Posts

, , , ,

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.
, ,

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.
, , ,

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!

, ,

The long term reality of religious abuse

In my book (It’s Life Jim…) I cover the subject of mental health openly but fairly lightly.

Although these days I help many work through the debilitating trauma of religious abuse and it’s impact on LGBT people, I realise I haven’t actually shared much of my own struggles – only snippets really. I was wondering why I’ve avoided it, and I realise it’s because of the stigma. I’m afraid that it will invalidate me – that if I share too much, I will have no credibility in my work with Silent Gays and just be relegated to the rubbish heap of nutters!  But life is about facing our fears, so here is my day to day reality… (pull up a comfy chair, it’s going to be a long one)

The first layer of fear was from very young, realising I didn’t fit the expectations of family and society (although I couldn’t express it as that at the time). I was ADHD but it wasn’t a “thing” back in the 60s so I was constantly being judged for being a space case and a dreamer. I couldn’t focus for long on anything, always wanting something new and getting bored far to quick and most of the other classic “symptoms”.

The next layer was hitting puberty and finding that I had zero attraction to girls and it was the boys who would send my hormones on a rampage. But it was taboo to even talk about it. So I lived a conflicted dual life in my most formative years.

The next layer was the impact of religion, enforcing the stigma that anything outside of “normal” heterosexuality was living a dreadful sin. This drove me ever onwards to find a “solution”, get healed/cured/changed/whatever – anything but live in the excruciating pain of guilt and shame caused by the religious beliefs. This became the most damaging part of my life, as I pursued every imaginable way of becoming straight.

During all this time, through two marriages, numerous different church denominations, doctrines and theologies, and endless counselling, I fell deeper into depression and suicide ideation. But I couldn’t even let anyone know that either! I was already a “loser”, if not to those around me, most certainly in my own mind – I was a failure.

Finally, I embraced the “gay conversion therapy” practices of Living Waters for 15 years, clinging to the hope that this was going to finally change me and bring the freedom I was so desperate for. But of course, it didn’t. The depression became worse and I would become crippled with anxiety, but still I had to hide it and use every ounce of strength I had to live day by day. My marriage was an absolute sham, and my wife constantly shamed me. So often I felt like I would “explode” – what exactly that meant I’m not sure, but that was the feeling.

My wife died, and I collapsed. I had lost all my reference points, I didn’t know how to process what was happening and depression and anxiety left me needing “real” counselling (not Christian pseudo counselling) and medication. Thus began the slow climb out of the pit.

Here’s the reality though that so many of us who have been through something like this suffer. We “walk with a limp”. I don’t mean that in some nice wise sounding metaphor. I mean it as a limp with a bloody open wound that although it doesn’t stop us from getting involved in, and enjoying life, does mean we are always walking in the pain and effects of our injury. We do our best, and yes, it’s unbelievable better than what we lived through, but the wounds never seem to heal.

To put that into my daily practical affairs, here’s what my own “wound” is like.

I have ADHD, so my ability to focus is limited, unless I lock on to something that absolutely captivates me and then I can’t leave it. I am impulsive, get bored quickly, forget stuff, remember the wrong things at the wrong times, and all the classic ADHD stuff. But after the meltdown when Min died, these symptoms became heaps worse. I could pretty much work around them in the past, but now they are extreme. I have regular bouts of depression still, although not crippling like they used to be, and I’m sooo thankful for that! I get anxiety attacks too. At first they were pretty bad – things like freaking out in the supermarket and bursting into tears. But I still get them. I’ll start to get nervous and tense for no reason and keep thinking I’ve forgotten something really important.

I used to be pretty good with complex technical information and did well as a technical writer and instructional designer, but another aspect of my meltdown was that as the ADHD and anxiety had increased, I lost the ability to comprehend that sort of information any more. This has been a source of incredible frustration and sadness, especially as I was a bit of a wiz with electronic music and computers. I’m also a qualified trainer/facilitator but the thought of teaching IT or Health and Safety Systems (as I used to) sends me into a panic!

As a result, I couldn’t hold a job any more. I’m pretty much a liability, never knowing one day, or even one hour to the next, what my mental state will be. Pressure, expectations, deadlines etc cause my mind to go blank, which sets off anxiety because I can’t function, and become fearful that I’ll let people down. So I went on the sickness benefit (thank you New Zealand for your wonderful social welfare system – even if it does have it’s problems).

About a year ago I decided to try getting work again and coming off the benefit and the meds. It’s been one crazy year! I ended up doing security work, simply because its pretty chilled with low expectations, but there was constant pressure for long hours at crappy pay to cover the bills. 12 hour night shifts, brain numbing day shifts standing around, which for an ADHD person is living hell! I finally had to quit a couple of months ago because I could feel my brain falling back to the point of breakdown again.

This is my life – I never know from day to day how my mind will be. I’m really good at putting on a happy face, and I’m always the funny guy, but I’m broken. I’m happy, in fact life has never been better, but my wounds are deep and I simply can’t function in life as we are supposed to.

