this shouldn’t seem profound it should be obvious
Feel that I’m on the cusp of some kind of realisation based on reading the book Ego is the Enemy and my convo’s with Joel about the meaninglessness of being driven by insecurity and pride and how the Budhist idea of observing what flows out of you and letting it flow out may be superior and useful in terms of choosing which projects to work on (idea of being rather than doing, not trying to make yourself meet some kind of mould of what ‘acceptable’ looks like. In my case, this might mean embracing a less money-oriented way of thinking, towards more artistic interests.) I guess I’m kind of dim for not being able to take this idea in – or maybe not confident enough to act on it, because it seems radical and frightening. The question I am answering right now is ‘to what extent did you proactively pursue your openness to experience?’ – I’ve got so habitual in answering this that I forget the intention behind the question. It’s a loaded question, loaded with this idea that if you did what naturally inspired you and appealed to you, and if you pursued these things very actively and boldly, rather than passively and with trepidation, that that would be really, really good. When I used to pray I remember praying to God about how I wanted to learn the piano and was bothered by the way I hadn’t ever practiced with consistent discipline. I felt like God spoke to me and said ‘music’s a gift, accept it’. It was a sense that I was thinking about music as if it was something I needed to get myself to do, when instead I should stop STOPPING myself from enjoying music. The issue is not that you do not do what you ought, it is that there are forces inside and outside of you which stop you from doing the things you naturally are attracted to. The belief I have which terrifies me, is that if you pursue these things boldly, you will prosper far more than if you pursued what seemed ‘useful’. In other words, I think that the pursuit of ‘utility’ – often this means ‘will someone pay you to do it’ can be very limiting, destructively so. It results in the repression of parts of yourself which you KNOW are crucial and real and substantial. An interest in music for instance, is not a ‘hobby’ – it’s not a surface level luxury object of attention. It is not something for the rich, or something that should be considered a low priority because there is suffering and scarcity etc… If that’s something that’s very important to you, it must be pursued. I hear the voice of my pseudo-dad (because my dad wouldn’t actually say this – but in my head I hear him saying it): ‘It’s easy for you to say you want to dedicate your leisure time to music, but that’s a luxury most people don’t have, they have to work and provide money and life’s too tough for them to be able to pursue such things’. My dad wouldn’t say this. BUT, this cuts straight to my core nonetheless. If it’s the case that music is at the decadent peak of the hierarchy of needs, why did African slaves sing songs while they worked? Why do poor people all over the world choose to spend time making music even when they could be working and improving their material conditions? It’s because if you’re wired to create and enjoy creation but you repress it, it’s like having a body and never exercising – it makes you feel stagnant and semi-dead. There are consequences to repressing your interests in order to meet other people’s and your own expectations. Social expectations are often there to serve as a buffer to protect you (from financial problems, for instance), but if you let the value of money, career progression, social utility, whatever, take too much GROUND of your soul then it will rob you at such a dear price it would make you scream.
SO. What’s the answer? The answer is that yes, you should be responsible and take care of yourself and consider others. If you have mouths to feed and you choose to play guitar all day while your wife slaves away in a sweaty office somewhere, then you are morally deficient. However, once you have satisfied your own basic needs and have carried out your basic duties to others, THEN you must immediately turn your eye to those things which BECKON! Feed on your interests like a fucking vampire and follow them as far as you can. It’s actually irresponsible to ignore what feels intrinsically meaningful to you. You must, you must you must.
NOW. I don’t have perfect clarity on this, despite it being one of the ideas of which I am most certain. This feeling of unease about TAKING ACTION on this idea, where does that come from? Aubrie said it perfectly. It’s fear. Fear of scarcity, of social rejection of self-disgust, of failure bladdy-bla. It’s fear. Negative emotions can sap inspiration from you. They don’t kill off deeper interests because as I’ve already said these things are not superficial whims, they come from somewhere more fundamental. However, fear and her buddies can make you not do those things that interest you. Here are things fear says that I need to learn to ignore:
‘If it doesn’t have a route to monetisation, then it’s not a project worth your time and attention, even if you enjoy it’. (underlying belief: SECURITY trumps everything)
Counter argument: “Security is good if you are securely in a life you want. A life in which every major project has to have obvious utility from the beginning is a life that sucks ass. Premature-utilisation of your inspiration crushes it. Do what inspires you for its own sake. It’ll be more fruitful than you expect and will make serendipity come your way – the chance to do what interests you and help/be useful to others at the same time. This is also the best way to do work that you love.
‘Maybe selecting projects based on intrinsic interest works for some lucky people, but most of us have to be boring and commit to uninspiring goals to get on in life and keep shit together. It’s very rare for inspiration alone to provide the means to survive/thrive’.
