Rounding the Corners of Your Head
And Cutting Off People's Hands
If there is a God, surely it’s better to experience said God, than it is to simply read about it. As I write this, one source* estimates there are 2.5 billion people who identify as Christian, 1.9 billion are practicing Muslims, and 1.2 billion people claim they are secular, non-religious, atheist or agnostic. Beyond that we’ve got Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews, Pagans, Rastafarians, Taoists, Jains, Unitarian Universalists, and a plethora of other religions, philosophies and belief (or non-belief) systems all trying to understand just who we are, and what in the hell we’re doing here.
Many, if not most, of these religions or philosophies claim to have the answers. Others claim that there are no answers, and our existence is sort of a meaningless, random event.
I’d say that letting a religion, or a book, or a group of people do your experiencing for you, is a great tragedy, one that might keep you from actually connecting to that which you seek to be connected to. I’m talking about God, or the Universe, nature or the Divine, whatever the hell you want to call it.
This article isn’t about defining what God is or is not. Instead, this article is about empowering ourselves to have actual experiences of whatever it might be (or might not be). To do so, we need to open doors that have been closed, clear any preconceptions, and open our eyes, minds, and hearts. We have to become a blank slate as much as possible, so we can look for the truth that is both within us, and around us. Just because you are told something is true, doesn’t necessarily make it so. We need to question what we’ve been taught.
You might be wary, and rightfully so, of a person telling you to question the books, religions and ideas that you’ve known all your life. And you should be weary, I’m just another person and as such I am inherently flawed. I’ll say it right here and now: don’t take anything I say as the truth. I am biased, to be sure.
Having grown up in the Catholic Church, attending Catholic School and mass twice a week through my formative years, I certainly have a lot of bones to pick with that particular religion. For example:
How would one fast for 40 days and 40 nights and not fucking die? (Matthew 4:2)
If your brother dies and you don’t bang and impregnate his wife, are you a bad Catholic? (Mark 12:19)
Why should men be allowed to be preachers, while women are meant to be silent? (Timothy 2:11)
AND why did Sister Mary force my buddy Nathan to eat his fruit cocktail, after he’d spilled chocolate milk in it? (Miguel-icus 19:92)
Not to mention all of the hateful, ridiculous passages about:
homosexuality (Leviticus 18-20, Romans 1:26-27, Matthew 19:3)
mixing linen and wool (Leviticus 19:19)
“rounding the corners of one’s head” (Leviticus 19:27) (whatever that means)
And other sins of equal or lesser value to saying God’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7)
Meanwhile the following are all cool, as long as God said so:
murdering non-virgins (Numbers 31:17-18)
cutting off people’s hands (Matthew 5:30, Deuteronomy 25:12, Mark 9:43)
owning slaves (Leviticus 25:44-46, Ephisians 6:5)
Like I said, I’ve got a few bones to pick.
That being said, I’m also trying my best to be objective, to see that just because certain parts of Catholicism don’t resonate for me (understatement) doesn’t mean that the entire religion/philosophy is garbage. On the contrary, I think there are many things about Catholicism, and Christianity in general, that can be quite useful.
being kind, humble, patient, and loving (Micha 6:8, Ephisians 4:2)
Giving to others in need (Luke 3:11)
loving one another (Galatians 5:14, John 4:7)
even those who might harm you (Luke 6:27-28)...
These are the types of ideals that make the world a better place. One could hardly be blamed for seeing these teachings, and deciding that the Bible was a good guide on the path for a meaningful life. The key word here, of course, is guide.
If we unquestioningly subscribe to one philosophy, we risk accepting things that aren’t true (at least for us) and dismissing things that are absolutely true. That’s why we need to emphasize experience over dogma. Reading one book, or going to one church, seems like a pretty limited way to try and understand something that is supposedly unlimited. Of particular concern are the religions that demand obedience, and punish those who would question their validity. Actual truth doesn’t need to force, or even convince people to believe in it.
