Archive for the 'Spirituality' Category

Building bridges while others burn theirs

About seven or eight years ago I was in the sticky position of being “piggy in the middle” in a dispute that broke out between a friend of mine and a relative. It was a stressful time for me, and without going into the details, I ended up flushing that friendship down the toilet. A couple of years later, I contacted this ex-friend again briefly, because I needed help with making a DVD of a movie we had both produced. He declined to help, but asked for a copy of the DVD when it would be finished. I said, “The DVD was offered in exchange for your help.” He replied, “You’ve got a nerve. Don’t contact me again.” That was the last time we spoke … until a couple of months ago.

Circumstances had conspired to put us in touch with each other again. I decided it was time to reach out and try and rebuild the bridge I tore down, without any request or demand or expectation of apology, and especially without any pride or self-defence. I said something to the effect of, “I regret speaking harshly to you those years ago. Would you like a copy of the DVD?” He suggested I could post it to him or we could meet somewhere. That was all the encouragement I needed to invite him to my home.

I’m really glad I did. We chatted for well over a hour, talking about our lives. We also cleared the air about old times. Neither of us were interested in apportioning blame, only in being reconciled. “I think we should keep in touch,” he said at the end, and we exchanged phone numbers.

I’m talking about this now because I’ve been reflecting on how easy it is to hold on to bitterness and resentment. When I was a Christian, I lived with a sense of reality that said for every sin there is a punishment, and forgiveness only comes with a price. For God to forgive man, it was necessary for him to send his Son to die on a cross - the transferrence of our debt and punishment to another. And for man to forgive man, it is written, “If he repents, forgive him.” The Christian message is one where every wrong deed is of great import, and forgiveness is withheld until certain conditions are met. It makes bitterness and resentment so easy to cling to and justify. And I did, for so long.

I remember hearing a funny sketch by comedian Bill Hicks. Hicks has no problem poking fun at religion, and it often comes up in his stand-up sketches. In one sketch, he talked about how a couple of guys once came up to him after a show and said, “Hey, Mr. Funny Man, c’mere. Hey, Mr. Comedian, c’mere … We’re Christians. We didn’t like what you said.” After a pause for dramatic effect, Hicks replied, “I said, ‘Then forgive me.’” The audience roared with laughter. When it subsided, Hicks went on, “Later, when I was hanging from the tree …”

There’s something ironic in the fact that I had to let go of Christianity in order to learn how to forgive people. When I reflect on my own attitudes as a Christian, it’s not surprising to me that some of my friends have cast me off. All I’ve done is express a difference of opinion, and that’s all it has taken for some of my friends to wave bye-bye. They view life with a sense that everyone else around then should conform to their personal expectations of what’s sacred, and when I refuse to agree with those expectations, they turn their back on me. A Christian (one who has stuck by me) recently said, “Christians are the only people who shoot their own wounded.” Of course, I don’t see myself as wounded, but I imagine that’s how I look to a Christian. The truth is I have never felt more clear-headed or in control of myself. I feel like my mind belongs to me for the first time in many years.

One of the major shifts in my understanding is in the areas of guilt, punishment, forgiveness, retribution - all those inter-related themes. I have come to believe that the entire concept of punishment for wrongdoing is incorrect (that is not to say there should be no prisons, but I think the focus of such places should be rehabilitation and the protection of society, not punishment). I made the transition to this kind of understanding after I started to see that human beings are not separate from each other. We do not have individual souls. Individuality is an illusion that plays out in the arena of the physical world. From a wider perspective, everything is one consciousness, eternal and all knowing. But in these bodies, on this physical phane, we are conscious of only a tiny fraction of what we truly are. We are everything that exists. I am you and you are me. Oh, I know how this sounds to a lot of ears, and I feel so frustrated that I can’t communicate the extent to which I sense this to be true or indeed why I sense it to be true. But let’s at least take a look at the implications of this kind of understanding.

When we see ourselves as separate from one another, it is so easy to dismiss another person. If they do something wrong, we can say, “They made their own bed; they have to lie in it.” But if we are all one consiousness, then the thing that is happening to someone else is also happening to me. It makes no sense for me to condemn that person, only to help them. Our belief in separation facilitates everything from the holding of grudges to the belief in eternal damnation. I spent so much of my life trapped in that understanding, but when you open your mind to challenge these preconceptions, it can open to door to wonderful change.

I once believed that it was profound that a saviour had to die in order to save me from my sins. I now believe that there is no vengeful diety marking my every action, no need for such a sacrifice, no eternal punishment for any actions that anyone every did. It sounds like a free-for-all, like we can all do whatever we want without consequences. Well, take a look at what I wanted to do. I wanted reconciliation with a friend that I had cast aside. Where did that desire come from? From this thing called Original Sin that we’re all supposedly born with - this predisposition towards evil? Or is that yet another smokescreen in life - another illusion that actually has the effect of luring us towards negative behaviour because we’ve been made to believe we’ll never do better? In my experience, that’s exactly what Original Sin is, and my rejection of it has done nothing but improve me morally.

I’ve come to see that our beliefs can cause us to fill our lives with such high-and-mighty nonsense. Recently I’ve been on the receiving end of so much “How dare you say such-and-such,” “I can no longer be your friend,” etc. And in the past I’ve dished out my fair share of it, too. But I’ve come to understand that so much of the human drama is a joke. Here we are, Infinite Consciousness, incased in these egos, unaware of our true magnitude, identifying ourselves with these finite bodies, with the mental chatter and chemical addictions of our brains. We look at the ego and say, “This is me,” and quickly add, “Screw you.”

But when you understand that we are all One, there is only one attitude to others that makes any sense: love. That is why I can put aside pride and ego, and the need for apology, and reach out to someone whom I had been pointlessly resenting for years.

I have no doubt that some of my friends who have been following my blog for a long time are going to see me as slipping further from “common sense” into la-la land. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I can’t ignore the good changes that have happened inside me, as a result of embracing an openness to possibilities outside of a Christian worldview. I have conquered my personal vices; I have courageously spoken out about a sensitive issue and refused to be silenced when pressurised; I have learned to love unconditionally, putting aside grudges and resentments. There is no pride in stating these things, only an encouragement for others to step outside of their conditioned reality to discover the same things and more. Frankly, when I look back on my Christian experience, I was a blundering oaf by comparison, blown to and fro by dogma and doctine that was making a mess of me.

But someone will say (and has done), “Your life may be better morally, but that’s only because Satan is making it easy on you. He will use any methods to get you, as long as he gets you.” Frankly, from a Christian perspective, that’s borderline heresy. Christianity is supposed to have a positive transforming effect on the lives of those who embrace it, with the power of sin broken by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But when rejecting Christianity has the effect of changing you dramatically into a better person, something is seriously wrong somewhere.

Forgiveness is there for the giving. That’s the simple truth I learned recently. No need to hold resentment, to demand apologies, no need for keeping a catalogue of wrongs. It’s just a choice - one that can be made without condition. Of course, it may not be easy. Someone may do something horrible to me, and my reaction might be to wish harm upon that person. That’s when I need to remember, we are all one consciousness. There are no good guys and bad guys. Even people who do great evil are an expression of Infinite Conciousness. Such people need to be loved and helped, not punished.

My perspective on life in Northern Ireland

Sometimes I hear local people talking about what a dump our area (Portadown & Craigavon) is. True, there’s graffiti sprinkled here and there, and you’ll encounter the occasional abandoned housing estate that looks like a set from Escape from New York. But there’s another side to living here that makes it a wonderful place be. And I imagine this applies to the majority of places in Northern Ireland. Sadly, the good side often goes unnoticed, for want of simply turning off the TV and getting on a bicycle or going for a walk. Living here can be a real feast for the eyes, if only we would open our eyes.

On Sunday afternoon I packed a camcorder and went out on my bicycle. I travelled no more than three or four miles from home (from Killicomaine to Craigavon Lakes), photographing anything that caught my eye. Sadly, I ran out of battery before I ran out of things I wanted to film.