Counter argument: Do you really believe that people that are inspired are less useful? I think that being inspired, even if that inspiration is unrelated to what you do to survive, makes you more likely to have a fruitful and productive life. There’s more than one way to create value. Some people make things efficient, they’re reliable, they work hard and are diligent and organised etc. They are very useful. But, only inspired people produce new things, and if you’re not all that conscientious BUT you are kind of creative, then it’s obvious BEING INSPIRED IS YOUR BEST CHANCE TO BE USEFUL.
‘Yeah but it’s still really rare to succeed as a creative, most are starving. Maybe it will work for you, but not for everyone, and probs not for you tbh’.
Counter argument: Hello Fear. You’re making my thinking black and white, so that I can’t see what’s true and good. Clearly it is important to establish security and this will involve routine which is likely not always fun. However, when you have the choice (which I have a lot more of than you want me to think) you are better off doing what is inspired, rather than doing what can more obviously provide social and economic security. Your chances of success are better, and even if you do succeed doing what you don’t enjoy, you’ve established security without inspiration, which is just stagnation and is not very desirable. You will have a life that might sound good to you on paper, but day to day you won’t like what you’re doing. Clearly, both security and creative freedom are important, but you, Fear, want me to believe that the first should utterly dominate the later, and this is not true. I need to create space in my life for intrinsic interests, free from fear, expectation of extrinsic reward, and allowed to go in whichever direction they naturally take when I’m feeling whimsical. Now fuck off back into the slimy pit and let me play piano! I bet it will turn out more useful than whatever you’d have me do anyway, because inspiration does have economic utility, but even if it didn’t I would still engage with this stuff, because I’m a human and not merely a fucking economic unit.
What do you believe?
I believe that I am a more useful person if I am inspired, and that consistently ignoring your interests because they seem to lack economic utility is a strategy that shoots itself in the foot. I also believe that social norms concerning risk are overestimated, and that the risks of NOT doing what you enjoy are higher than most people think. Finally, I believe that I am more likely to start a successful business if it is built around things I am inspired by, rather than things that I think I should be inspired by, even if those latter things seem like deadends. Also, I believe I have the ability to adapt and make things work that not everyone can do, so I needn’t make decisions as if I’m making them for other people, I’m not, I’m making them for me.
For this reason, I am going to spend my free time enjoying nature by doing things like going surfing. I am going to play around with synthesisers and grow my music collection. I am going to do these things without fear that they make me a waste-man, because I know that on the contrary, this is actually the wisest career move I can make, because what good is a solid career plan to somebody uninspired and lazy? I’m driven by inspiration, not by work ethic, therefore to increase my productivity, including my social and economic output, I must focus on becoming more inspired rather than only harder working.
Program called ‘Not On The BBC’
It’s a meta-mockumentary that follows a young man that’s against political correctness that wants to create mockumentary inspired by Little Britian. It’s a parody of itself and of everything. It has no boundaries but especially mocks the liberal left.
Episode one: ‘Islamaphobia’.
Episode begins with news readers saying the word ‘islamaphobia’ over and over again over the sound of middle eastern music. He goes around
Craig is a 44-year-old man from Rusholme, Manchester, that looks about 77 and has white hair surrounding a bald head. He has Islamaphobia and is too scared to leave his home or drop his children off at school. When he walks he’s bent double and rocks from side to side. He twitches out of nervousness whenever he turns a corner. The series is structured with short comedy sketches. The comedy sketches show scenes of him in conversation with his therapist. He can’t even say the word Muslim without stuttering. His therapist takes an exposure therapy based approach. Initially, he has to go outside and smile at a Muslim. The Muslims behave like completely normal respectable people. He is terrified but manages it, then scurries back inside. The next challenge is to order halal meat from a kebab shop. In the end, he possibly becomes a Muslim / scholar of Islam OR dresses up as a Muslim woman in order to complete his exposure therapy and goes into a mosque. His story ends with him being taken away in a police car dressed in a hijab.
Another storyline covers a feminist university student that wants to fight Islamaphobia and chauvinism. This character is a rich private schooler Marxist. Each sketch with her outlines the conflict between western liberal values and Islam. She is confronted with the incongruency in her position and the humour is in how she ignores it and pretends it isn’t there.
Another sketch is of a vegan that travels around the world via airplanes to taste the most environmentally friendly vegan foods. This person goes to people’s countries and struggles to find vegan food in them. What she ends up eating usually makes her gag, and her fuel usage relative to what an ordinary working-class person is shown in an infographic. The scene flickers between what a working-class person gets up to in their job, eating KFC, doing all these normal things that poor people do, while showing the rich vegan using way more resources while virtue signally about the environment.
Another sketch is of a left-wing teacher that really shouldn’t be teaching. Each episode he starts teaching a class normally and then ends up teaching really inappropriate lessons with hard-left views mixed in. He is a leather jacket man whose lower teeth are visible when he talks. The humour comes from his inappropriateness and the innocent facial expressions of the very young children.
