I've got a new apartment baby,
And it protects me from the lonely whistling streets ...
For those who didn't know: Max and I moved into an apartment in Claremont on the weekend. The address is 3/28 Shenton Rd, Claremont. I have, for some reason, been keeping this a little hush-hush, so apologies to anyone who feels I've been keeping them out of the loop after finding out by accident because of some loose-lipped gossip. It's not that I don't like you or think you deserve to know things, it's just that I'm a naturally secretive person. I also have a marked tendency to enjoy presenting surprising things to unsuspecting people as faits accomplis
. Grovelling to the imagined legions of people emotionally dismembered by being kept in the dark aside, the move has been a grand success, and the place is full of beautiful things that belong to me, to Max, and now, to us both I suppose.
And now, for something completely different.
I don't believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you ...
Nick Cave, 'Into My Arms'
I am taking this opportunity to clarify some of my personal views regarding faith, religion, spirituality, science and the existence of higher powers. I don't expect I'll get very far, because quite naturally there's an awful lot of ground to cover. I've decided to do this because one of my friends 'found God' (for want of a better term) recently and when I discussed it with her she mentioned that in the process of deciding to become a practising Christian another
friend of mine had discussed my religious views with her. Horrified by the notion of my heartfelt cosmological understanding being the subject of approximate scuttlebutt amongst my social circle, I have decided to offer a summary thereof.
Firstly, I don't believe in God. I was never taught to believe in God or any other higher power as a child, and ever since I've had the mental faculties required to pretend to oneself one is making a decision on the existence of God, I have actively chosen not to believe in God. Nothing in my own personal experience has made me want to change this belief. Obviously, I can't prove God doesn't exist, and I'm quite happy to accept the possibility that there could be a higher power (so I suppose in that sense I'm an agnostic) but I really, genuinely feel that there is no God, nor any other, similar being or group of beings.
Secondly, I don't believe in souls. Along with not believing in God (and specifically, I suppose, a Christian God), I also don't believe in an afterlife. Not that the concept of the Christian afterlife really makes any sense if there isn't a God. And, of course, I don't believe in reincarnation. In my ideal world, I think the afterlife would consist of another world similar to this one, with all the concommitant joys and trials. I don't think I would want
an eternity in perfect union with God, even if such a thing were possible. Although I know that feeling is utterly senseless.
The word 'soul', as it is commonly used, is quite a useful one. People use it to mean those characteristics they consider most intrinsic to a person: virtues and vices they have in abundance, their outlook, their levels of happiness, funkiness, whatever. Fine. I can take that usage, although I believe these characteristics are expressed as part of a person's mind, and not as part of some other, elusive quantity. But I don't believe in immortal souls.
Thirdly, I think that human beings are (again for want of a better term) machines. That is, a human being is effectively a very complex, but perfectly natural
(in the sense that is governed by physical laws that apply to all other things in the same way) mechanism that interacts with the environment about it. This isn't a revolutionary belief, but quite a standard one that dates back at least a couple of centuries. It's also worth noting that imagining a human as a giant clockwork watch is not particularly useful metaphorically speaking. Humans aren't just static machines that always work the same way: humans are constantly changing physical processes. Your 'self', and mine, however it is defined, is in a constant state of flux. Just as a side note, I think the clear and immediate effects that alcohol (and to a greater extent psychotropic drugs) have on one's personality are strong evidence that those things you consider to be 'you' are really just the normal operating conditions of a very complicated mechanism. Those operating conditions can be deliberately changed by external stimuli.
The most complicated part of the human machine is obviously the brain. From an aesthetic viewpoint, I think the human brain is easily amongst the most fascinating and beautiful natural phenomena one can ever have the pleasure of even attempting to comprehend. If I'm reducing the things in my immediate environment to components of a mechanistic worldview, then I suppose I have to describe the 'people' I 'know' as just incredible configurations I can interact with in a moderately consistent, predictable manner.
Anyway, you get the general idea about my beliefs, and also, about my taste. So now, on to how I feel about spirituality and religion.
I think the way people talk about their spiritual experiences is very interesting. Since I don't believe in God, I don't believe that people actually talk to Him or in any way commune with Him, either. I think, somewhat cynically, that the fact that people so often connect their spirituality with 'nature' (whatever that means) and a free, uncluttered environment, or with moments of extreme emotional tension, for good or bad, is evidence that what people call 'spirituality' is just having strong emotions and suddenly noticing that you have them.
Just like most of you, I've experienced moments of almost euphoric personal satisfaction whilst wandering through beautiful forests in contemplation of the wonder of the universe. I've had emotions of love and anger so overpowering it would be easy to explain them as interventions by some higher power. But the key word in that sentence is 'explain'. People make up
stories about what causes them to feel the way they do, to give themselves a basis on which to understand the world around them. They aren't likely to make up stories along the lines of 'the combination of fresh air, exertion, sunlight and contemplation of something intellectually stimulating resulted in an increase of my serotonin levels' (note my unscientific lack of comprehension of neurochemistry by the way). This is because, at first sight, they just don't help much. So instead they come up with something roughly along the lines of 'God entered my heart, as he does at all times when I am virtuous and at peace with the world'.
When people start believing each other's artistically concocted stories about how the world works, and using them to acquire a sense of personal safety, to justify all manner of arbitrary personal feelings and base drives, and to get a better grip on the distribution of property and leisure time in their society, that's when you get religion
. As you may be able to sense from this introductory sentence, I'm not overwhelmingly positive when it comes to religion. I see religion as a way of explaining away the reality one observes, of stopping oneself from conducting a proper process of inquiry into one's interactions with other people, and of deluding oneself about one's personal worth. There are big differences between different religions, of course, but one thing they have in common is a reliance on completely unprovable
assertions about the nature of reality that actively encourage people not to examine the world around them. This is referred to as 'having faith'. I think faith sucks. I'm quite happy for people to axiomatise things about their existence in order to proceed in a constructive manner. But I vehemently dislike the practice of adding to these axioms an extraneous, hierarchical teleology with lots of contradictory ramifications, and then clinging to it to the point of death and murder.
Religion insults and denies the natural wonder of the world around us by explaining it as a creation of God (an explanation which throughout the ages has stood against proper investigation of that world). Religion causes the perpetuation of injustice by duping some people into an acceptance of their straitened personal circumstances, and offering others a vindication of the oppression that it gratifies them to continue. Religion makes a mockery of, and devalues almost utterly, one's personal decision to live according to certain moral precepts by linking this decision to a crude system of punishment/reward, enlightenment/ignorance, fortune/misfortune. By all means, say 'I shall not kill'. But make this decision your own. To my mind, accepting religion is somewhat akin to tying a blindfold around one's head and pleading 'Hold me!' to an unresponsive world.
In conclusion, I'd just like to say that the nature of belief is obviously quite complex and some people who read this will likely point out that in my impassioned ideological ranting I've no doubt indulged in some of the sloppy thought processes I'm so eager to criticise. If you feel this way, take a moment to mentally weed out those parts and search for the core of what I'm trying to communicate. Other readers may well be quite offended by the anti-religious tone of the last few paragraphs. I'm truly sorry for this. Also, I don't think of you any less because you don't agree with my views. I saw this post just as a way of getting across my own point of view. I tend to polemicise when I do this, which tends in turn to create a view train wrecks of logic, emotion, and hyperbole.