I trust you’ve dreamt of the most amazing realities since last I talked to you. A while ago, I said that what matters not who, but what I am. And what I am not. I sometimes get the question if I’m religious now. All my friends knew me as an atheist, and they ask the question in the same way high-school friends who had heard that I am gay asked it: “so, are you, like, you know … into god now?”. This question, “are you religious?” has been a complicated question to answer until now. I typically answered “no, I’m spiritual” which of course led to the follow-up question “What’s the difference?”. Since I didn’t have an answer to that question, it became a complicated attempt at trying to figure it out. This is still new and confusing for me. If you have a hard time imagining the confusion, perhaps I can frame it in a context that works for you. Imagine being straight, and one day waking up realizing you’re soooo gay. Imagine being a pro football player, waking up one day and realizing that singing, which you’ve done in secrecy most of your life, is your real passion and that you have to go for it, even if it means ending your career. Imagine being a good and kind person, and one day realize that you’re not, because a good and kind person would handle many things differently than you have. Imagine being an atheist and waking up one day, with a deep, unshakeable belief that god exists, because you experienced it.
You have to re-examine everything you know at that point, to become a new person both to yourself and to others, and that takes time. And courage. I think this is the source of the most resistance I encounter as I work to be my true self. It takes a lot of courage to be your true self. My true self, the one I am within, is a slightly different person than the one the collective consciousness sees. They can only paint the image with my actions, and my ego often made me act as someone else. It still does. You see, we need the ego, because the ego is control and without it we would not be able to control our bodies, but then, as it grows too powerful, we slowly start deteriorating into narcissists. This is why it’s so hard to diagnose them, because most of us are a narcissist to one degree or another. Narcissism is like a darkness that clouds our inner true selves. We need it, because without darkness there cannot be light, but we want to keep it at a reasonable distance. If you’re afraid of the darkness of narcissism, I’ve found kindness to be a good patronus against it.
So, if you judge me by my actions, I have not shown my true self, because I have been acting as an atheist that only believes in what natural sciences believe to be reasonably proven. And I still believe in everything which natural sciences believe to be reasonably proven, but I am not an atheist. I was an atheist, both a pretend one, and a real one. I’ve found atheism to be very similar to spirituality in that regard: If you practice either long enough, even if you’re not serious – just as long as you’re sincere – you will become one.
In its true sense of the meaning, atheism is something we learn, not something we’re born with. You see, the word atheism comes from Greek: the prefix “a”, meaning without, and the word “theos”, meaning god. Without god. An atheist is not just one who believes the question is unanswerable, it’s a person who believes god does not exist. The proof is in the lack thereof: since nobody has been able to prove that god exists, even though many have tried, therefore god doesn’t exist. There’s an interesting comment on humanity in that logic. It’s the belief that we understand so much about the universe now, that if we haven’t proven that god exists at this point, god must not exist. After my adventures as a psychonaut so far, I have come to the conclusion that the existence of god can never be proven, but it can be experienced. It’s funny, the experience of being a psychonaut. I know that people have been here before me, I have learned about their encounters and visions in many books and stories. But they are relatively few. Most of us are still inside the dream, the play, the video game that is so beautiful to watch. I imagine I feel the spiritual equivalence of what astronauts feel about the view of earth when they are on the International Space Station.