Another character is a nursery teacher that teaches children about gender assignment and confuses the heck out of them. She does things like try to encourage boys to play with dolls, and finds clever ways to try to make them behave in gender neutral ways. The comedy is in how her efforts fail and biology plays out. The nursery is called ‘Trans-Friendly Nursery’. She wears a rainbow coloured dress. While being interviewed she gets excited when talking about gay pride marches she’s been on.
I should get back into reading the Bible and link it in with reading history and anthropology. There’s such wisdom in this book.
Lucia was on SM. I said I thought SM was stupid and she should quit. She showed me the page, it was about spiritual suffering posted by Florence. Two of the forms of spiritual suffering I recognised. One was the suffering that comes when you believe that you need to be someone else in order to be acceptable, and you repress parts of yourself and try to be something you aren’t. I can’t remember the other. This was humbling because I judge SM and especially stupid posts like that yet it was actually v. relevant in the context of recent events / ideas (when the student is ready…).
I then reflected on how egotistic ambition might be dominating other aspects of myself and which parts of me might be getting repressed.
I wrote down loosely related thoughts that came to me as I tried to listen to myself telling me what I want.
‘I don’t do BS. Not even my own.’
‘I want to work in a fish restaurant, examine the feathers of birds, explore music and engage with nature, read fiction and create things just for the sake of it.’
‘They would drug you put you in a little box and close the shutters.’
‘Projects. Discipline. Boredom is better than chaos. Money is useful fuel’. – these are the balancing ideas. The issue is finding how you can live an orderly life without stifling yourself. ‘
I don’t really like the individualistic, romantic idea that we are all unique and must express ourselves without concern for if it benefits anyone. “There’s serious work to be done, most ideas are BS, our idiosyncracies are insignificant, we are all basically the same.” However it’s a practical truth that it’s not good to supress parts of yourself because you don’t think they’re useful. This will not help the person or the society they live in.
Then to try to summarise:
‘Trembling, you must claim your freedom from the steady hands of death.
It’s not freedom and independence you want, but fearless exploration and creation. You put off these things until you have established enough financial and social security. Yet, the things you want financial independence for are already within your reach, you are just too afraid to grab them.
You can write things that are pointless. You can read books with no obvious utility. You can go places just to see places. You can shatter the principle of utility into a thousand pieces and dance over its remains. You have to trust that if you pursue what honestly attracts you when you’re free from fear (when you are at ease with your lot) and if you let what flows out of you flow out of you, things will be alright. Even if they aren’t alright, you don’t really have much choice. Unfortunately, you have to create and you don’t get to decide on the direction this takes or its origins.
You must see what attracts you when free from fear and see what flows out of you when you sit, disciplined, and watch.
What I have seen once again is how important it is to proactively pursue what glimmers to you, even if your rationality tells you not to do it.
The question is how you can do that while still living in a way that is useful and responsible. The answer is that it’s irresponsible not to pursue those interests, not to create. The answer is that you should do your damned job, treat people well, and once you have done these things, if you are lucky to have any time and energy left, all of that should go into creative exploration and rest. That’s how you can be orderly and responsible while also not being tamed, boxed, dried out, sucked of all your juice and spat out on the curb.
If there is a practical actionable from this insight it is this: when you decide what projects to work on in your leisure time, do what you would do if you had no fear of man or of the world and if you were exploring it naively like a child. Then do these things with ruthlessness and refusal to back down against the storms and distractions that want to shatter this fragile state. Refuse to let things get in the way of these things, because these are the things that are precious and that the devil wants to steal from you.
I am making a bet. I bet that if I do more of the things I love and less of the things I dislike in my free time, I will become the best version of myself and somebody more useful than I ever would have been trying to fit into some mould of what ‘useful’ means.
Fear wants you to spend your life seeking security and tells you to wait till later to start living. It says you cannot be yourself and do what comes naturally to you until you have security. This is bull shit. Creative exploration is not a ‘luxury state’. It’s not something for the rich and secure. It’s written on the walls of totalitarian prison walls. It’s a force to be reckoned with and you’re a fool if you repress it and think you’ll get away with it.
Convo with Joel yesterday on the beach. Here is what he said (he has confirmed that the core idea below is what he was saying). I have mostly left out my counter-arguments because I’m trying to listen to the value in what he has to say rather than find the weaknesses – first, anyway. I have removed the niceties and softening of his words and got to the point of what he was saying:
- You read self-help books because you’re discontent with yourself and insecure. You have attached your happiness to what other people think of you. There is another way of living and it’s so different it’s like another way to breathe.
- Say your goal is to get fit, it is possible to have this as a goal while still believing that it will not increase your value or sense of self-acceptance at all. There are positive forms of motivation – self-care, healthy desires etc that can make you want to get in shape. If you believe that you’re less acceptable as a person if you aren’t keeping fit, then you are ruled by fear of man and your motivation is essentially fear. This reveals that you don’t really accept yourself as you are, you believe you need to do something, be something, in order to be acceptable. Essentially, you are motivated by a belief in your own inadequacy.
