latin countries, and the Evangelical religious cult in the USA. I’m sure you get my drift.

My motivation in all this is a desire to understand why we need religion, and is there a better way of “doing it”.

If there was any label that was vaguely appropriate, it might be “seeker”, but even that implies I’m looking for some sort of god. The whole idea of theism or atheism is moot for me, unless you are talking about the theological constructs of traditional religions.

I hope that answers any questions about my beliefs – or not, lol. Just remember that you will often not get the response you are after from me. In that sense, I’m probably rather Zenish, but even that is just a particular viewpoint rather than a “truth”.

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Time for a re-write!

I’ve been chewing over where to go from here for ages. I was planning on writing a separate book from a more philosophical/spiritual angle but just couldn’t get it to coalesce into anything readable.

However, after talking to friends and re-reading the last edition I decided to do a complete re-write. The goal is to go into a lot more depth and detail. I many ways I wasn’t really capable when I first started writing. It was all too fresh, in the sense that I was in the process of “waking up” and only beginning to untangle the emotional and mental baggage.

I’ve slowly had to face the fact that I really have been through a lot of abuse, in many subtle and overt forms, and that they really did affect me more than I thought. Being rather stoic and good at repressing stuff meant that I wasn’t in a place to really face the impact and the ongoing state of my mental health.

I’ve given myself two months for the task, give or take, lol. So stay tuned, and feel free to give me the odd nudge!

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Is altruism truly altruist?

altruism (ălˈtro͞o-ĭzˌəm)

  • n. Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness.

One of the traits we most admire in humans is altruism.

We reward and revere the most altruistic in society and recognise our desire to be that way ourselves – but usually as an unattainable goal.

So what makes the most altruistic of us capable of such acts? Well, it’s not selflessness! On the surface it appears to be, but there is a deeper motive in every human – self-worth.

We do good, selfless things because at the foundational level, they make us feel good about ourselves. We make sacrifices, go out of our way, to help others without thought of our own needs. We do have genuine empathy and compassion for others – absolutely! But that’s the emotion triggered by our paradigms and not the core motivation. Ultimately we do good because we feel good.

Sure, we can do it as an act of discipline, actively denying our need to feel good about it – which pretty much amounts to masochism and self flagellation, LOL. Or we can recognise that feeling good about doing good is why we keep doing it. And the more we do it, the better we feel, which inspires us to keep doing it!

So stop pretending that we are being a martyr – to others and, more importantly, to ourselves. Recognise and embrace our need for self-affirmation and self-worth that really drives our altruistic actions anyway. This avoids the false humility and builds integrity and honesty in ourselves and our relationships.

Sadly our conditioning (especially when religion is involved) regards this as unhealthy and even sinful.

We have a lot to unlearn!

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The problem with triggers

Yesterday the Auckland Pride Festival board announced the Police will not be allowed to march in the parade in uniform, and if they wish to participate it must be in t-shirts or fancy dress.

The backlash was swift and brutal and continues to grow with calls for a boycott of the parade.

There are issues of internal politics and how the wishes of a tiny minority can hold the rest to ransom. But that isn’t the crux of the matter.

It comes down to trying to help people who are “triggered” by things that cause mental distress. For some LGBT people, the presence of police causes this because they have had extremely traumatic experiences with police abuse. It makes total sense, and my heart goes out to these people. We are all very familiar with instances of abuse by a tiny minority of “bad cops”.

But here’s my take…

I get triggered by religious stuff – seriously! When I see a cross I can feel a churning and anxiety inside, and it always throws up memories of my experiences in church and conversion therapy. When I see religious organisations marching in the Pride parade, I get the same reaction, even if they are in t-shirts and are obviously loving genuine LGBT inclusive organisations! If I had my way and followed my gut feelings I would try to get them banned from marching.

But I recognise that the whole problem is mine. I’m the one getting triggered by my experiences. It’s my responsibility to face the issue and take full responsibility for it and be brave enough to work through my problems – NOT project them on to other people and demand they “disappear” so I can feel comfortable.

So, going back to the parade, the reactions of the vast majority of people is that the police are 100% supportive and work hard to protect us. Sure, we all get that twinge of anxiety when we see a cop in the rear view mirror, or walking towards us on the street, but that’s something we all recognise and dismiss as our own problem. If we discriminate against the police because a handful of people are basically projecting their fears onto to the rest of us we are not doing anyone a favour.