So here’s a brief snapshot of the natural beauty of Northern Ireland without any special effects or filters. This is where I live, and this is why I have no desire to leave …

The inexorable oil crisis: Reasons to be glad

I saw a documentary recently called A Crude Awakening, where a bunch of experts said what they thought about oil. Documentaries tend to have an agenda, so you’ve got to be cautious about what you take from them. In the 1970s, scientists worried over the coming of a new ice age; now it’s global warming. As for oil, the experts seem to think that it’s all going to be gone in the next twenty years.

I’m not going to get too attached to specific projections, but there are certain inescapable facts we can take away from a documentary like this. The main one is: it doesn’t matter when the oil’s going to run out, it is going to run out. Oil is a limited resource. It doesn’t matter how many new repositories we discover, there can only be so many. Whether we use it all up in twenty years or a hundred, one day it will be gone. And the human race will be in big trouble. And I can’t help but smile.

You see, I don’t like the way the world is. On a simple practical level, as a cyclist, I hate these lethally fast, carbon-monoxide spewing, four-wheeled metal monsters that I share road-space with. I can’t help but smile at the thought of oil prices rising and rising, as oil becomes less and less available, while our pay checks stay the same. Eventually, I think people will have to consider bicycles, as it will simply be too expensive to drive. Flying somewhere on holiday may become a luxury that only the elite can afford.

I’ve been a fan of the idea of the electric car, but this documentary gave me a new perspective on that. With electric, there’s no longer any need for petrol, so that solves the immediate oil crisis problem, but all we’ve done is transfer the demand for the needed energy to our home electricity supply. And where does that come from, in the majority of cases? Electricity power plants based on non-renewable fossil fuels: coal. The electric car is also almost as much a pollutant as the regular car. It’s just that the pollution is all spewed out at the power plants instead of distributed evenly across the country via the tailpipes of millions of cars.

Even nuclear power isn’t the answer to the oil crisis. I personally hate nuclear power because of the deadly waste product it generates and our need to store it somewhere safe on our very unsafe planet. But even if I could get my head around that objection, nuclear power depends on - surprise, surprise - a limited, non-renewable source: uranium. And when it’s gone, it’s gone forever. So, with nuclear power, all we’re doing is pushing “The End” forward another by another few years, and not very many years according to the documentary.

They say there’s no way to build enough wind turbines to serve entire countries, in keeping with the energy consumption that we’re used to. Solar panels are very expensive to buy, in comparison to the small amount of the energy they generate. The bottom line is, the oil is going to run out, and there is nothing to replace it with. The modern world is living in a state of addiction to a drug, and someday the dealer isn’t going to have any more product. When that happens, we’re all going to experience withdrawal symptoms. No more long-distance travel. No more import-export trade. No more plastics. The impact sounds monumental, but it will likely happen in stages. Everything will simply start to get more and more expensive, and we will lose our privileges by degrees.

But you know what? It’s absolutely fine by me. Funny, even. I have grown to care a great deal about the environment, and it’s heartwarming to know that man can’t keep doing what he’s doing to the world, in the name of expedience and big business, indefinitely. The means of his destructiveness will run out and the earth will recover. I would love to see the roof of my home decked out with a big solar array, and a wind turbine blowing in the garden, while I learn to live a simpler life (something I’ve already started doing in many ways). Mankind lived for thousands of years just fine before the invention of electricity. We’ll never have to go back to that, but we won’t be able to enjoy anywhere near the level or energy we’re used to. I can’t help but think that in several hundred years time, our children might be sitting in schools having history lessons about the horrors 20th and 21st centuries. And they will be shaking their heads in disbelief at the things we’ve done to the planet in our pursuit of wealth and affluence. “Yes, children. In some population centres there were so many motor vehicles causing so much pollution that entire cities became encased in a smog that was so dense you could photograph it. The smog made it more difficult to breathe and caused illness. But people thought this was normal life, and they refused to change.” And the children will gasp in disbelief. People don’t accept their personal responsibility for the planet’s welfare when they see themselves as one among billions. But when all those billions are spewing out pollution, we are indeed all collectively responsible. There’s a saying that I love: No snowflake in an avalanche ever felt responsible.

I understand the predicament people are in. Not everyone is free and single like me. Not everyone works within two miles of their home. Not everyone can say, like me, “Screw cars. I’m gonna ride a bicycle from now on.” Not everyone feels they can change. But the change is coming. And I think that’s great. You can cling to the present system tooth and nail, feeding your oil addiction while the government makes you poorer and poorer through rising prices, until finally you are broke and beaten; the oil is gone and your money is in the hands of the fat cats. Or you can look for ways to beat the system and turn it into personal empowerment.

Of course, the discovery of alternative energy isn’t something that I can completely write off, and it’s certainly something to hope for. The past hundred years have seen massive technological leaps, and I think we can expect more. It’s only fair to say that change of one kind or another is coming, and none of it looks bad to me. The sooner the better, for the sake of the health of the planet and ourselves. To quote a song by REM: “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

Overcoming the fear of hell

I still feel disturbed by that meeting I had two days ago [see previous post]. It’s like a dark cloud hanging over me. I’m trying to get a handle on why, so that I can move past it.

The man I was talking with is actually the previous pastor of my church, under whose ministry I sat for years upon years of my life. And I wasn’t just a church-goer. I was in this guy’s life as a close friend and confidante for a long time. He was also like a mentor to me. We did grow apart to some extent at one point, because I stopped seeing life in quite the same way as him, even as a Christian. Although he stayed a part of my life even then, because I was friends with his son.

It was a hard experience having him speak angrily to me and condemn me. Hard because there’s still that suspicion in the back of my mind that he’s much older and wiser than me. Those memories are powerful. And combined with his reaction to me, the effect is a sort of irrational dread that tries to creep over me.

The easy thing to do would be to give in to it. To say, “I don’t want to go to hell! I believe! I believe!” I have to remind myself that all I’ve done for the past few months is I’ve followed what I believed to be true. The thing that some Christians can’t seem to understand is that sometimes people learn things that change them. This is true when you become a Christian in the first place, when you make the transition to turn from your sins and believe the Bible. For most people, this change is once only, and forever. I expected it to be that way with me, too, in the beginning. But it has been a rocky road, primarily because I have always been a thinker.

For instance, it doesn’t sit easy with me that the Old Testament God commanded his people at one time, “Thou shalt not kill,” then at another time, “Make sure you kill every, man, woman, child and infant of the Amalekites” (paraphrased from 1 Samuel 15). I use this example a lot when talking to Christians because it is the strongest example I know of the way they refuse to ackowledge serious problems in the Bible. The first hoop they usually jump through is to say, “God has the right to do whatever he wants.” That was never in question. I’m concerned that he appears to contradict his own law, on the most disturbing level. I mean, if I had to spend an afternoon putting a sword through little babies, just because God told me to, I imagine I would probably want to kill myself. Another hoop is to point out, “The Amalekites were an evil people, and God was using his people to judge them.” Those babies were thoroughly evil, huh? People are not evil because of the race into which they are born. All people are born the same. It’s our experience that determines what we become. Still another hoop is, “You’re judging the ancient world, which was a very different culture, by modern standards.” That might explain why the people dutifully accepted commiting this atrocity, but what we’re dealing with here is the law of God, and God is absolutely righteous and unchanging; culture doesn’t come into it. Finally, the Christian may concede and say, “We just don’t understand these things.” But I decided to say, “Hold on a minute. It just isn’t right to keep ignoring what this is actually saying forever.” And can you really condemn me for that?

We’ve got the more heartwarming story of Abraham and his son Isaac, where God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to him on an altar. At the last minute, while Abraham is literally holding the knife over his son, God intervenes and tells him to stop. Abraham’s obedience is tested to the ultimate standard, and the readers think, “We knew you weren’t really going to do it, Lord. We know you’re a loving God.” But we’re all too quick to put out of mind the harrowing story of 1 Samuel 15.