- If it was the case that people that didn’t accept themselves found contentment through their efforts to improve themselves / their life out of this fear, then the world would have a lot more happy people! Many who live this way are perpetually discontent. In fact, often this lack of self-acceptance is not fixed by achievement, and when it is fixed, it is replaced by another big problem called pride. (I have written about how insecurity and pride stem from the same source elsewhere).
- I made the interjection that ‘fear of man’ and ‘discontent’ can be useful drivers that lead us to improve ourselves and our world, and that contentment can lead to complacency, which is not admirable or good. My instinct is that although I can argue this case, it’s only rhetoric obnoxiously stifling truth so I should shut the fuck up and listen.
- It’s easier for someone that accepts themselves to get fit and achieve many other things than it is for someone insecure. Do you really think fat people are fat because they accept themselves so much they’ve become complacent? No, it’s more likely that they are insecure and do not have the self-care to want to treat themselves properly.
- Joel went on to make a distinction between the recognition that not all is well in the world with a feeling of inadequacy in yourself. You can be motivated to improve the world around you while feeling content in your own skin! He pointed out that it would be far worse to make positive change while feeling discontent with yourself and that it is not necessary to drive you to take action. Here’s the difference: do you see a problem in the world and say ‘that sucks, I want to help’, or do you see a problem in yourself and say ‘I suck, I’d better do something to help the world to make me acceptable’. The second approach is obviously a worse way to live, yet many people feel obliged to make something of themselves, as if they are not enough unless they do. They are essentially saying that they suck unless they are ‘successful’.
- He then went on to ‘do you think Jesus died on the cross out of fear?’. His point was that if we take that act of selfless love as the pinnacle of human achievement (which I accept even if the crucifixion is not literally true), then clearly great achievement cannot be motivated by fear! Fear and feelings of inadequacy would not have set you up to do something like that. It would take a different form of fuel to stick with a pro-social enterprise even when it is not in your interests. Fear may be a potent motivator, but it can only lead to selfish achievement, because it is about self-preservation not love. Let me apply this to my own life. I want to get my body fat to around 14% so that I am more attractive to my gf. This project is driven mainly by fear that I will not be able to compete with others for her attraction. It’s also driven by pride – why not take pride in your body? It’s better than letting it decay. If I accomplish this, I will become proud of my body, hopefully. If I don’t, I will feel insecure. Joel’s approach is to accept myself with my current body. With his approach, if I want to get fit because it feels good and is good, then great, I can go do that and feel good about the whole thing. Let’s say that I became a eunuch in a car accident and my dick was left on the side of the road, or more realistically, if me & lu broke up and I wasn’t interested in girls for a while. Since getting to 14% body fat wasn’t really about the health benefits, or loving my partner, but was about insecurity, I would be left with no reason to do it and would become fat. What this illustrates is that using fear to achieve genuinely good things is problematic, because with success you become proud, with failure insecure and when shit hits the fan which it inevitably will in life, you don’t have the right fuel for the job! In more concrete terms, your motivation is not really to look after yourself, or love yourself, and so you won’t end up doing either of those things, even if you state that that is your intention. It is what the Bible bangs on about all the time. Without love you are nothing. Nothing you do means a thing without love, even if it has positive social consequences. If it’s not about love, it’s about fear. Fear is a powerful form of fuel, but it doesn’t get you to where you want to go. I saw the secular version coincidentally on my FB newsfeed eradicator – “Great achievement is always born of sacrifice and is never the result of selfishness”. (not happy with how well I have explained this)
- It is easier to love others once you love yourself. When you have accepted yourself as you are, you won’t judge others so much. If you believe you are inadequate because of your fitness level, you will judge others and think they are inadequate also. If you cannot accept yourself this can make it harder not to accept others, too. Judgementalness sucks.
- To start with, if you pin your wellbeing to what other people think of you, or because you feel inadequate, there’s no guarantee you will reach the desired state – the outcome is not entirely in your control. For instance, you might get ripped to look good for your partner and they could leave you anyway. That’s trying to control somebody else. Cancer can hit you. ‘The best laid plans o’ mice and men so often go awry’. Given that this is reality, it is foolish to wait to accept yourself until you meet some criteria. You make yourself vulnerable to the arbitrary forces of the world when you do that and make your identity insecure.
After two prompts I reflected on my decision to leave school and if it was worth it. I also asked two questions: ‘If I optimised for career progress over the next five years, what would I do?’ and ‘If I optimised for fun over the next five years what would I do?’.
Basically, for career:
- I know I want autonomy to work on my own projects which are either worthwhile or cool. I plan to achieve this by starting a business and investing primarily in property to provide a more consistent income.
- I imagine that these projects will all involve creative media, which will double up as content marketing to drive people into a sales funnel that genuinely solves their problem (e.g. choosing the best snorkle for your face shape, getting rid of bed bugs etc.)