One of my biggest issues with atheism is that it made existence seem finite. I’ve never had a problem with the concept of an infinite universe as a kid. I loved to learn stuff and everything I learned allowed me to ask an additional question. There is always one more question. Each question you answer discovers a bit more of the universe, and it reveals another question. It’s questions all the way down. Since there could be no end to knowledge, it was easy to understand that there could be no end to existence. And since the universe is existence made manifest, it must be infinite. But for the kind of atheist I was, there was one question that stops the expansion: “what is outside our universe?”. Speculating about different options requires considering the possibility that god does exist. I could never speculate whether the universe is a construct or not, because a construct is made by someone or something, and if someone or something can create our universe, aren’t they then god by our standards? When you have one question that you cannot stop asking, but one which you cannot answer with science, you either need to be fine with it, or you need to take a leap of faith. I tried to be fine with it, to feel like an atheist and not only act like one. It took some practice, but one day, my last superstition disappeared. Even though I called myself atheist, I had a lot of superstitions. According to Swedish urban legend, stepping on manhole covers marked “A” brings bad luck, especially in love, and I avoided stepping on them as a kid, as a teenager and well into my twenties, just to be sure. I didn’t dare telling people about good things that could potentially happen, out of fear that I would jinx them. I made small bets with something undefined, but perhaps best described as fate, every time I wanted something really badly. Like when I had been on a date and really liked the guy, but he hadn’t called back even though I had called and left a message. So as I was on the subway platform and the train was coming in, I thought “if the subway train stops so that a pair of doors is right in front of me, he will call”. I never named that which I made a bet with, almost as if daring it to reveal itself by taking the bet. Of course, since everyone said that god is good, if she or he or it took the bet, I would of course win. Superstition is divine intervention for almost-but-not-quite-atheists.
My last superstition was that of balance. For every really good thing that happened to me, I just waited for the bad thing that would cancel it out. I was constantly looking over my shoulder for that bad thing which would restore the balance took, and it took focus from the joy. It was much like I imagine living in a relationship and trying to love someone, but not really daring to love them and so thinking that the relationship could end any day. That particular day, I realized that I did not understand balance at all. I was sure there must be some sort of balance – we cannot have a thing without something else to define it after all, but I realized I didn’t understand it. If good persons could have suffering piled on them by randomness and chance, like losing your family in some tragedy and surviving, only to be diagnosed with cancer and when you are in remission you lose your house and all memories in a fire – if good persons can have so many bad things happen to them without seeming to get a break, then other persons can have so many good things happen to them without breaking the spell. Perhaps this is the true meaning of karma, it doesn’t apply to us as individuals as much as it applies to us as all living beings. After all, it’s not unusual that people with a lot of luck become rich, since luck in our society is largely dependent on money. And with riches comes a dementor of the ego that requires a powerful patronus. Too many lack any patronus, let alone a strong one, and so luck leads to corruption. Karma. On the other hand, people who go through trial upon trial of suffering and aren’t destroyed by it and start perpetuating the suffering by inflicting it others, they often become kind and loving individuals. The inner peace they find in the process of suffering is often perceived as sadness by others, but I believe it’s these others that just don’t understand. I believe that these individuals, those who have gone through these trials, understand that as sad and painful as life and existence can get, as joyful and amazing it be, and become kind in a very profound sense. Humble. They discover secrets of the universe that you only can find in suffering. In our world where extroverts are embraced, having a rich introvert life that brings you peace is often perceived as sadness, but if you look at their actions, they are often very kind. Their actions inspire other people, and so their suffering evokes more kindness from others. Karma. I believe Keanu Reeves is a perfect example of this. I must remember to high-five him too, if I ever meet him.
Atheism made existence seem finite because my universe could not expand past “this is all there is”. That unanswerable question meant the end; the final question in this direction. And even though there’s more to discover in our universe than you could discover in a thousand lifetimes, I felt claustrophobic. After all, if there’s a limit to existence, to universe, then that means there’s a limit to mind as well. But my mind is infinite, this I know. So I kept drinking from the glass of natural science, and at the bottom, there was god.
There is a deep, profound and still growing spirituality in me, a connection not only to all life on our planet, but also to something outside that which we know to exist. But what’s the difference between spirituality and religion then? To me, it’s values versus rules. My spirituality provides values, but not rules. Values give birth to actions, and as long as ego doesn’t overrule them, the actions of a person with good values become good actions. But that voice inside, of the true self, is so hard to hear, and the illusion of being separate from the world turns the ego into this cartoonish devil in your head, its chatter drowning out out the voice of reason, which is the same as the voice of love, and the voice of now. And so, even though we are capable of choosing the kindest option in every moment (treating others as we would want to be treated ourselves), the corruption of a rampant ego makes us act selfish more often than not. This is where the negative connotations of the word egoistic come from.