Am I against God? No, no, no! My point is, this isn’t the true God; it’s an illusion. The ancient world is filled with stories of cultures sacrificing animals (or people) to so-called gods. I don’t think the God of the Old Testament is any different. I mean, when you read the early books of the Bible, you learn that this religion demands the constant flow of animal blood. What on earth does the infinite, eternal, all-knowing, transcendent God need with the endless slaughter of animals, day in and day out, all year round? “A pleasing aroma to the Lord,” the Bible says. I’ve heard the usual Christian defence of this, of course, that it was a prophetic picture of the death of Christ, sacrificing his life for the sins of man. But that just doesn’t make sense. Millions upon millions of animals had to die over thousands of years for a mere metaphor?

I refuse to ignore these things any more. It’s like I said before. When you dare to deconstruct your belief system and re-examine it without any emotional attachment to it, it all starts to look very different. I can choose to bravely face the implications of this new awareness, or I can cower away because I’m afraid of what people will think of me if I step away from the herd. Likewise, I can be afraid of some eternal punishment on the shaky grounds thats it might be true. It’s one thing to warn someone of an actual, real threat, but another to manufacture the reality of a threat by using a warning.

The pressure to conform never hit me so strongly as it did two days ago, when I was confronted by the pastor and his wife. But I see it for what it is: manipulation through fear. We’re not allowed to make our own minds up. In essence, it’s like a voice in my head saying, “Forget what you’ve learned, Darryl. Forget all your objections and be afraid. Believe what they tell you, because you might be wrong. And if you’re wrong, you’ll end up in hell. Believe in Christianity, Darryl. It doesn’t matter about all that horrific stuff that doesn’t make sense. Don’t think. Just be safe and snug. Take the easy way out and believe.”

I have no doubt that the pastor and his wife would be delighted if I did exactly that. How many Christians actually care why a person believes, just as long as he believes? And they say Christianity isn’t mind-control. Am I going too far? Well, let’s look at how Christianity advances. We have a society today that, in general, doesn’t believe in Christianity, and hasn’t got much of a clue about the Bible. So we assert that the Bible is the word of God, and we present its message, which is essentially, “You didn’t realise this, but God actually holds all your ’sins’ against you. You are condemned to go to hell when you die. But there is a way out. Turn from your sinful ways and believe that Jesus sacrificed his life to pay the penalty for your sins.” We tell this to our children from a young age, rarely encouraging them to question its validity. This is how Christian families are perpetuated from one generation to the next. “The Bible is the word of God” - that’s the great assumption of our lives, and the starting point we want our children to cling to. Let’s face it, few of us are scholars. I once read a portion of a book on the reliability of these 2,000-year-old manuscripts that we call the New Testament, and the whole topic got so complex that I didn’t know what to think. You’ve either got to assume you’re dealing with the word of God, or not. But if it’s all based on an assumption, how can you condemn someone for choosing a different assumption? Or how do you spread the Christian message to the world when people in general no longer assume the Bible is the word of God? Answer: you use fear. You tell them that the consequences of not believing you are so dire that they must believe. Forget the question of whether it’s true or not - just believe. I ask you, does that sound reasonable?

I hear this all the time from Christians: “I believe the Bible is the word of God.” Well, why do you believe the Bible is the word of God? I don’t believe the Bible is the word of God. And I’ve got reasons for not believing, some of which I mentioned earlier. I actually don’t have a problem with anyone who wants to believe in the Bible. They’re free to believe anything they want to believe. You won’t hear me shouting threats at people, or hanging them out to dry, because they want to believe something different from me. Unfortunately, Christians not only say, “I believe the Bible is the word of God.” They add, “And you too must believe.” In my experience, some Christians will respect a person enough to try and find out where he’s coming from, and to coach him with reasonable arguments towards what they believe. Others don’t care what you believe and just want to metaphorically slap you across the face with “Turn or burn!” My stance is, if all you’ve got behind this is an assumption, you can’t expect the rest of the world to fall into line and see reality as you do. And yet some of my Christian friends will insist on condemning me and holding our friendship to ransom on the condition that I see life in the same way.

This matter of “assumptions” is equally true of me with my belief that we are all one consiousness. I can’t prove it to anyone. And I only “feel” it to be true intuitively. I talk about it because it’s a way of looking at life that helped me be more compassionate to others. And I’m hoping this may be interesting to others who are open to the idea of intuitive knowledge - knowledge that comes from within, from a higher aspect of our consiousness, rather than from our observations on the world around us.

The experience two days ago was actually slightly scary to behold. I realised that the minds of these people had been utterly absorbed by a complex and rigid belief system that was in total control of their actions. And their belief system is just one of countless factions of Christianity - which is why I’m experiencing more tolerant reactions from other Christians. The experience scared me, because I realised I was looking at something that wasn’t so different, in principle, from the religious extremism of the Middle East. I saw that these people would do whatever the word of God (or their interpretation of the word of God) told them to do, no matter what the consequences to those around them. In this instance, the consequence was their denial of me as a friend. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if their own son ever decided to change his worldview. Would they break their own hearts and insist that he move out of the house on principle? I had the scary realisation, “I really don’t know what these people are capable of.” And I’ll never forget that.

As for me, I intend to continue being the open-minded, caring, spiritual person that I am, open to new information, wary of manipulation, always searching for the truth about life. All I can say to the Christians who now find me unacceptable is, “I’m doing what I believe to be right. This is me. Take it or leave it.”

More friendships crash and burn

I’ve just had a pretty harrowing evening. A Christian man and wife in their fifties/sixties recently discovered my change in belief. I knew it was only a matter of time before they found out. I didn’t want them to remain in the dark indefinitely, but I’ve been dreading this day, because I know how hardcore they are about their faith.

So I called round to their house to talk it through with them. It didn’t go well. They believe I have committed apostasy, that I have “rejected the saviour.” It doesn’t matter that in my mind I haven’t rejected anyone. All I’ve done is changed my mind about what I believe is real. You can ask me, “Do you deny that Jesus is the son of God?” How can I deny something that isn’t even a reality to me, because I question the reliability of the documents that explain this person to me? Yet the idea that I have rejected an actual person is what will be imposed upon me, because they will only see it from their point of view.

They listened to me for a while. And they got their own concerns off their chest, too. It was mainly prophecies of doom upon my life, and the heavy suspicion that I had never been a true Christian in the first place. Furthermore, I’m no longer welcome at their house, nor do they want me to maintain a friendship with their twenty-two-year-old son, whom I’m quite close to, in case I lead him into deception. How about the idea of respecting his ability make up his own mind about what he hears? That doesn’t come into it, apparently. I left with a heavy heart, and feeling like I had been poisoned.

I also saw how real this was to them. The lady even wept slightly during the proceedings, so I know there is real love for me in these people, but they have lived so much of their lives within Christianity (or their particular Calvinistic brand of it) that it appears impossible for them react any other way than they did. And yet it’s the most bizarre kind of love. The underlying attitude seems to be, “I love you, but I must reject you. You are only acceptable to me if you believe what I believe.” Or, “I love you, but I must hang you out to dry.”

As fate would have it, a few weeks ago I bumped into the very guy who led me to Christ when I was seventeen. Hadn’t seen him in many, many years; he lives in England but was back here for a visit. This guy’s Christian faith has been a rocky road, like mine. Many years ago, in an email, he admitted to me that he was gay. And, you know, it was great to actually have the chance to tell him in person, “I just don’t care. You’re all right by me.” To allow myself to empathise with what he has had to go through and to express true unconditional love - not the love that says, “I love you but I don’t accept you.”

As for me, the experience this evening only reinforces my views about religion, and the problems with accepting any rigid belief system that tells you what you’re supposed to think en masse. The craziness of the extreme reaction to me is illustrated by the simple fact that I’m the same guy I always was. Better, morally, than I’ve ever been. To some extent, it’s even true to say that I was living a double life as a Christian, and for the first time in I don’t know how many years, I’m now the same person in private that I am in public. What’s a guy to do with that reality except embrace it?

Turning Hyde back into Jekyll, permanently

Trapped in a lonely body
I’m losing control
Can’t show my emotions
And I’m losing my soul
Could it be that I’m obsessed
With feeding my disease?
I couldn’t make it known
The hidden things that no one sees

Yeah, loser
I’m a secret loser
Loser
I’m a secret loser

Seeing is not believing
It don’t mean a thing
Although it appears to be that
The loser is king
I can understand that what you see
You think is real
But underneath the surface
Is a wound that cannot heal

Those are some of the words to “Secret Loser” by Ozzy Osbourne, which is the song that came immediately to mind regarding the topic I want to discuss. Anybody feeling any sense of kinship with old Oz here? I sure am, and I’ll bet a lot of you are, too.