- I should specialise early, because I’m FAR more at risk of being a superficially competent generalist than someone with narrow focus (+this gives me an edge in applying for product management jobs will low levels of experience).
- This specialism will be within the ‘hobbies’ sector, since I have an edge in this field. The website will basically be about good UX and good video (as these are things I think I could create and enjoy creating).
- I should take advantage of opportunities already in my environment (product manager in 5 years is great but not related to my present conditions). This basically means either analyst/business pathway or user research/UX pathway atm.
- To prepare for both options, I should take a course in business analysis and one in user research and use what I learn both with meva.co.uk to present as a case study in interviews and also with other project within BBC. (onboarding process for those with disabilities etc). The advantage of this is that it provides me with qualifications which I lack, plus prepares me for the two main options and helps with my personal projects too. Ideal!
For most fun possible:
- Create a documentary on interesting topic – like people’s experience of education systems around the world. Travel the world, doing freediving, surfing and nature photography as you go. (after apprenticeship). I have the money to do this, but realistically probably wouldn’t do this unless the documentary was linked in some way with an enterprise and my career. However, it’s certainly possible that it could be!
- Learn spanish and travel to national parks and do nature photography
Observation: when I feel tired and unmotivated, if I refuse to procrastinate or pursue something more interesting that’s not scheduled, I find that the work itself eventually starts to flow and becomes enjoyable and productive.
Avoidance is like being stuck in an underwater cave with a rising tide. You really don’t want to swim underwater and swim through a dark underwater tunnel to the outside world, because that’s very unpleasant. However, every second you stay in that cave you feel like shit and if you stay in their too long, you’re doomed. The best thing for you, even in the short term, is to just do the work.
This is also like getting in the cold sea. Standing on the edge of the harbour looking down is worse than being in the cold sea, at least after about a minute or so of feeling freezing.
Distractions seem more attractive, but their allure is VERY OFTEN an illusion. The proper object of your attention is usually most enjoyable once you get going on it.
- Define project
- List the tasks
- Plan the running order
- Add contingency
- Consider crashing
- Make a Gantt chart
- Calculate resource requirements
- Assess risks and prepare action plans
- Monitor progress using the gantt chart
- Monitor costs
- Readjust your plan
- Review the project
A project is:
a) Something new
b) With a deadline
The Iron Triangle
Find out what they want (quality), when (time) and for how much (cost). You need to know what you’re working with. Often, people ask for too much.
Once you’ve worked this out, you need to figure out if you can actually do it given those constraints. Don’t say yes until you have a plan that fits within those constraints. If you have to say no (no, need more time etc.) it’s best to have a gantt chart so they can easily see what’s involved and why you think it won’t work. Have a gantt chart from the start and then say yes or no, not maybe. If they then ask for extra stuff you can say ‘sure, but that will cost X much since it wasn’t in the original plan’.
If you start a project before it is defined, it will cost a lot more and take a lot longer, because of the changes that will take place along the way.
You do the defining and discussing spec/cost/time in kickoff meetings. You usually need more than one. Put this in writing and send it in an email. In the future, you can say ‘I delivered this project and this is what we agreed’. It is the most important email you’ll send…
Project Breakdown Structure
- Brainstorm openly which tasks will be involved. Think big and loose, not analytical at this point.
- Get others involved – anyone – it’s helpful to have multiple eyes at this stage
- Organise these tasks by theme / category (content, code, video etc, resourcing)
I have not read the Bible in a fair while and went back just now. As I read it I am confronted by a book that now seems so clearly written by people and riddled with those people’s flaws and backward beliefs. It is not a book with a coherent narrative. It is a collection of books with themes and ideas which are not compatible within the same belief system – not with integrity. You cannot have a God that promotes genocide and wants to save everybody. There is so much identity politics in the old testament – tribal warfare in which God takes a side. The characteristics of the Old Testament God seem very consistent with what superstitious men would come up with. The New Testament is also riddled with ideas and narratives that do not fit together and are incompatible with the actual beliefs of most modern liberal Christians. It is a collection of historical documents, profound, often extremely progressive. The beauty and goodness in the book is enough to redeem the violence, bigotry and human filth, but you can’t make those bits disappear. They are there, and they undermine the idea that the book is the inspired word of God – totally perfect and without flaw. Once that idea is gone, the rest crumbles, even if not within the psyche of one generation, within a few.
Problems with Scripture OR Making Human Ideas Perfect and Consistent When They Aren’t.
