Soul Searcher: Religious Enquiry and the Emancipation of Thought

This will be a slightly more personalized entry focusing on my chronological pursuit for faith, the pursuit hasn’t ended but I am a little surer of what it is in my own terms. Each individual has their own convictions and should be tolerant of that, To me the question of God is as analogous to sitting in a room without light, a gun pointed to my head trying to solve a Rubix Cube with jellied hands.

The question of faith and religious conviction has been round since we could engage our consciousness and meditate on the subject, pretty much from the dawn of man. It is a question we have all addressed at some point in our lives, pondering that ‘god-shaped’ thought in our psyche: whether it be in childhood; ingesting some rather dubious substances and listening to Pink Floyd in one’s University days or simply when faced with death or a near death incident in our lives, we all address the notion of divinity.

My enquiry into this came at a very early age and it started with the question… ‘Why?’

Coming from an Anglo Irish background, the tenets of the church were quickly drummed into me, straight from the womb and into Sunday school to become a good living, God fearing Christian, Hell fire and brimstone, the whole lot: in that innocent age you just believe what you are told, so why question it. Surely the grownups know exactly what it is all about, don’t they?

Enter stage right, an inquisitive, rebellious teen , a young boy who refused to believe what he was told, simply because he was told, the boy who abstained from his Religious Education exam and got four detentions with the Vice Principle because he wasn’t convinced by it all, and the frustrated RE teacher had no fulfilling answers for his questions. Now, one might associate this with a young anti-authority surge running through me, however it was the complete opposite, I just couldn’t answers on faith without having them personally addressed, read and experienced it with the terrier’s tenacity to acquire an informed and personal answer that I myself would believe in its entirety. Thirteen years later and I am still in the same position wondering and hypothesizing it all. Basically I hold that no matter how many books I read, my answer will not be found in the pages scribed by man, perhaps by a reformed nun though.

Returning back to my childhood: From early adolescence to my late teens, the ‘dark days’ as my brother and I would label it; I was able to address a plethora of polarized beliefs of which are incongruous together. My family went through some extremely tough times, financially and emotionally. With a border line manic depressive mother, she would develop a strong religious zeal when the chips were down, and by down we are talking subterranean, almost like a knee jerk reaction when all else failed she resorted to religion in an austere hope that things would turn around.

She believed in the slightly more esoteric arts, the acts of divination, tarot, psychometry and various light forms of the wiccan traditions; Often she would cleanse the house with bunches of burning sage, have quartz crystals replenishing in stilled water and place magnets around the house in order to bring balance and good energy into the house and home, a pseudo psychological belief that this will bring around change to her situation.

While she was in this phase I would read all her books, purely out of my strong thirst for knowledge and a need to understand the logic behind it, before giving her my informed judgment one could assume? Books on Gnosticism, Buddhism, Numerology, Kabbalah and the history of the pagan arts: the deeper and deeper I delved into this strange arena of thought, the more there had to be read and meditated on, like a meandering river with tributaries and estuaries of thought, depositing intellectual alluvium at each cortex of my thought.

I wanted to know more and more, but from a purely subjective point of view. From this I started to study the primitive cultures, early anthropological studies about the nature and social coping mechanisms that early man created to justify the strange world they found themselves in. The more logical scientific enquiries hardened my thought and strengthened my reluctance to simply just believe.

In my scientific enquiry I studied the Big Bang theory; Quantum Physics; Newtonian Science to Hawkins and Darwinian thought. Going from one extreme to another may sound odd, but from my rationale I knew the ‘Why’ (or had a basic understanding of it) and needed to comprehend the ‘How’ I also wanted to see how the pursuit of Science, didn’t exclude the notion of God. I quickly learned this from the very thought provoking book ‘Pascal’s fire: scientific faith and religious understanding’ which presented an illuminating argument. The key to faith is through Knowledge and understanding of our environment and psyche, a thought I readily subscribe to.