What happens is that the mind is deeply scared from having to adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms all its life. A life of shame and guilt creates patterns of thoughts and reactions that simply don’t suddenly leave, especially as you get older and the responses are so ingrained. Things that may appear “normal” life to others trigger me into confusion and anxiety. I can start the day with the best of intentions and find that suddenly my brain has totally lost the plot and I can’t complete a single thing I’ve planned.

I can however, communicate! I can write with passion about religion and being gay. I can talk to a crowd for hours about it! I can take people on roads of self discovery. I can run workshops and seminars, and feel incredible compassion and empathy for the broken like myself. But ask me to sort out technical stuff like my website, and accounts and running a proper organisation and I grind to a halt – despite the fact that in my past life I was very capable and even had small business management qualifications.

These days I’m trying to find part time work that I can actually handle, that pays enough to cover the bills while I try to build some online work to finance my passion of helping others.

Anyway, I’ve rambled somewhat, but only in the hope that I’ve created a picture of the ongoing effects of mental illness. I’m at peace in many ways with it all however, as long as I allow myself to roll with it. If it’s a “bad” day, I try to just chill out in the knowledge that tomorrow will be different. Not always easy of course when I’m often faced with daily simple tasks, but I’m getting there, despite the niggling shame that persists for not being “normal”. Things like mindfulness meditation have been the biggest help, as well as long walks on the beach.

That’s my “limp”. That’s my life. It’s a good life, but only if I let it be a good life in the full acceptance of my limitations, embracing all that I am right now, with all its mess and unpredictability. I love who I am now. I have no regrets. I don’t live in constant shame and guilt any more. I want to live, and live that life to its fullest, which is amazing considering most of my life was spent figuring out ways to kill myself and spiralling through chronic depression and fear.

Yep, this is me, warts and all!

The Ever Elusive “Truth”

I was having a conversation with an on-line friend and the question came up – what is truth? – as it does, lol. My response was basically this.

That’s the million dollar question! http://img.picturequotes.com/2/208/207088/truth-is-of-course-relative-but-then-so-is-relative-quote-1.jpg

I think there are infinite truths that are unique to every situation.
Truth is dependent on our paradigms and observations.
Moral and ethical truths are societal and cultural constructs.
Religious truths are the same.
Scientific truth is ever changing as we dig deeper into the nature of “reality”.
In fact, the only truth that is slowly being revealed through science and spirituality that could be a candidate for the foundational truth is that everything is energy. Although even that is a problem when we ask “what is energy?”.
We also now know that our entire personal reality exists only as a vast complex hallucination within our brains – and that’s mind blowing in itself!

So yeah, truth is something we crave and yet slips through our fingers the moment we try to grasp it.

The Inner War – 2

In this blog I present why Christianity is such a great religion and why it truly was my “salvation”.

In my previous blog I presented the premise that Christianity, and most other religions, claim that we are broken and in need of an external deity to “save” us.

This is a very sound premise when we observe the state of the world and humanity as we see it. We all behave in ways that are counter productive to ourselves and everyone/thing else. We constantly live in judgement of ourselves and every other word and deed of our fellow humans. And then we react out of that judgement.

This judgement can be destructive, but it can be helpful in practical ways. To judge a situation we may find ourselves in, in a healthy objective way, gives us the power to make decisions that benefit us all. But in saying that, we never have enough information to make truly objective and beneficial judgements, let alone the best responses to those judgements.

Deep down, we know this to be true. We know that our limited perspectives cause problems. They always have, no matter how hard we try.

Thus we assume that an external deity is the only solution. A deity who knows all, sees all, understands all, and can communicate this to us. This deity must be able to somehow provide the ability to make good judgements and empower us to respond  to those judgements with wisdom.

Perhaps then, the Christian solution of Jesus is the most elegant one humanity has embraced. It provides the external influence of a deity in a way that makes it very personal and empowering. We set the scene with the moshttps://2.bp.blogspot.com/-h5Bo960Ken4/UIGRKKPI4wI/AAAAAAAAA8M/csOFC-9a72E/s1600/word-and-spirit.jpgt powerful deity of all – Yahweh. He, through the Jews, presents the foundation of the all powerful, all knowing God. Then this God comes to us physically as a human, identifies with us in every way, embraces his humanity, recognises our deepest needs. This God then sends himself as a “spirit” to live in us, become “one” with us, in the greatest demonstration of love imaginable. This spirit repairs that which is broken and allows God to “live through us”.

As we embrace this Holy Spirit and surrender ourselves to it, we become more God-like. The oft quoted “more of Him and less of Me” is a proud declaration of our willingness to change for good, recognising the apparent brokenness that we can never escape by ourselves. As we “grow in faith and love” we build a personal relationship with the Spirit inside us, listening, worshipping, loving, obeying

This truly is one of the most empowering religions created, when properly understood. It can take the “least of us”, and give us life and love, hope and security. So basically, it works, and can work well.

So why am I no longer a Christian? Why would I walk away from something that gave me purpose and life and saved me from despair?

Partly it’s because I saw the dreadful hypocrisy in the church, partly because of the drastically conflicting doctrines within Christianity that have caused hatred and war, still to this day. Partly because there were questions it is unable to answer. One of most potent reasons was the ever raging “inner war”.

And then, there’s “The Word”…