If you discuss basic observations or contradictions with Christians, they will do one of two things.
a) Say that they don’t understand but that they trust that God does, and hold onto the belief that God is all-loving. It is they that are missing some vital insight that would resolve the issue and maintain the integrity of the scriptures and omnibenevolence of God. In other words, they appeal to their own inability to understand, with selective epistemological modesty they won’t blink an eye about abandoning when it’s convenient. This tends to be what more intellectual Christians do when they haven’t learned how to do b) in this particular instance…
b) Find a sometimes surprisingly convincing creative solution (given how dire the material they are working with is), which uses selectively deep analysis in order to find a way of resolving the issue. For instance: Jesus was making a joke, Jesus was challenging her playfully by calling her a dog because of her race not being racist, the word for ‘authority’ means something completely different in this context because it derives from a different Greek word etc etc. This is what apologetics is – finding ways of resolving incoherencies within a belief system and converting unpleasant ideas and making them coherent with one’s more pleasant beliefs. I imagine this visually, like this:
The process for a critical thinker approaching scripture goes like this:
First: you read the Bible or make some observation about reality like ‘some people suffer to a degree that seems unreasonable’ that seems incoherent with your conceptualisation of God (or the person you’re talking to if you’re a hardcore believer speaking with a sceptic).
Second, if you stop to think about it, this will cause you negative feelings, because it is not consistent with some of your deepest held beliefs about yourself and the world you live in and the foundations of your hope. Most people, therefore, simply do not think about it and move on to passages they prefer and try to ignore that passage next time around.
Third, if they don’t just ignore it and move on, they must find a way to resolve the issue. For every issue in the Bible for all the main interpretations, there will be a resolution that others have already come up with – some theologian will have done it. Many will delight in sharing this ‘solution’ with others – although they will think of it as the ‘correct interpretation’ and not a solution. In their mind, the problem was never with the Bible, of course, but with their understanding of it…
When I talk with Christians now, they seem to think they finding solutions to specific scriptural problems is enough. If they can find some interpretation of the text that allows them to hold onto their existing beliefs, then that is ‘winning’.
My issue is not only with specific problems in the Bible. For any given scriptural problem, you will find some kind of solution which works.
Sometimes, like with the problem of God ordering for the genocide of women and children, these solutions are unsatisfying. However, since Christians have their identity, hope and method for dealing with suffering dependent on a solution being found, they will settle for such solutions. Also, since so much of the Bible is profound, beautiful and timelessly insightful, they are willing to put up with crap solutions and sort of override it with that stuff. Of course, they could keep it anyway, but they want it to be God-level insightful, not say, Socrates level insightful. The hope is in the finer points of doctrine, and to preserve those you can’t degrade the Bible to works of man. It has to be the perfect word of God.
Unfortunately, I am not willing to settle for these solutions. If you find yourself having to investigate the text to find some redemptive deeper meaning enough times, you have to ask yourself if maybe you understood it the first time, but you just don’t like it. In other words, Christians use confusion as a way of muddying the waters when the truth is apparent but inconvenient.
If it says God ordered the deaths of the women and the children and you say ‘this is a tricky passage, we have to take the time to understand God’s mercy here’ or ‘I don’t understand this but I trust that God knows better than me’ I would say – bullshit. You understand it exactly, that’s the problem! Christians like to say that problems with the Bible are challenging and require more complex interpretation, that due to our human frailty it is hard for us to understand. In fact, ‘challenging passages’ are often the most straight forward and easiest to understand. Why do Christians insist that they don’t understand these passages? They get it perfectly, the only way out of such a tricky situation is to do the cognitive equivalent of playing dead – to claim that you do not understand and completely lack the capacity to do so. Look at the text! Look at what you’re teaching your children! Look at it and don’t lie! If only you resist the urge to try not to see, you will see this is not the perfect word of an all-loving God. The complexity emerges not from the text but from its relationship with your beliefs. The text is clear, it’s your beliefs which are making it ‘challenging’.
Maybe the early church was sexist and the Bible promotes sexism. Maybe the God of the Old Testament wasn’t actually merciful. Yes yes – I know you can call it merciful ‘wrath’. Yes yes, they were doing terrible things. Yes yes, it might have been better for them to be dead. Yes, it was before Jesus. BUT – ultimately genocide is not in the toolbox of an all-loving God.
I have wanted with such a thirst for God to make it clear to me. For the ugly flaws to turn out to be my limitations projected onto a perfect text. But there are only so many solutions you can make for the book until you grow tired of them and realise that a book that requires such extraordinary mental gymnastics to defend against the most basic reason is not clearly not what Christians claim it to be.
So, in a sentence: defending the Bible from basic criticism requires constantly generating creative solutions to restore the integrity of a liberal Christian belief system. On an individual basis, these solutions to scriptural inconsistencies can be plausible and sometimes convincing, but when you step back and look at them all as a collective you see that it’s very unlikely all these Greek words really did mean something else and killing people really was loving and – oh, that was actually a metaphor… Ad infinitum.
My opinion after a childhood and teenage years spent in the Church is that the Christian life and experience actually has little to do with the Bible. It is based on more on profound, beautiful ideas cherry picked from the Bible and then it’s all about community and for some people, a particular form of mysticism.