Values give birth to actions, and most of us know the actions of a good person. We all want to be good persons. But we also want things fast, and so instead of spending time, finding our answers to questions which science by its very nature cannot answer, we create rules so that we know what a good person does and doesn’t do. Rules are a way of enforcing behavior, the behavior of, if not a good person, then at least a decent person. But rules are rigid. Actions are by their very nature dynamic.
This is why I have always preferred the Chaotic Good alignment to Lawful Good in role-playing games. They allow room for wiggles, and what is existence if not a wave, which is a wiggle. A Lawful Good character feels to me like a robot. A good robot, but still a robot.
Some try to enforce behavior that stems from deep spirituality. Religions do that a lot. It’s almost as if organized religions are afraid that most people really don’t have the values that derive from believing in god, and therefore try forcing the behavior of believers. Add to that the corruption of power and money, and you have the many (often contradicting) rules of organized religion, when all you really should need is the most basic one: treat others like you want to be treated by them.
Then, the nation state copies that system and calls the rules “laws”. This is why a courtroom and a church have the same layout. The priest and the judge are separated from the people, who sit in pews. Both pass judgment derived from a higher power. But laws are good, right? They give us a civilized society. Yes, laws are good. Until they’re not. If laws were always good, then a good action would never be illegal. There are plenty of examples of good, but unlawful actions.
Take Hugh Thompson Jr for example. He was a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam war and he stopped a massacre of civilians. He blocked and threatened to kill his own country men if they killed the civilians he was trying to protect. He broke the rules, and there was even an attempt to court-martial him as a result.
The problems with rules is that as soon as you make one, that makes the most sense in the world, you will eventually need to make others, which in turn give birth to others, and you’ll end up with a law book, or a holy scripture, that requires a lot of study. Of course, we require people to study this, so they know how to be decent people. Take killing a human for example. I think most of you would agree that killing another person just feels wrong. It’s not the action of a decent person, let alone a good person. But what if it’s in self-defense? What if it’s an accident? What if the person who did it is mentally ill? Rules are tricky.
All of a sudden, I understand libertarians. And anarchists. They both want to get rid of as many laws and rules as possible. They want it in different ways and for different reasons, but their goals are the same, and I believe the rules and laws chafe because we shouldn’t have to regulate our true selves. Libertarians and anarchists want the system to end. They are met with resistance from the majority, because the majority understands that we are corrupt. So corrupt that we need rules and laws to behave like “a decent human being”.
So I am not religious, because I don’t have any rules other than the most basic one: be kind. Actually, my motto is “Be honest and do good shit. Be open, generous and connected.” but just like Leeloo Minai Lekarariba-Laminai-Tchai Ekbat De Sebat can be shortened down to Leeloo, you can shorten down my motto to “be kind”. I am not religious, but I am deeply spiritual. The thing with spirituality is that it is very similar to kindness. You can’t become kind from reading books, taking courses or watching movies. You can read books that tell you how it can be manifest, but just like good actions aren’t necessarily an indicator of good values, kind actions aren’t necessarily an indicator of kindness. But kind actions change you in a way that following the rules does not. You see, rules are almost always negative. You cannot do this. You shall not do that. And so you follow the rules, and you don’t do this or that, and yet you don’t feel like a good person. But acting kindly changes people around you. Soon, they will see you as a kind person, and when you feel brave enough to look at the real you, you will see that too. Each time you act kindly towards others, you will find it easier to act kindly towards yourself. Every time you act kindly, makes the next time that much easier. You just have to remember to do it often, and that’s the hard part. Once you feel kind, you find that kindness is a very effective patronus not only against narcissism, but also against fears. It comes really in handy when you’re about to face your fears.
Fears are the only thing that stands between you and pursuing your dreams. So, go dream, friend. Sleep well until you wake up.