Immediately I think of Jehovah’s Witnesses, going door to door to talk about their lord and savior and generally annoying the shit out of time-pressed authors, busy parents, broke college students and the like. I understand their intentions are pure, they’re legitimately trying to serve a higher purpose. You know who else is trying to serve a higher purpose? Terrorists. Not just Islamic extremists as much of today’s media would have you believe, rather extremists from virtually all of the major world religions. I know comparing Mormons and terrorists is a bit of a stretch, but the point I’m trying to illustrate is that trying to impose your beliefs on others is a slippery slope: at best it’s annoying, at worst it’s downright dangerous.
Most of us are probably smart enough to recognize the difference between terrorists and faithful followers of Islam, right? The overwhelming majority of Muslims aren’t violent, and certainly aren’t terrorists (DUH). As with the Christian bible, there are many things found in the Quran that are actually quite wise, and could be seen as good guidance for a meaningful life. Again the key word being guidance.
If you dig deep enough, you’ll find a certain amount of contradiction or hypocrisy in virtually any philosophy or religion. Of even further damage to these perhaps well-meaning institutions, are the people who claim to represent them, and the horrific acts of violence they commit. Child abuse in the church, sex scandals involving famous yoga instructors, even the Buddhists have had prolific cases of highly respected masters committing acts of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Many acts of violence have been swept under the rug until very recently, does this mean that Christianity, Yoga and Buddhism are all bullshit philosophies?
We could, at the very least, say that these religions and philosophies have (deep) flaws, as do many (most/all of) the people who follow (or claim to follow) them. Still, to entirely dismiss religion might also be a mistake.
Think of the Atheists who reject religion and the idea of God, or the Nihilists who take it a step further and say that life has no meaning besides that which we assign to it. There is great wisdom in not accepting religion as fact, just because others would have you do so. There is great wisdom in questioning what you’ve been told, and searching for your own answers. However, if we want to be truly objective, and search for the actual, God’s honest truth (see what I did there?), we must be cautious not to fall victim to our own biases, or to fall to the other extreme.
It’s a commonly accepted fact that electricity exists. I’m writing this on a computer, which runs on a battery, in a house, in a city that runs on a power grid where people can charge all sorts of devices, run all sorts of appliances, and enjoy the modern convenience (or perhaps luxury) that is electricity. Even though we can’t (usually) see electricity, we accept that it’s there, because we can see the many things that are possible because of electricity.
At one point in human history, electricity wasn’t something people used or even knew about. It’s been 200,000 or so years since Homo sapiens neanderthalensis came onto the scene, and only about 2600 years since the Greeks started rubbing fur and amber together (but WHY?), experimenting with what we now know to be static electricity.
It’s a big Universe, safe to say there is a lot we don’t understand. To an Atheist or a Nihilist denouncing the existence of a higher power, I would say that just because you can’t prove something, doesn’t mean it has been disproved. I’m not trying to convince anyone to believe one thing or the other, I’m simply making an argument for keeping an open mind.
Part of keeping an open mind means admitting we don’t know as much as we think we do. In this regard, Agnostics might be the closest to the truth, or at the very least the most open to it. I’m talking about the “don’t know” type of Agnostics, more than the “can’t know.” Yes, if there is a God and it is as great as they say, then the entirety of its nature might be more than we could ever really know, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t know more than we do now. To say we can’t know is limited, to say we don’t know is wise.
In a sense, I am suggesting that we start from a place of relative Agnosticism, of neither belief, nor disbelief. Our past experiences will naturally color our perspective, and we will undoubtedly lean one direction or the other, but trying to soften, or at least examine our current beliefs can help us immensely. I’m not saying that if you believe in God, you need to stop doing so. I’m just suggesting opening your mind and heart to the idea that God might be something very different than what you’ve been taught.
And if you’re a total non-believer, that’s fine too, I just want you to open up to the possibility that there just might be more to this life than we currently know. At the very least, we can try to admit to ourselves that we don’t know as much as we think we do.
This is our starting point. I want us all to have meaningful experiences, and to do it often. Whether these experiences reinforce your beliefs, or make you question them, you will have gained something.
*Source: adherents.com 2019