In the last post, I touched briefly on how my new spiritual views provided a pespective that made it easier to love other people. But what about that other side of morality, where it’s not a case of how our actions affect others, but how our actions affect ourselves. We all have our “secret sins,” things we do (or even just things we think) in private that the world doesn’t see - things that fill us with a sense of shame and guilt, and even the feeling at times that we’re living a double life. Is anyone empathising with this? I’ve had plenty of intimate conversations over the years on this topic, and I know I’m not alone. Last year, at school, I even dared to give a talk on the subject of “vice” to the eleven- and twelve-year-olds at Scripture Union. It made me nervous, because I personalised it. Especially nervous, because a couple of teachers decided to sit in during that particular session. At the end, to my surprise and delight, the teachers expressed how brilliant they thought the talk was.

What’s clear to me is that everybody’s suffering here. And if anyone has some information that can help people, it should be expressed, and not hidden out of a fear of condemnation by people you assume to be better than you. It’s a big relief when you realise we’re all swimming in the same sewer.

The Christian idea that we possess a sinful nature (or “the flesh,” as some Bible translations phrase it) is what once allowed me to put some substance around why human beings have this perverse streak. We have a predisposition towards evil, it seems. Right now, though, I find myself questioning the validity of that, for several reasons. Firstly, I asked myself, can evil behaviour be put down to a combination of free will, bad decision-making, outlook on life, upbringing, environment, education, indoctrination, etc? In other words, are your problems with sin down to a combination of things you’ve done to yourself and things that have been done to you? Does man necessarily have to be rotten at his core? Secondly, I asked myself, has the belief in a sinful nature helped or harmed my ability to better myself?

Rather than give definitive answers to those questions, I would rather let you ponder them (heh-heh, there’s a handy way to curtail another blazing argument). Instead, what I want to do is present a different way of looking at things that certainly has helped me lately.

What is it that prevents us from being as bad as we could be? I think the main motivator is the realisation of consequences. I don’t mean fear of consequences; I’m choosing my words carefully here. We restrain ourselves from doing evil to another person because we know that what we do will hurt them, and we possess empathy with the victims of ours actions. Of course, not all of us choose the path of good; I’m just illustrating how I think the anatomy of the conscience works. There’s an interesting movie called Equilibrium, starring Christian Bale, about a future society where mankind is drugged 24/7 into a condition where they can no longer feel anything, because (according to the movie) evil is caused by our ability to feel. A disturbing kind of peace reigns supreme - except when someone decides he doesn’t want to take the drug anymore. Then he is mercilessly killed by the authorities. The philosophy of the movie gets a little messed up in places, but you can make interesting observations watching it. Principally, it’s not the ability to feel that makes you evil; it’s the absense of feeling that makes you capable of doing anything to anyone! Empathy is the key.

But sometimes we are put into a moral arena where empathy towards others doesn’t even come into the picture. When you’re sitting alone in front of your computer with a box of Kleenex at hand, feeling the temptation towards wrongdoing, your actions are affecting no one but youself. It gets worse when you can’t even see any real consequences for yourself. I’m still alive, still healthy; I haven’t been struck down by God; everything’s okay, despite how often I’ve gone through the neverending cycle of guilt and repentance. What I’m saying is, it’s very hard to stop yourself from giving in to temptation when you can’t see any permanent consequences. The mere knowledge or feeling that it’s wrong doesn’t seem to be enough. Even grasping an awareness that it’s an offense to God doesn’t seem to be enough. The only consequences appear to be feelings of guilt and shame that will dissipate in a short while. If that’s what it means to possess a “sinful nature,” then I would say yes, I possess a sinful nature.

But that’s as far as it goes with me. It is too easy to let this belief in a sinful nature cloud your mind into believing that you will never overcome the vices you want to overcome. Recently, and for maybe the first time in my life, I have found that when I’ve opened my mind to some different ideas, I have changed remarkably for the better. I’ll try and communicate these ideas.

You can overcome personal evil because there actually are consequences. I just wasn’t fully clued into them until recently. Everything is consciousness. Consciousness and energy are the same thing. When you think something, you either create positive or negative energy, and that energy has a direct and immediate effect on you. This is why we can feel literally sick our stomach by something we’ve done. All negative thought creates a negative imbalance within you. The worst aspect of it is that like attracts like. This is true on the physical level with the types of people who gravitate towards us, and I suspect equally true on the spiritual level with what sort of entities gravitate into our lives. Yes, I am talking about demonic influence and oppression. What we do on the physical level has a massive impact on the hidden spiritual reality all around us. Our actions, and more importantly our very thoughts, affect our spiritual/emotional/phsyical balance - the whole of our being, because everything about us is interconnected. That imbalance can be subtle or great. The important thing to realise is that the imbalance is happening, and it doesn’t have to happen. This is the knowledge that helped me to get my feet planted firmly in the right direction and to stop playing with darkness.

For me, forgiveness from sin doesn’t really come into the equation. I’m actually concerned that the awareness of being able to claim forgiveness after I’ve committed a wrong will encourage me to get away with doing that wrong, time and time again. I’m also concerned that constantly feeling guilty before God is so detrimental to self-esteem that it often keeps me locked in a self-destructive attitude. I think I’ve fallen into these states of mind plenty of times. Now, I feel a greater ability to pursue good when I embrace the idea that it’s all up to me, and when I shun the idea that I’m being stared at with a disapproving gaze by God. Dropping all that baggage, it comes down to this: I can choose to keep harming myself and face the consequences in my life, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and in every other way, or I can get my act together.

And I have got my act together. Gone are the little voices that say things like, “I’ll never overcome this”; “I’m such a disappointment to God”; “People would hate me if they really knew what I was like.” I’ve discovered that I can, and have, overcome my personal vices. I don’t think I’m a disappointement to God because I don’t live with the reality of a God who holds everyone to account for everything they do. And some people probably would hate me if they knew what I had been like, but any lack of understanding they might have towards me is no concern of mine, because I’m overcoming my problems and forgiving myself for what I’ve done; I know what I am and I like what I am.

The key to overcoming evil (overcoming moral imbalance, which is what it really is) is to promote balance within yourself, in every way you can. Learn to see this as the most vital thing you can do. Start disciplining your own thoughts. Take your mind away from negative thoughts and intentions as soon as they occur. I think we’ve been conditioned to think that it’s normal to have good and bad days - days when you’re on a bit of a downer for no good reason. Total nonsense. There’s no reason at all why we can’t live lives that are characterised by emotional, spiritual, physical and moral balance. We just haven’t prioritised it. Realise that there is much that you can do to maintain balance within yourself. Part of that means embracing a healthy lifestyle, choosing not to eat all the crap we’ve been led to believe is a normal diet. Health on the physical level and health on the spiritual and emotional levels are all connected; feel unhealthy and you will feel emotionally imbalanced. Everybody has experienced that, right? When you feel sick, it’s a short step to feeling depressed. Sometimes promoting balance in your life can be as simple as going for a walk to clear your head. What I’m saying is, start to see the importance of these things and how they relate to all parts of you, including your morality. A person with a balanced life feels no inclincation to give in to negative impulses. In short, if you’re a mess in other areas of your life, don’t expect to be healthy morally.

I don’t know if anyone feels any kind of resonance with what I’m saying. All I know is, this way of looking at life feels real to me, and the actual benefits it has brought to my life are very real. Aspects of what I’ve said are certainly compatible with Christianity, and possibly I should have been able to implement them into my life effectively as a Christian. All I know is that I couldn’t, not for all the years I’ve been a Christian. According to a poll conducted by ChristiaNet.com, 50% of Christian men are addicted to pornography. I say that without any condemnation, only with empathy. I feel that I’ve now found a greater measure of understanding that I only possessed in a half measure as a Christian. I feel like I’ve found the truth that really has set me free.