I daily face my triggers, but never do I demand that people stop doing something because it triggers me – and of course, this has nothing to do with abuse in any form, which I will address in no uncertain terms!

So to all you beautiful LGBT folks who are genuinely triggered and don’t feel safe seeing police in uniform – I get it! I really do! I genuinely feel compassion and empathy for you and support you 100%. But that support is towards your healing and growth into personal wholeness. I won’t actively trigger you, but neither will I shelter you from triggers, because avoiding them will never, ever bring the peace we crave.

It’s time to “get real”, and that can be bloody hard. It can hurt and cause distress, but in the end we have to face it. For me, no matter how much I get triggered by my own abuse issues, I refuse to demand others change to pander to my problems. I will speak out against religious abuse, I will present alternatives to the prison of religion, but I have no right to expect religious organisations to conform to my expectations.

We are one glorious species of amazingly complex creatures. Let’s work together, recognising that rejecting others because of our own fears builds division – not unity.

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Live Loved!

Live Loved – it’s my favourite tag. But I realise it sounds a bit glib and clichéd. I’m sure that those who are familiar with my work, however, would realise I wouldn’t say something that lame without having a good reason!

On the surface it’s simply saying live as though you are loved. But there’s a lot more to it than that!

It’s not “as though” you are loved – it’s “from a place of” love. Love from God? (some Christians use the expression to mean that God loves us so we should live with that as our foundation), Love from others?

Nope.

It’s love from ourselves – love from the core of our being – self love – self worth. It’s recognising that external love in any form can only ever be an affirmation at best and a crutch at worst. Until we discover our own sense of beauty and wholeness – unconditional acceptance of our entire being as it is – treating ourselves as we would treat someone we love – we will never really understand the power of love.

That’s a pretty radical statement, and I can hear all the objections screaming at me as I type this, lol. We are taught through the media and religion that we are really crap and need something outside of us to make us better. We need “stuff”, we need “romance” (someone who completes us and makes us whole), we need God (because we are born broken and sinful). You get the idea. And yet we say that kids are born so perfect and innocent, full of love and trust.

Everything we experience from birth shapes our entire self image, and that is then passed on to our children and society in a self perpetuating cycle of self denigration.

But what is there in me that really is loveable?

Let’s turn the question around – who told you that you aren’t loveable? We are taught to judge ourselves harshly, and judge each other. Sure we have the obvious judgement around actions that are destructive and affect our personal safety, but I’m talking about our internal judgements. We are presented with some elusive goal of “perfection”. We are lead to believe we are never good enough and the road to this goal is a carrot dangling in front of us that we can never reach. We struggle with guilt, shame and remorse, always comparing ourselves to the perfection that eludes us all.

Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries
Carl Jung

So the question really becomes about simply recognising everything that makes us who we are without judgement and accepting it. From that place – and that place ONLY – will we ever grow past what we perceive as flaws. When we try to wrestle with our “demons” we give them power and they become the centre of our focus. But if we allow the “bad” to simply be a part of who we are and unconditionally accept it to the point where we refuse to judge it any longer, we can love ourselves – right now! The paradox then becomes clear, that change will begin from the inside out. We treat ourselves as someone we love – really love! Someone who we would pamper and express our undying love for, shower with affirmations of their worth and beauty and constantly affirm, completely disregarding (and not even noticing) their faults.

Yep, it’s a paradox, and flies in the face of all we are taught. But it works. In fact it’s the only thing that works. If we give the focus to change and growth over to an external force (God or another person) we are abdicating our central and exclusive role in the process. We must do this for ourselves. In fact some of the doctrines of religious beliefs that say things like “more of Christ and less of me”, “I’m a sinner saved by grace” etc are actually very destructive.

So when I say Live Loved, I’m saying to let go of all self judgement, unconditionally accept yourself right this second, and treat yourself as you would treat a lover, because you are love incarnate.

 

 

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Spiritual evolution?

I’ve been trying to write my next book “…But Not as We Know It” for a long time. But I’m forever struggling. Not through lack of inspiration, but because of the immensity of the subject.
 