Enter Stage left: My mother sheds her esoteric, sage burning skin to reveal a new exfoliated and moisturized epidermis and joins the revivalist movement, something we know better as the Pentecostal Church, she is ‘saved’ ( I find this an incredibly patronizing and elitist term) and thus the family must get saved too. I am sixteen when this happens, at the same time the family was facing dire financial issues and our security was basically at severe risk. Are you seeing the pattern yet? Crudely…

Dire Straits + Manic Depressive Mother + Zeal = Fortified Religious conviction

From this my skepticism is hardened further, like a horse chestnut nestling in the Hot Press; the Good News Bible is thrust into my palm; any ‘demonic’ content was eradicated from the house; my CD’s Mum’s cards and crystals; my books and my brother’s videos, all cleansed from our domain so God could effortlessly do his work.
The first Revivalist sermon I experienced at this all singing all dancing church was a huge eye opener for me. The fervor, energy and almost frenzied air that circulated in those services is an experience one needs to experience first-hand; Pearled pensioners clapping and dancing; the pastor flailing his arms and touching the foreheads of the believers and an old man speaking in what I later learn is ‘tongues’ the gift of prophecy in that particular belief. Although skeptical, my skepticism was that not of a non believer, but of a person who wasn’t convinced by this medium it was more of a psychological conditioning. I couldn’t grasp why such a deeply personal thing needs to be addressed in a public domain, did going to a room full of foaming, frothing fanatics really bring me closer to God? What gave the pastor particular authority to preach? Why should I believe him, he is after all a fallible man, with his own agenda as it were with his own tenets of faith as well as the need to stay gainfully employed. (That may sound slightly jaded.)
Three years of playing the good Christian and studying the scripture with no revelation, I quickly debunked this method of faith. I learned a lot about the codes of morality, living a just life and prayed with an open heart, but found no God and so the falling away quickly began and I could strike this road off my map to God. The same happened for my mother, we were still in trouble if not deeper, so the CD’s returned the cards came back and she searched for another remedy. I rejected the revivalist movement, as I just couldn’t believe in them, and the whole thing smacked of Christian Fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is the most reductionist form of thought, an us-and- them syndrome, those who don’t subscribe are resigned to the very literal version of Christianity and are sinners, tools of the devil or lost from the flock. I couldn’t accept this at all, surely in a divine notion it is something we all subscribe to and I doubt a non-biblical (and in this I mean our traditional view of god) god would turn away the Gay and Bi communities, Muslims, Buddhists, Gnostics and Jewish from the pearly gates Just because they didn’t preach hellfire and dance like ravers chewing their eyebrows.
This cynicism was quickly compounded when the pastor started preaching his self help sermons and that if you are a good Christian you will be financially secure for the rest of your life. It basically smacked of charlatanism and this was quickly backed up by the pastor’s revealed infidelity and dodgy financial dealings. How can you believe in the head of a church that is more corrupt and morally defunct than a Dickens’s antagonist?
The exclusionist, singing guerillas had sang there song and provided no more spiritual nourishment than a Snickers bar.
After this, I entered a quasi religious-scientific phase more commonly associated with bitter cynicism, and if I am brutally honest I am still in that phase to this day sans bitterness, still searching for God, but the philosophy and science of God is becoming more profound than just relying on blind faith and devotion. With the rigor of a scientist I went into a study of basically anything I could get my hands on, and my friends born into the church looked at me like a lost lamb. They never questioned anything, their Dad’s were ministers and they came from a 2.4 background where all their questions were answered, they didn’t need to search and I was envious of that wishing I didn’t need to enquire, but I can’t live in ignorance much like Aristotle’s allegory of the Cave. B.F Skinner might have had something to say about the above as well, but my question was simply ‘how do you know that yours is the true faith without knowing of the others? Or how do you believe in a book full of pseudo-epigraphs scribed by many hands over many, many years? How can you believe there are no socio-political motives behind the text?
I looked at the bible like an ancient game of Chinese Whispers and not a true representational version of Christianity. Over the ages, councils were called to include/omit gospels; to decide the nature of the Holy Trinity which led to the ‘Great Schism’ between the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Church; to determine whether Jesus was divine or not etc, these were all principles of God, shaped by a motivated political human thought, so it just may be fallible and open to scrutiny. How can the principles of God a completely non corporeal and non human being (or non being) be shaped and worded within a human framework and limited by our words? Surely it couldn’t or would be considered blasphemous, our definitions would pale and miss the mark all of the time, we can hypothesize but lack the exact tools to find out?