Salvation, damnation, and alternative information - the rewrite

The pen is mightier than the sword, they say. Words certainly do have power. And that power has to be wielded carefully. I discovered that when my original version of this post (and to some extent the whole direction of my blog over the past few months) cost me the friendship of someone I’ve been close to for about fifteen years. With that in mind, let me attempt a more personal and respectful rewrite of some of what I was trying to convey …

When you’re in a situation like I’ve been in for the past few months, where you sense your Christian faith changing into something else, there’s a certain degree of nervousness about the experience, because part of you is wondering if you’re damning your soul to hell. The Christian message is pretty clear. Entrance to heaven requires faith in Jesus. Ultimately, though, I feel I need to take a deep breath and remember that fear is not a particularly healthy motivator. When I first became a Christian, aged seventeen, there was a certain amount of fear that spurred me into the necessity of taking action, but in fairness my decision to become a Christian was really grounded in the idea that God is all wise and his way is therefore the right way, regardless of what I might want to do with my life. I have to say, to the credit of my Christian friends who are debating with me out of great concern at the moment, none of them have tried to scare me back into believing with a “big stick.” Instead, they have sought to reason with me. Jesus, too, when he was on earth, did not use a kind of all-encompassing fear-mongering; if you read the Gospels carefully, you will see a great variety of actions that Jesus used, depending on whom he was talking to.

So, taking all this into account, I think it’s important for me not to give into fear. If I should return to Christianity in time, it should be because I have become convinced of its validity, and for that reason alone. So, my reaction to my current situation is: take a deep breath, don’t be scared, be wary of those who would control by fear, and above all keep thinking.

One reason why it’s very difficult for me to believe in hell is because my parents aren’t/weren’t Christians. I lost my mother to cancer three years ago. She made no claim to being a Christian during her life, and I only worked up the courage to talk to her about it when she was on her death-bed, drifting in and out of consciousness on morphine. I only got a couple of minutes of lucidity from her while I was talking and she gave me a vaguely positive reaction, but nothing that I could hang my hat on and say, “My mother is saved.” You would think this uncertainty would have played on my mind. It didn’t - at all. The bottom line in all this is that I am psychologically incapable of believing my mother is in hell. That is evidenced by how easily I can talk about it. The idea of hell just doesn’t compute - that this precious person who loved me so completely throughout her life is now suffering in eternal torment. We are connected to people we love in ways that make facing a reality like this so utterly horrible that it becomes simply unreal. And I will face the same thing again with my dad in the not too distant future.

I have to admit to feeling a certain amount of relief that, with my current mindset, I don’t feel I need to warn my dad about that he is (hypothetically) facing fire and brimstone. I’ve always been uncomfortable, as a Christian, with the idea that I should impose the way I see life upon others, with warnings of a dire future, when I’ve never really been one hundred percent certain that Christianity is the true way and that any such grim reality truly insists. I have memories of taking part in missionary activities and feeling uncomfortable about what I was doing in a way that I think goes beyond mere nerves.

Let me be clear about what I’m not saying. I haven’t stepped back from Christianity because I don’t like the idea of hell. I’ve stepped back from it because I see major problems with it. Letting go of the belief in hell is just a major plus for me emotionally, as a result.

In the absense of Christianity, I’ve been looking to a different view of life; considering evil not as a thing to be punished but as an imbalance to be balanced; seeing forgiveness not as something which we should withhold until certain conditions are met, but something which can be given freely by just letting go of any requirement to make the offender pay, whether that requirement is as simple as “Say you’re sorry!” or as drastic as “You should be made the pay for what you did! They should lock you up and throw away the key!” It’s a breath of fresh air for me to realise that I don’t have to embrace the vengeful negativity that I’ve been conditioned to think is normal.

I believe we are all aspects of infinite consciousness. We are all connected to each other, part of the whole that is Creation or God. And the only motivation that makes any sense at all in this view of life is love.

Let’s use a radical example. Someone murders your brother. You feel that he should pay. The police catch him and he is convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. You’re satisfied that he got what he deserved. This is the view that is typical of us when we see ourselves as disconnected from each other. But if you can believe that we’re not disconnected from each other, that we are all unique parts of the same whole, the situation looks radically different. When you understand that from a wider perspective he is you and you are him, the only reaction that makes any sense is love.

Am I saying that all criminals should be let out of the prisons to run amok? Of course not. What I’m saying is that it’s one thing to incarcerate a person for the protection of society and it’s another thing to do it to punish him. Ideas like punishment and retribution make no sense when you are motivated by the desire to help everybody. Yes, even the scum of the earth. The Christian ideal also agrees with the sentiment I’m proposing: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.” But what I’m suggesting is that I’ve found an underlying understanding that makes this kind of love possible.

I don’t believe I need to find salvation. I don’t think there is anything to be saved from. I believe the answer is to transform our understanding, then we’ll start realising our potential for goodness and love. For instance, the person who understands that he is infinite consciousness won’t be trapped in materialism, will not be greedy for wealth, and is very unlikely to end up a thief. This life is just a tiny little ride on the vast plain of eternity. When you understand that, so many negative motivations lose their hold over you. On the flipside, a person who lives with the understanding that death is the end is so much more susceptible to this negativity. I don’t think evil is caused by a sinful nature; I think how we choose behave is a direct reflection of our view of life. And I’ve found that the answer to my own personal evil inclinations and urges is the transformation of my understanding.

Too simple? Too idealistic? But I see evidence of it all the time in the school where I work. The kids who struggle the most with bad behaviour are those who have the hardest things to put up with at home. They grow up in a destructive home environment, imbibe an imbalanced outlook on life where they see a bleak future for themselves, and they become “bad.” The answer to these kids is not punishment for bad behaviour; it’s love and compassion. They are no more outside “the grace of God” than more fortunate kids who grow up in a loving Christian home and to whom becoming a Christian is as easy and expected as putting on your seatbelt. The idea of evil coming from a sinful nature is too simplistic to me, and is not a true reflection of what you see in the world.

This alternative view is there for the taking or leaving. If you ask me to prove it, I can’t. All I can say is I am a more loving person for having embraced it. It is simply the intuitive knowledge that everything is consciousness and you and I are aspects of that consciousness. And we are all one.

From Christianity to … spirituality?

For those of you who have been following this spiritual transformation of mine, it’s about time I told you the specifics of what I’ve now come to believe.

I suppose it started off with me reading about “chakras,” energy vortices that are beyond the physical realm and aligned with the body - seven of them, from the crown of the head to the base of the spine, each with its own function. Whether this is your soul, part of your soul, or whatever, I’m not sure, but it’s seen in terms of energy, rather than something far out that can never be understood.

This gelled with me, because of an experience that I had when I was twenty-four, when I was praying with my girlfriend. She prayed that God would touch me, and I experienced an intense vibration in the stomach area for several minutes (skip the dietary, jokes, please; I’ve heard them all). Very pleasant, very exciting, and very real. Also documented by other Christians. Touched by the Holy Spirit? I thought so initially, but the conservative Evangelical in me soon dismissed the whole thing as purely physiological. Over a decade later, now reading about chakras, I couldn’t help but wonder, did I experience energetic activity in my solar plexus chakra?

The trouble is, rationality is king with me. I needed to bring this knowledge down to a level where I could hang it on something rational. And so, I decided to experiment with something I remembered from my teenage years: I saw a friend perform telekinesis (more correctly called psychokinesis), the moving of an object with the mind. So I tried to do it myself, and as you’ve seen lately, I got some excellent results. Whilst this doesn’t prove anything specifically about chakras, it does bring the view that we are beings of energy a little closer to credibility than the laughability that many people attach to it.

There are other reasons for believing in chakras, too. For instance, the heart chakra, in the centre of the chest, is our emotional centre. We don’t feel emotions with our brains. Our souls experience them in the chest area. Anyone who has felt deep emotional distress knows the crushing pain in this location. It’s where we get the expression “broken heart.” It’s certainly not the organ that pumps blood around the body that is suffering. It is the energy centre that occupies that physical space. The throat chakra is said to be responsible for matters of the will. Think about some of the contexts in which our throat becomes uncomfortable, or dry, and makes us gulp.