I am utterly convinced that spiritual experiences are real and that they are often unexplainable and feel 100% like supernatural events to those that experience them. I have had many, although I don’t even enjoy the feeling of writing this now because I am so full of self-doubt about my experiences. I like the quote ‘Science and religion are not at odds. Science is just too young to understand’.
However, unlike Christians, I think these experiences result from the way spiritual life involves pushing your mind to places that it does not go in secular life. This the point at which I begin to really disagree with most atheists I hear. Most secular people think that religion is like politics – it’s about opinions about how things are and should be. This is a big misunderstanding of religion, which is made common by the way that many people that are not spiritually engaged call themselves religious.
People that say they have had injured legs heal are not all lying. People that have heard voices are not all mentally ill.
My Spiritual Experiences
My theory about spirituality – which is sketchy and based basically only on intuition, meta-cognition and some reading etc- is that it is partially the result of increased communication between your conscious mind and unconscious parts of the mind. For instance, when a Christian sits in silence and prays for the Holy Spirit and waits for God to speak, they are essentially emptying their mind of all the normal stuff that’s in it, and then waiting in expectation for something to happen. Sometimes when you do this, things happen that many secular people would not believe, and if when they happen you attribute them to God, they come with an authority and presence you cannot summon without using the God label (I have tried). Things like words coming to you and you have to look up what they mean later because you don’t know them. Images that are emotionally dense and packed with symbolism which seems more perfect, pure and beautiful than anything you could come up with. Words that are better than your words. That send a chill down your spine (as even reflecting on these experiences is doing to me right now). Two passages from the Bible I love – one ‘my yoke is easy, my burden light’ – the other is ‘you make my feet like those of a deer’. These verses capture the feeling of lightness, ease, depth of peace, absence of fear etc, that sometimes came to me when I sought out God.
For me, the main form of spiritual experience came from humbling myself and listening to how I should approach my career, relationships etc. The answers that came were in abstract images combined with a few words and a collection of interrelated ideas and the relationship between them. Sort of like a dense cluster. As I received these, I was emotionally deeply moved by a sense of God’s compassion and love for me. I was pretty certain at the time that these ideas did not come from my mind. They had a foreign quality about them and perfection and sense of calm and certainty – an overwhelming solidness – an ‘everything is all right’-ness about them. What also enforced the seemingly transcendent nature of these experiences is that I didn’t actually fully understand the ideas at the time, and often it would be later on that I would see the extent of their truth. You might think this is because I had time to find evidence to confirm them, but I doubt this is the main mechanism here. Instead, I would guess it’s more like my unconscious intuition was capable of synthesizing information from a wide range of sources, including the ideas about compassion from Jesus, to identify and solve complex personal problems in unexpected ways, which are delivered just as I expect to hear from God. So, these ideas genuinely were from a higher power – a superior part of my own mind, which when labelled as ‘God’ turns out to instil enough confidence in this doubtful mind to help me take them seriously.
That’s what I think about my own spiritual experiences – these, combined with the beautiful passages of the Bible, are the parts that make me doubt the secular world view.
Human psychology is weird, but people think their normal experience is all there is. When something extraordinary happens, they aren’t expecting it because their understanding of their own mind and what’s it’s capable is simplistic and way too limited. So, they are then very open to explanations, which they should be, because they were completely wrong before. Only, the first explanation is not necessarily the right one. Religions take advantage of weird psychology to get people to accept weird ideas. Because the experience genuinely was rather weird, a weird explanation seems, well, not that weird.
There is an illusion that our conscious minds control us. Pretty much everyone thinks this, even people that know it isn’t true. Actual life decisions etc are not actually made by the part of ourselves we identify with, only rationalised by it and communicated by it. So, when stuff happens to people that comes from a different part of themselves that is normally not in their awareness, we experience it as if it is from an external source. People that take psychedelics report spiritual experiences and mushrooms have been shown to make people more likely to believe in God. There may be a pattern here.
I also think the placebo effect is rife within the church – think healings, etc. Most people don’t know just how extreme these kinds of psychological effects are and how vulnerable we are to self-deception. The same way most people don’t understand how their own memories of the past are fabricated to a significant degree. (each time you recall a memory you change it slightly). People also never seem to consider the impact of being in a crowd has or the impact of music. For instance, there are recorded events when people have been dancing in crowds and unable to stop, in a kind of group-mania, and they danced until they all died. Speaking in tongues, shrieking, laughing, screaming – these are common amoung many religions and cults, not specific to Christianity. Also, Christians are very often happy to believe supernatural events have taken place without any evidence at all. So much so, they often assume that something is supernatural before assuming that it isn’t! I have had injuries prayed for, and the prayer has tried to convince me that it looks better afterwards. When it did mostly heal 6 months later, they said the prayer had worked. Christians consistently ignore known psychological research and assume that if they experience something as feeling authentic and real, it must be.