Spirituality and religion define humanity. It’s arguably the thing that separates us from all other animals. We just can’t help ourselves.
 
We have this innate awe at the splendour and power of the universe. We create religions and philosophies to understand and process it all. Science is a direct result of this deep drive as well. Understanding, meaning, purpose – piecing together this insanely huge puzzle.
 
I’ve read so much philosophy and religious text, and the growth of our understanding through countless millennia is muddied by fear and insecurity. The threat of “existential crisis” is palpable through all disciplines. Religion handles this with magical thinking and dogma. Science handles it by ever pushing forward with knowledge. Philosophy handles it with mental gymnastics.
 
There are so many threads through every discipline, glimmers of hope that get tangled up and strangled in our deeper fears. We keep worshipping the wisdom of ancient peoples instead of acknowledging our own internal evolution and ability to build on that wisdom, or even start from scratch, or a willingness to see that no one methodology is “truth”, or the deep subjectivity of just about everything we believe.
 
There is so much, and yet in all that there is a way that transcends our cyclic futility, despite the most profound ideas constantly ending up as dogma, tradition, ritual – stagnating as their adherents refuse to use beliefs as stepping stones to maturity.
 
Religions are utterly incomplete and incompetent in their attempts to satisfy our spirituality. The moment they are formalised the vast majority see it as their final destination rather than part of our evolution as human beings. We use it as an attempt to calm our fears instead of fuel to grow.
 
Philosophies are embraced and then treated as religious dogma. Gurus, preachers, religious leaders, all dole out their glimpses of wisdom to hungry adherents who refuse to do even the most basic work of finding their own unique place in the universe. They swallow the bite size chunks and call them their own.
 
We are taught to be spiritually lazy. Our favourite teachers perpetuate the hand feeding of their sheep. And yet I believe we are slowly learning. Change is coming. I can see it. Religions are failing. Science is not answering the things that concern us the most. Philosophy runs around in circles. But through it all there is a merging. Each field is starting to embrace each other. We are beginning to see that what we have accepted so far has not worked, or ever will. We are becoming willing to break new ground and drop all dogma and preconceptions.
 
I’m struggling to express the enormity of what I see as the way forward, because it requires more unlearning than learning. It requires so much breaking down of existing paradigms that it’s almost overwhelming! And I’m constantly challenged by my own fears, in fact, even thinking that I have some sort of insight is dangerous ground in itself!
 
So my next book may be a while yet. Perhaps it won’t be me that writes it!!
 
I just ache for humanity to grow up.
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Religion – definitions

In my last blog, I talked about the differences between Spirituality and Religion in basic terms only. It’s purpose was to clarify what I personally mean when I use the words so everyone is on the same page, although many did like the descriptions.

But the definition of religion needs to be unravelled much more. People are always at cross purposes when talking about it, and unless they take the time to explain the semantics etc, it’s often a lost cause. Even Wikipedia struggles with it: “Religion may be defined as a cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, world views, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion”.

So once again, I have to provide my own views so at least there is no confusion when discussing this broad subject.

The word religion is often used in derogatory ways these days, however I try to avoid any judgement attached to it and use it as an overall term for various belief systems. So here are a few qualifiers I add to the word and what I mean when I use them in reference to Christianity.

 

Traditional

As the name suggests, this is a system of theistic beliefs that have been built up over long periods of time to create a complex set of dogma that are regarded as sacred traditions and essential to maintaining those beliefs.

Fundamentalist

This is pretty much the same as conservative evangelicalism and embraces literal interpretations of scriptures (although still guided by doctrine and dogma) in an attempt to maintain the purity of “faith”. It is also very much into defining who’s “in or out”, setting clear boundaries around salvation and acceptance by God. It is often the most aggressive form of religious expression.

Institutional

This is very similar to traditional religion but is more defined by the power structures and politics that shape and control the traditions. It takes the traditional beliefs and uses them to justify a complex, and often global, network of “branches”, along the lines of a business.

Liberal

Liberal christianity contains far less dogma and is open to allegorical and metaphorical interpretations of scripture, often embracing mystical and eastern philosophies. It rejects literal understanding of scripture based on the type of hermeneutics used to interpret any ancient literature.