Okay, so I can connect some of the dots to things we know from this physical world. It isn’t proof; it’s just a way of looking at things. Here, briefly, are more ways in which we can look at reality. I’m going to use some terms that I will be hard pressed to define accurately, because I don’t fully understand the concepts myself, and it’s going to sound like I’ve jumped off the deep end.

Everything that exists is consciousness. All matter is consciousness. Yes, that means that every blade of grass, every rock, every piece of matter in the universe, is in some sense conscious. Everything is in a state of vibration, and matter is consciousness condensed to a slow vibration. What we see as the physical realm is only a fraction of what really exists.

Our own consciousness is tuned into this “frequency” - one of a great many frequencies. Our birth in this life was not our beginning. We didn’t have a beginning because we are each an aspect of the infinite consiousness that is everything - God, if you like. It is very likely that our consciousness experienced other incarnations before the one we are currently in. Being born is not the beginning of your life. It is like your consciousness chose to incarnate, to condense itself into this body, thus shutting off a great deal of its “higher self” including all the memories of every life it has lived. After the experiences of this life, your consciousness with leave the body and reconnect with its higher self and you will move on to whatever’s next, whether that is another incarnate life or something different.

On a more down to earth level, we perceive the physical world in a certain way, and we think that’s the way it really is; we say that a blade of grass is green or the sky is blue, or whatever. What we should realise is that that’s not strictly true. Other creatures are perceiving this world in different ways. The cat or the lizard see the world differently, with their slit-like pupils. Flies, with their compound eyes, have a vastly different means of processing visual reality that our eyes do. Bats are near blind and rely on a form of radar. Birds migrate by sensing something we don’t. Dogs experience a world of smells that we know little about. My point is the world isn’t actually as humans see it. The physical world is just an energetic frequency, and the body is just a computer that interpets the physical world in a certain way to the brain. The old philosopher, I think it was Rene Descarte, who said, “I think, therefore I am,” was onto something: the view that you can’t really prove that anything exists beyond your own consciousness, because everything that you gather through your five senses is transformed into impulses in the brain that your consciousness interfaces with and experiences. Your brain is between you and the world.

There’s a book called The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot that I’m dying to read on this theme. If you have the time, here’s a good video that explains the idea behind it. Be warned, it’s 20 minutes long:

So, try to stretch your mind to conceive that we may all experiencing a collective “illusion.” Something like Neo in The Matrix. When you rap your knuckles on the desk, it feels solid, but it’s actually the illusion of solidity created in your consciousness by the “computer” that holds all this together. Not even your body or brain is real. It’s all part of the program. A screwball idea? Remember, the illusion of solidity is something that even we mere humans have made great strides in. We invented the hologram. Look at the incredibly detailed worlds that you can interact with in today’s videogames, a three dimensional illusion behind a flat TV screen. I’m suggesting that physical reality may be the same thing on a vastly more spectacular scale. And behind it all is not Neo sitting asleep in a vat of smelly gunk in a human battery farm. Behind it is infinite consciousness, of which you are a tiny and unique aspect undergoing an experience in your evolution. You, and everyone else, and everything else that has conscious reality are one.

Oh boy. I really did jump off the deep end, didn’t I? Do I really believe this stuff? I’m afraid I do. But who’s to say it isn’t just the biggest load of poppycock? Nobody. I can’t prove this stuff. These are hard admissions for me because I’ve started believing certain things without knowing quite why I believe them. That’s a strange thing for me to say because anyone who knows me knows I prize rationality above anything. While these beliefs aren’t irrational, they are unprovable. The only thing I can attach these beliefs to is “intuition.” And that’s another weird thing for me to say, because I’ve never thought much about intuition until now, and I’ve certainly never lived by it.

I think it works like this. Once you let go of the mind prison that says “this world is all there is” and the other mind prison of religious belief systems that restrict you to a strict set of beliefs - once you open your mind to all possibility - then you connect to your higher self and to knowledge you had before you were even born. People live lives shut off from this knowledge because they are disconnected, at a mental level, from their higher selves.

Of course, it’s very convenient for me to believe something and then to say I don’t have to prove it because it’s intuition. And I know someone will accuse me of just believing what I want to believe. But for me, the strength of conviction I feel goes beyond wishful thinking. That’s why I’ve been reluctant to really let fly and talk about this stuff. I also want to be careful to say that this isn’t something I want to impose on you. It’s just another way of looking at life. Take it or leave it, it’s up to you.

For me, I can’t understand rationally why I believe so strongly in this stuff - so stongly that it has transformed my life. Did I merely read some good material by David Icke and decide to take the rest on faith? Come on, I’m smarter than that. Something else is going on here, and I don’t know what to call it except intuition. For me, the proof of the pudding has been in the eating. And next time I’ll talk about some of the ways this new understanding has benefitted my life.

The light side of Christianity

So I have abandoned my Christian faith. But to what extent? Was it so bad that I would spit upon the Bible? Am I looking forward to returning to the pleasures of sin without a guilty conscience? Do I feel as if I have been wasting my life on a pipedream up to now? No on all counts.

I’ve been speaking quite negatively about Christianity recently because it was necessary in explaining the changes I’m going though, first in the reasons why I felt I had to abandon organised religion, then ultimately why I abandoned my Christian faith. But the truth is, it wasn’t all bad. Far from it. And this post is to reclaim that balance, lest I be viewed as someone who abandoned his faith out of bitterness for past experience.

The Bible is full of excellent standards to live by. A couple of weeks ago I accompanied a young Christian friend of mine to a church quite far away where he had been invited to preach. I went purely to give a friend a little support. But you know what? It was a pretty good sermon overall, even though I was listening as someone who had abandoned his faith. He preached from the Book of Daniel about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and how they refused to submit to the Babylonian king’s laws because they conflicted with standards of their own. My friend talked about how we can choose to do what we believe is right, regardless of circumstances, or be as changeable as the wind when it starts to cost us. Great stuff.

And the Bible is full of great stuff. I’m a wiser man from having studied so much of it. I am free from the mindless pursuit of material wealth because of the Bible. I am aware of the meaningless of life without an eternal aspect. I prize honesty. I believe in sexual purity. I could go on. The Bible is responsible for many good things in my outlook on life.

On the athiestic flipside, which I fell into at times, there was merely a brief respite from some psychological problems that had crept into my life as a result of a distorted church experience, followed by a depressing reality that death is the end. I won’t elaborate. I’ve discussed this in depth in previous posts. Suffice it to say, you can tell that, even having abandoned my faith, I feel a lot more positive about Christianity than I do about athiesm.

Possibly a slightly wrong impression is given when I talk about abandoning Christianity. It’s closer to the truth to say that I discovered something that was a few steps closer to the truth that what I had been believing as a Christian. I did not leave Christianity because I was looking for a way out. The new information that led me in this direction came upon me unexpectedly. In fact, I felt quite disturbed by it initially, because it made sense to me and challenged my beliefs. It became a choice of whether to bury my head in the sand or rise to the challenge of contemplating what I was reading. I chose the latter, and this is where I ended up. Not a pissed off ex-Christian fuelled by bitterness. Not somebody who’s been dying for the chance to do the bad things he misses, without having to feel guilty anymore. I haven’t changed one iota morally, except for the better (and I’m looking forward to discussing the specifics of that when I can work up the courage to be open about it).

I suppose it has to be asked, then: why did I stop being a Christian? Because I don’t see the Bible as the infallible word of God. Because the problems are there, not only in the Bible, but in the church, and in the church’s chequered history. And in some of the concepts the Bible demands that you believe (I will elaborate, in time). For the past seven years, I think I felt that Christianity had to be true because the polar alternative to religion, athiesm, is was so obviously untrue to me. Lately, I started to see that there was an alternative to both athiesm and religion. And when you consider that I’ve always had problems with both of those (I’ve done a lot of hoppng between them in my life), it’s maybe not so surprising that I would choose this new avenue of thought.