My days in university opened my thought up to other rationalist views to try and help me put together an idea of what it was all about. I began to study Communication studies and Linguistics, learning the nature behind words and their meanings, and various forms of psychology to understand the power of language, this helped me understand the metaphors and parables of various religions on a much more critical level; However I never really read any of the books or took the course seriously: fortunately my friends were studying philosophy as well as my house mate, and I would spend more time reading their books and talking with them about faith, discovering new concepts insights, usually heightened by alcohol and barbiturates, as students normally do.
From these endeavours I waivered from my traditional approach and dipped my toes into the works of Descartes, Freud, Satre and Schopenhauer, a relatively abject view which propagated Nihilism rather than illuminated the mind, I found that going from one extreme to another yielded no results, the answer had to lie somewhere in the middle; Jung’s work in particular created a bridge for me. His work in a collective unconscious and a collective of mutually inclusive symbols created the question, ‘perhaps God is a human fabrication, a coping mechanism, a supernatural framework in order to justify our purpose or appease an unexplained notion and elevate it to ‘God’s Will’?’ Jung’s work illuminated my thoughts slightly…. Ever so slightly and shifted my view to looking at both the cart and the horse, not one before the other or as separate entities.
Did God create us to justify his own existence? I love Pascal’s phrase which, sums it up beautifully in one line for the search of god, He imagines that God has been found and in doing so God says…
‘You would not seek me if you had not already found me’ this notion strikes a powerful chord with me, a simple statement suggesting that a ‘search’ wouldn’t exist had we not known that it existed before, if we had not known it then we wouldn’t be searching for it at all, it would be like looking for car keys when you don’t even have the car. That statement alone is enough to search for it in my opinion.
After my University days, I left Ireland and went to the Middle East, and learned nothing more of Christianity, but explored Islam and Hinduism and all the different variations in between. The one thing I noticed was that everyone was a lot more devout and religion reigned and moved everything in that society, ‘Inshallah’ was a common term and it was interesting to learn about the ‘Perfect Man’(when I read about the perfect man, I couldn’t help but imagine a boxing ring with Nietzsche’s Super Man boxing against Islam’s perfect man battling for their corner) Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him) a noble and hard working man, who went into the mountains and came back with the Qur’an, Driven by All-ah ( literally ‘the god’) he transformed the Arab nations who were looked down as inferior by the Judaic religions for their lack of religious framework and allegory. Muhammad quickly united warring factions in the great ummah and brought together a monotheistic nation believing in the one god, driving the advancement of civilization under the auspices of this new creed, which basically revolutionized the people. Through my years in the Middle East, I developed a respect for Islam and its tenets of a good life in servitude to God, but I couldn’t grasp a completely patriarchal society which diminished the female ideal and looked at them as objects of sin, temptation and the reason for the fall of man, and so I danced on the periphery of the notion and didn’t delve deeper into it, it was always something I wouldn’t fully understand, and so I left the Middle East and returned back to Ireland, and this is where I am now, still wondering what it is all about and hoping that something would make sense. I would love to find something or experience something where I reach an epiphany and say ‘Yes!! This is it’ but it hasn’t happened so far, or so I had thought until I read one of the most illuminating books to date, and after all this waffling I am getting to my point.
Recently I just read the ‘History of God’, by Karen Armstrong an ex nun and authority on religion, five hundred pages of unbiased thought, chronologically mapping the birth of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, how they all originated, changed and separated from each other. I won’t go into specifics but it was more a comparative study and instead of polarizing each from another and it answered some questions I had for a long time. It simply stated that they were all one similar and tolerated each other, serving the one god under different nations. It argued that over the millennia all these faiths had been lost in political agenda, power struggles and ended up where we are today. Basically the god of Abraham Jacob and Isaac (each patriarch of the three nations) was the same but translated into different nations so the people could understand and apply it accordingly; A really pivotal book which provided me with optimism and a more faithful argument, that one needs to find God within themselves, not within an establishment and make it their own, bypass all the histrionics and agenda and experience your own ideals, surely this is a Utopian ideal, but it would be better than being suppressed and demonized for not following anything at all.
People compartmentalize all the time and people often ask me what my beliefs are; to which I stutter out of fear of saying what all my beliefs entail, I can’t call myself a Christian as I am not; I can’t call myself Agnostic as I have Knowledge; I can’t call myself an Atheist as I believe in some notion of divinity; and so through the revelations of this book, I can call myself a Deist, someone who believes in god but without a traditional framework. As a result of this book, I can find some solace and justification in my pursuit, but there is still a lot to find out, experience, question and meditate on, but now the lights are on, the gun is gone and my hands are no longer jellied, all that remains is the Rubix cube.

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