There is a common pattern among the two spiritual experiences I have described. In both ‘listening to God’ style experiences and ‘experiencing/witnessing unusual states’ the person assumes that their conscious mind is the only part of their mind. In other words, the parts of themselves they are aware of and have control over – like what they think, say and to some extent feel.
For instance, they will say ‘I didn’t believe in God at all and was sceptical just like you, and then He took control of my body the Holy Spirit came into me. How could this happen if not through something external to me?’
If someone says this, firstly, they might be bending the truth to try to convince you, or recalling a false memory – but let’s assume they aren’t. This isn’t actually that weird an event. It’s only weird because most people aren’t educated on how weird the human experience can be. They assume that they were in control of themselves before, well, that’s not true, in the depths of their mind things are going on they are not aware of at all. They only experience the tip of the iceburg of their own mind, suddenly something has happened deep under and changed what happened to the iceburg without them seeing it coming. It was the illusions they had – their simplistic model for understanding themselves and their consciousness and experience – which have shattered by something that doesn’t fit with them. Now, taking advantage of this strange experience, induced by events in a religious setting, the Christian doctrine provides them with a language and framework for explaining what happened. To be clear, they have no fucking clue what happened, a bit like I didn’t. Also, after an experience like that, most people are so moved they don’t necessarily even want to understand it in mechanical, or secular terms. It’s more thrilling to embrace the mystical explanations. Then of course, once they have explained what happened using the frameworks provided by Christianity, they will recall the memories of the extraordinary event along with the Christian explanation for it.
Problems with Secularism & Atheism
A lot of atheists assume that religious experiences are similar to experiences they have had. As a result, it’s hard to understand why somebody would believe something so strange. The reality is that for many Christians, they talk to God and listen to Him like an actual entity that exists and they experience this as a real relationship. Christianity is not just a set of beliefs, it’s about a real relationship. In my mind, just because God may not exist, it is ridiculous to assume that these Christians and religious people of the past are basically all liers. I think if you could swap minds and experience what some Christians experience, many atheists would immediately convert simply because they assumed it was all bullshit and would confronted with how wrong they were.
It also seems tragic to undervalue the beauty and wisdom in the Bible just because bits of it are awful. For instance, modern feminists might discredit Paul for saying men are the head of the marriage. However, the idea that marriage is about mutual selfless love is not a small idea. Secular people often say ‘you don’t need to be a Christian to believe in loving your neighbour etc’. This is true. However, the expression of these ideas in the Bible is not at all like the normal expression of them by people. It is truly profound and radical.
Take the idea: ‘love your enemies’. How many secular people really believe that that is the right thing to do? A lot of secular people say they agree with a lot of Christian values. I disagree. Some Christian values are pretty hardcore and fly in the face of normal human tic-for-tac thinking and notions of fairness. To love the person that raped your daughter? To love the person that bullied you? There are countless examples of Christians that have done this. There is something about taking ideas like this deadly seriously, as religion promotes, that is different from a secular person that lightly claims to agree. I’m not saying secular people can’t live by this and Christians can, but in extreme scenario’s I think pretty much only religion is going to lead these kinds of levels of self-sacrifice in most people. Even those secular people that do live by this principle will probably have indirectly been influenced by Jesus’ teachings – it’s not common sense at all. It’s a beautiful and profound solution to so much evil in the world and in our own lives.
You can say ‘Socrates said it first’ but I don’t think he did. This is quote from a Cambridge research paper comparing Socrates and Jesus’ teachings on love for enemies.
“Socrates held that one must never do harm to another even in return for harm received. His arguments were based on his general theory of virtue and on certain ambiguities in Greek ethical language. Ultimately the arguments are based on a form of self-interest; retaliation is a form of injustice and hence harmful to the one who practices it. He does not propose a doctrine of general non-violence, nor does he ever say that one must actually love one’s enemy.”
Ultimately, my main belief about human belief systems is that they are largely based on emotional and social convenience. This is probably adaptive to promote stability and cohesiveness within groups and within ourselves. It is far more destabilising to change your fundamental world view than people think it is, and so dogmatism is actually an emotional response to protect the ego. This means there are strong emotions at play that prevent reason from actually being free to do its thing, even in those that are otherwise reasonable and intelligent.
I suspect that I am significantly more open than most people and also more full of doubt. The result is that I destroy any beliefs I try to build. People think they are open-minded when it comes to religion, but they aren’t. I mean, how much have you changed your most fundamental beliefs about religion in your lifetime? Has the amount of information/experience you have had changed much since then? Why haven’t your views changed then to take into account the new info? Maybe because you’re a closed-minded fuck like everyone else, and its because evolution doesn’t want you to change your mind too much so it makes it painful. Why do you still respect your own beliefs if you haven’t made them compete with other belief systems? You might think that these attacks don’t apply to you because you’re open and agnostic – but even doubt can be a dogmatic position. If you doubt and critic everything all the time, what are you standing on? Nothing!
Blah blah blah – I’m done.