I am the one and only

“Eek! Has Darryl Sloan got a messiah complex?” you cry. Nope. “I aaaam the one and onlyyyy … Nobody I’d rather be!” Good ol’ Chesney Hawkes, eh? You can’t beat ‘im. I’m serious, actually. I love that song. If you can get around the 80s cheese factor and listen to the lyrics, it’s actually carrying a really positive message championing individuality.

Individuality is claiming the freedom to think for yourself, to form and hold your own opinions. And the enemy of individuality is anything which denies you that freedom.

In the previous post I stated that our freedom to think for ourselves is “taken away by Popes, pastors, and every other religious authority that insists it has a right to your mind.” Let me clarify and expand on what I mean by that.

Our freedom to think for ourselves is only taken away because we give it away willingly, and are encouraged to do so. This is illustrated by the way that most Catholics don’t become Protestants; most Protestants don’t become Catholics; the majority of adult Christians are those brought up in Christian homes, rather than people who converted to it from here, there and everywhere. Churchgoers generally aren’t moving towards greater awareness of “the truth,” despite listening to countless sermons week after week. They are buzzing around merrily in their own cliques. That is not my opinion; it is observable reality in all the countless church factions. In my personal case, it is illustrated by the imbalanced state of mind I went through in my earlier years as a Christian - the days when I took at face value what I was told about what it is to be a good Christian. Only by taking back my freedom to think, by slowly realising that I was being fed error on some levels, was I able to say, “No. The way you people want me to think is not right.” And to step away. It was very hard to do, and took a long time. The scope of the problem is illustrated by how many people choose to blindly tow the line of whatever their individual church scene says is right. Churches are not teeming with people who embrace their individuality, nor are they encouraged to be individuals. Paradoxically, all the factions in the church were no doubt created by certain people expressing their individuality and rebelling, but this does not negate the point that the only way to escape the prison of a particular church faction that is in error is to start thinking for yourself and to stop giving up that responsibility to your minister.

The Bible itself, as an authority, is also a problem because when you become a Christian you have to accept all its precepts en masse. If your own intelligence leads you in a different direction on some points, you have to agree with what the Bible says regardless of what you think, because it’s the word of God. Take homosexuality for instance. I believe it’s not natural, okay? I did as a Christian; I still do. But if I allow myself the luxury of disregarding that the Bible calls it an “abomination,” I suddenly find myself able to empathise with other Christians who have been dealing with homosexual urges all their lives, with no evil intent (two of whom I’ve known as close friends, incidentally, and one of whom was responsible for leading me to Christ). And yet, typically, if I’m sitting with another Christian and a homosexual comes on TV, the Christian will happily pass a remark about “that queer.” There is the general feeling among Christians that homosexuality is a great evil, with Bible verses to back that up. My personal individual view is that there’s something very unbalanced about that attitude. So, do I believe what the Bible says, or do I believe what my experience of knowing homosexual Christians tells me? When your indivuality conflicts with a belief system, you’re in trouble. And that’s the problem with belief systems. For me right now, rejecting the belief system and embracing my right to have my own view, it is so refreshing to be able to look at somebody and say, “It doesn’t matter to me what you are,” instead of regarding them with suspicion as if they must be some kind of deviant. If I’m honest, I haven’t looked upon homosexuality as “evil” in a long time; “not normal” is as far as I can reasonably go. So, I’m guilty perhaps of covertly reclaiming a little of my individuality that was not strictly permitted for me.

I’m not just Bible-blasting here. This giving away of one’s freedom to think is equally true of people who vegetate in front of soap operas, and base their moral outlook on the behaviour of what they see there. On the topic of homosexuality, it’s interesting to note how society’s view of it has become gradually more tolerant over the past couple of decades. Is this because people have suddenly become more enlightened? Could be, but (the rights and wrongs of homosexuality aside) I’m more inclined to think the change came about by the bombardment of the population by positive depictions of homosexuality on TV dramas and movies. It’s covert manipulation, folks, made possible only by our willingness to accept what we’re told without thinking for ourselves. True, attitudes to homosexuality really were in the dark ages a couple of decades ago, and social consciousness has probably been moved to a better place, where we’re less likely to kick the crap out of a couple of “queers” in a dark alley, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the means of delivering this better understanding was a manipulative one. I mean, these days a guy like me can hardly raise a single objection to homosexuality on purely rational grounds without being immediately branded homophobic.

The big problem is that we can so easily sacrifice our ability to think for ourselves without realising we’ve done it. Another manipulation I fell prey to at a point in my life is the idea that the scientific view of reality is the only one that holds any water. You get an impression from society - and that’s all it is, just an impression, with no actual substance - that scientists are the truly smart people. Before you know it, you’re beleiving in an axiom like “Nothing is true until I can smell it, taste it, touch it, measure it, or quantify its substance by some means or other.” A man who opens his mind to the possibilty that there may be a God, and who chooses to pray to this God, is seen as backward by comparison. But the wider possibility that science won’t acknowledge is that a whole lot of stuff might be true that we just haven’t discovered with our microscopes and telecopes, etc. It’s no surprise, really, that a great many scientists have an athiestic perspective. They have decided that if they can’t find it, it mustn’t be real. To only have room in your heart for scientific thinking is a great pity. Once you ackowledge that it’s possible to discover truth beyond the narrow constraints of scientific investigation, you realise that the scientific mindset is a prison for your mind - useful within its own capacity, but inadequte as an exclusive principle to live by. The problem is, the wool is pulled over our eyes without us realising it.

Yet another aspect of this lack of freedom to think is what goes on with friendships during our school days. The more I look back on my youth, the more grateful I am to have been a geek - an outcast from the popular crowd. It was painful at times, sure, but the most beautiful gift of this is that peer pressure has absolutely no power over you. Since the popular crowd have already made you an outcast, there is absolutely no benefit to you in doing anything that would please them. You grow into a true individual, making your own decisions, and thinking your own thoughts, without any great feeling that you ought to conform. It’s no surprise that I finished school having never smoked a cigarette or consumed any alcohol.

The ultimate expression of indivuality is when you just don’t give a damn what anybody else thinks of you. That’s largely what’s motivating the direction of many of my posts in recent months. It’s easily mistaken for arrogance, but it’s really just the detemination to live up to a standard that I’ve set for myself: to speak out about what I care about, to be unafraid of rebuttal or ridicule.

It’s an interesting experiment to observe others, keeping your ears peeled for evidence of the fear of what others think - various expressions of the old “What would the neighbours think?” attitude. Even more challenging to look for it in yourself. As ol’ Chesney says, “You are the one and only you.”

I am no longer a Christian

Before admitting this to myself and others, I thought it was best to let the dust settle - to make sure I’m not now embarking on some whimsical spiritual detour. But, after several months, it seems less and less likely that I will be returning to the fold of Christianity. So, how did this happen? I’ll do my best to explain.

You could say it began with reading something inspiring by David Icke on the topic of open-mindedness, from his book I Am Me, I Am Free (see my review), but the real origins of this change go back much further. I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, what exactly is the nature of this open-mindedness? I’ve blogged about it at length over the past couple of months (see Truth seeking vs. emotional attachment). In summary, it’s an attitude of mind that says “Go where the information takes you, not where you want it to go because of a pre-defined set of personal beliefs that will cause you to edit the information to your own ends.” Sorry that’s a bit of a mouthful. Even now, after much discussion with blog commenters, some are still insisting that this kind of open-mindedness is impossible. Of course it isn’t. All you have to do is make the choice to distance your emotional attachment to a set of beliefs, at least on a temporary basis - to take those beliefs away and see whether the same beliefs occur when you reconstruct what you think.

I found that they didn’t. In doing what I did, the dust was being blown off many problems that I had allowed to stay on the shelf for so long that the shelf was pretty much forgotten. These problems related to the Bible itself, to Christian history, and to my life’s experience as a Christian. The latter is what I mean when I say the origins of this change in me go back much further than reading David Icke. This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve stepped away from Christianity (see My 13-year war with doubt and What I learned from being an agnostic. I’ve hopped from Christianity to agnosticism and back again many times. In summary, what would happen is that Christianity would fail to work on a practical level, so I would seek solace in escaping to greener pastures. And it’s not hard to make the jump on a rational level, because you can always go grab some things from that dusty old shelf and give yourself a reason not to believe.