Mystical

This is an interesting approach to religion that has persisted throughout Christianity’s nearly 2000 years. It could be said to be “above” the constant battles of other forms of religion and most of the profound wisdom teachings over the centuries have come from the more mystical interpretations of scripture. It’s very hard to pin down any specific definition but Wikipedia has a whole section on it.

Pentecostal

This could be considered a sub-group of fundamentalism and is defines by extreme physical demonstrations of faith, such as speaking in tongues, prophesy, various types of “trances” and ecstatic states, miracles (mostly physical healing) and a high emphasis on evangelism.

Charismatic

This is very similar to Pentecostalism but tends to be part of more traditional church structures, such as the Catholic Charismatic Movement etc.

 

There are of course, many smaller sub groups. Often these groups refuse to be labelled and many believe they are the true representation of the original church, or variations of that idea. A lot of them would be classified as cults.

 

So there you have it in a nutshell. If you use the word “religion” in any conversation, be aware that any of the above could be assumed by your use of that word.

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Spirituality vs Religion

I write about this a heck of a lot (in case you hadn’t noticed), and I have tried to explain the differences in the past.
I thought it might be helpful to to define these two terms quite specifically, purely so we are all on the same page. Bear in mind that this is purely my interpretation of the words/concepts and I realise we all see these things differently. At least now you’ll understand what I’m on about when I talk about them!

 

Spirituality:

I use this word to describe the deep, innate sense of awe and wonder we have about the universe. It’s the part of us that wonders why we are here and how we fit in. It’s neutral, in that it’s not about any particular belief system, only the common yearnings that are in all of us that are intangible and mostly inexpressible except through allegory, metaphor and art.
Even atheists have, in this sense, spirituality. It doesn’t imply any sort of god, just the part of us that senses something “bigger” and beyond our senses. For some, this need is fully answered by science and all that entails. For others, it leads to another dimension that can include “gods” or spirits.
I believe it’s possible to explore spirituality without being “religious”, but we all tend to adopt some form of religious process as a way to express and live our own concepts of spirituality.
 

Religion:

Religion is the belief system we use to understand and define spirituality. There are countless forms of beliefs that attempt to satisfy our spirituality. Even the most prominent religious systems have endless variations, and in the end, every individual applies those beliefs in a unique way according to their own world view or paradigm.
Every culture has some form of religious practice that gives a unique sense of unity and common cause, purpose and direction to that culture.
As individuals, especially in more liberal cultures, we tend to mix and match religious ideas into something that works for us. This means that in the west for example, we may be predominantly Christian but how every individual defines “Christian” and applies it to their lives can be anything from living by the “golden rule” to extreme fundamentalism.
By “fundamentalist” religion, I mean a belief system that is based on applying sets of external rules as dogma that govern our morality, ethics, behaviours and even our thought processes. Most fundamentalist religions apply the greatest value on literally applying the contents of their sacred scriptures to every part of their lives.
A more liberal approach looks at applying the principles of the scriptures as a way of life.
The most liberal belief systems only see any scripture’s value in its metaphor and allegory.
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Deconstructing Jesus

I’ll preface this blog by saying that the Christian belief system is a very mature one, in that it’s doctrines have become a panacea and comfort for countless people. It provides security for our eternal future, a safe haven from our darkest struggles, hope for a better life, loving communities and a way to navigate the complexities of life. The writings of Paul in the New Testament are powerful observations of human nature and methodologies for navigating our failings. For most Christians however, it all comes down to “relationship with Jesus”.

In my own life, through all the years of crap, it was my relationship with Jesus that kept me going!

We claim that whatever people say and do and whatever claims about God people make, Jesus is real and loves me more deeply than I could ever imagine. When we experience the “living Christ” we know that we know he’s real and alive in us.

Atheists and critics tend to focus on all the absurdities of the bible and the mythical anthropomorphic god, the hypocrisy of the church and so on – all the really obvious stuff. But for those of us who have experienced the reality of Jesus none of that matters, in fact we may even agree with a lot of it! When we “know” Jesus, nothing is going to shake that belief because we experience him everyday and every way in our lives.

When everything fell apart for me, the only thing I had was Jesus. I could rest in the fact that he was there for me, speaking to me, telling me it was OK and he’d look after me. But as I began to dismantle the theology and doctrines, the historicity and veracity of the bible, church history, other religions and philosophies and especially psychology, I had to take a second look at this “relationship”.

As all the external beliefs slowly crumbled I was left wondering what this relationship actually was. What exactly was my heart “hearing” when we talked? Where did these words of love and comfort come from? It wasn’t until I had the honesty and fortitude to let go of my security in that voice that I could see it for what it is. It was me all along!

Yes, it was my deep longing for love being voiced by my subconscious desires. It was my own heart telling me I’m loved and good and to hang in there. I had taken my “innermost thoughts” and ascribed them to a deity. I had separated my heart into “me vs god”. The core doctrines of Christianity told me that my heart was deceptive and there was nothing good in us, and that the only way we could grow was to nurture our relationship with Jesus, so this inner voice, that the bible said was the Holy Spirit (which is the same as Jesus, which is the same as God, or not), was the only thing to be trusted. However, we could only trust it if it aligned with scripture!

But that opened the door for Jesus to be able to say anything to me as long as it could be backed by scripture. This was beginning to become rather a mess, because there are millions who claim to hear Jesus say all sorts of stupid stuff, backed up by scripture. So the only thing that I could say for sure was Jesus voice were the words of love and acceptance, because without that, I had nothing. I was already nothing more than a piece of shit saved by grace, God didn’t have to remind me of that all the time, so his love was the only thing that made sense to me.

But as I said, when I finally had nothing left to lose, I discovered that my own heart – desperate for love and acceptance – was really this “Jesus in me”. I decided to accept that as the reality, instead of all the complicated twisted theology of the trinity and human nature, and how God lives in us.

My heart, in it’s deepest place, is pure and loving. I’m not intrinsically broken and sinful. None of us are! We certainly lose sight of that however, as we blunder on through life, and completely lose sight of that deep perfect love, but it’s there none the less.

So I no longer talk to Jesus, or listen for his words of love and comfort. I don’t wait expectantly in prayer for that still small voice to whisper to me, or his passionate embrace of my soul. I open the depth of my heart to hear what’s always been in me – that part of me that is beyond ego, that existed before our paradigms were formed by life’s interactions and expectations. My heart knows me better than any deity, better than my scrambled thoughts, better than my deluded ego. It’s my own deepest voice that speaks love, and that is a power and strength that no deity can ever match!

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Proof of God!!

You can’t prove god exists, and I can’t prove he doesn’t!

Sure, there are all sorts of philosophical angles you can take on the issue, but in the end, no one can prove anything.

What you CAN do is present theories based on subjective observations. They can be beautiful and quite functional theories that meet some of our emotional needs, but they are theories none the less.

You can present ancient writings from other cultures that express everything from of wisdom writings through to the nature of various divinities, but you can’t “prove” that this god is actually real.

You then have to ask yourself what “proof” is. What I find extraordinary is so many christians saying that if you can’t see the “proof” in everything around you then you are [insert derogatory name here]. But of course, if it’s not obvious through examining all the evidence, then it isn’t proof at all. Proof, by the very nature of the word, means there is no ambiguity or doubt. The worst “proof” offered however is the bible. Irrespective of however one may interpret the writings in the bible, they are still subject to the same demands of proof. As I say, if the bible was indeed proof, there would be no ambiguity and everyone who read it would be convinced. The bible is like any other sacred writings – full of interesting cultural stories – myths and legends, various types of wisdom, justifications for cultural traditions etc… everything except “proof” of god.

I just recently saw a video from a highly qualified physicist who claimed that the theories about the big bang being caused by quantum fluctuations, that are pretty much universally accepted in the field, are proof of god! Sorry Mr Professor, they are simply proof that there is a greater level of physics that we don’t understand yet.

And as for atheists (yes, you don’t get away unscathed either), you can dismantle theology entirely and present absolutely convincing arguments for the non-existence of a deity, but at the end of the day, you still don’t know. At best you can only really call yourself agnostic, simply because you don’t know what you don’t know!

Having said all that (as I often do, lol) feel free to believe whatever you want, but the moment your beliefs turn to dogma and become “truth” you have slipped over into self delusion, and that’s a topic I’ll leave for another blog!