But things have been different for the past seven years. The fallacy of agnosticism & athiesm has been so consistently clear to me that there was no going back to it. And Christianity was much more tolerable because I had also learned to see through some of the BS that made it so difficult, BS that is largely inflicted upon you by erroneous church teachings and attitudes. I remember going through a period where I would feel I was committing a sin just by allowing my attention to drift during the singing of a hymn in church. For a time, church became an activity where we all got together to tell God how much we’ve let him down during the week. I would hear the most depressing prayers, and something in me would be screaming, “It’s not supposed to be like this!” For this reason and others, I don’t relate to church people and church life. I don’t go because it can so easily be an uninspiring and depressing and destructive influence on my life. My previous pastor has such a narrow view of me that he views my lack of church attendence as lack of discipline and he sees me as having lost my way as a Christian. He looks back on the good old days when I was coming every week and participating, and he recently referred to this period as my spiritual peak. He has no idea how I have progressed over the years, and how the memories of those good old days look from inside my head. He has no idea how manipulated I feel. And it’s not as if he’s the manipulator. He’s as much a victim as I was, his own mind shaped by the theologies that he has absorbed through incessant study in a single direction. I hope some of this illustrates reasonably why I abandoned church life and also why I viewed a lot of Christian literature as dangerous (see The Christian book minefield).

Well, I didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I held fast to my Bible - a lonely pilgrim without a home. Hang on, that’s not accurate. Yes, some years ago, I managed to be one of those rare Christians who actually read the whole Bible in its entirety. But in the last couple of years it’s only fair to say that it’s a struggle to pick it up and read it. The struggle has been prevalent for most of my Christian life. And this apathy can only be a reflection of the lack of inspiration I’ve felt. And I don’t think I’m alone. It has to be asked why so few Christians actually read the Bible regularly. And I would hazard a guess that it’s because their experience of their religion is as uninspiring as mine was. For the most part, I was addicted to wasting my life on pointless entertainment. I’ve known there was something wrong with this, that it was a form of escapism in an unsatisfying life, but I’ve felt powerless to counter it, despite my Christian faith (see Altuism and Altruism - Part II). Now, with my new outlook, I appear to have countered it with the greatest of ease, but that’s a larger topic for another day.

What I began to suspect a few months ago was that the leap I made from agnosticism to Christianity seven years ago may have been too great a leap - one that I made because I only saw two options: there is no God (and therefore no religion), or there is a God (with all the trappings of religion by default). No sooner had I accepted the reality of God than I accepted Christianity. There were understandable reasons to do so. It is the big world religion (strength in numbers, so to speak), with a massive history dating back to the ancient world, and the Bible does contain some inspirational material - the Book of Proverbs being a prime example, which I recall reading at the time of my “re-conversion.” What I didn’t see at the time was that there is an alternative to religion, one that does not involve turning to an athiestic view of life and the depression it causes.

When you know, from a rational basis, that athiesm is in error (see The lie of the joyful athiest) and you then learn that there are major problems with your religion that give you good cause to abandon it, this alternative then becomes the only option for you. (I will go into more detail later on the specifics of my problems with Christianity - not here, because numerous heated discussions are likely to ensue.) The alternative is simply to seek the truth without sacrificing your freedom to think for yourself. That freedom is taken away on the one side by the Bible, and by Popes, pastors, and every other religious authority that insists it has a right to your mind. On the other side, that freedom is taken away by the mind-prison where science is seen, not as a tool to help us understand the universe, but as a God-like authority where “this world is all there is” is the unproven principle under which it operates and which many people hang their entire concept of reality. Openness to possibility is where the real answer lies. Freedom to investigate without being forced into an “ism.”

You might think that this alternative view leaves me in a bit of a vague conundrum of not knowing what to believe, since I’m not allowing myself to be tied down to the specifics of a particular school of thought. Not at all. I think intuition has a lot to do with it. But boy, oh boy, that’s a real can of worms for another day. I have so much more to say, on so many things. This post is merely a summary of why I’ve changed.

Briefly, in closing, some of the positive changes in my life: more courage in speaking out; no fear of what others think; massively increased sense of emotional balance in my day to day life; vastly increased resistance to personal vices; most importantly a much greater capacity to love others, along with empathy and tolerance. In short, the past couple of months have felt like one massive great sigh of relief that the spiritual side of me has been longing for but until now unable to make.

Am I merely in the “honeymoon period” of a new belief that will, in time, fall flat on its face? Time will tell. But I figured enough time had gone by for me to start talking about it with some confidence.

Clues about what we are, from a girl with half a brain

The girl with half a brain

Cameron Mott: The girl with half a brain

One of the major themes of my recent posts has been “What is consciousness?” or “Are we just a brain inside a body, or does our consciousness transcend the physical?” Well, it doesn’t get much plainer than lopping off fifty percent of a person’s brain and discovering that the whole person is still there.

There was an incredible documentary on telly last night about a little girl called Cameron Mott. When only three years old, she started displaying the symptoms of Rasmussen’s Encephalitis, the only cure for which is a hemispherectomy, the removal or disconnection of one entire half of the brain. After the operation, Cameron suffered (as predicted) paralysis along one side of her body, but she was young enough that, after a few days, she was already training the remaining side of her brain to take over, and she regained much of the use of her immobilised limbs.

The most incredible thing to me, and the thing which was beyond the theme of the documentary, was that that Cameron came out of the operation mentally and emotionally intact. She was still the same little girl. Surely this begs the question: if we can lose half of our brain, and still be “all there,” what on earth are we? I think this points very strongly to the idea that the brain is not the person; that consciousness (the core of ourselves), including our self-awareness and possibly our memories, lies somewhere beyond physical matter; that the brain is simply a machine that serves the consciousness and helps us interact with and function in this five-sense reality.

And then there’s my favourite question in all this: If consciousness is non-physical, what happens to it when the body dies? Does it necessarily die, too? Why should it, when it isn’t physical matter?

If I can make any valid point, it’s this: A view of reality that rests strictly on scientific principles involving the denial of anything beyond the physical, just because it is untestable, strikes me as wholely inadequate. When you’ve got scientists running around insisting there is no soul and that we’re just a brain, and then I’m seeing with my own eyes that somebody can lose half of their brain and still be fully compus mentus, well, excuse me for believing in a “soul.”

The full documentary Living with Half a Brain can be watched online via this YouTube playlist.

Psychokinesis: Proving that human beings are more than flesh and blood

So, am I actually getting anywhere with all my recent open-minded truth-seeking? Well, I did last night. Boy, did I!

I used to believe there was no soul, that human beings were purely biological in nature, that consciousness was not some great mystery, merely electrical impulses going through a brain. In more recent years, for various reasons, I came to believe in a human soul that survives death. Last night, I ended up proving it (or something close it). I proved that there is a lot more to being a human being than what conventional science is prepared to admit. Well, I proved it to myself, at least. If you would like to prove it to yourself, you’ll have to do a little work …

Yesterday evening I performed a simple little experiment in psionics called the “psi wheel.” If you key that phrase into YouTube, you’ll find countless examples of it; here is the best one I encountered *. Lo and behold, with a little patience (about an hour’s worth), I was able to make it work. I’ll do my best to describe what I did.

Psychokinesis means the moving of an object by the mind alone. When I was about thirteen, I witnessed what I believe to be the real deal. Many of the online “psi wheel” videos show people using their hands around an object. This is unfortunate, because it allows skeptics to debunk the phenomenon as heat from the hands creating a convection current and spinning the wheel. The experiment I witnessed as a teenager did not involve the use of the hands, so I decided not to use my hands at all. I would hazard a guess that hands merely serve as a sort of psychological aid, helping you believe you can do it.

Anyway, I concentrated on that wheel for quite a while. I believed I could do it, and I think that was probably important. I’ve tried psychokinesis a couple of times in my life and always failed. Learning about the psi wheel clued me into something important: the weight of what you’re trying to move is likely a major factor. I had always tried to move something substantial, like a light-switch or a key or a pencil. Remember, this is the very first baby-step in an ability. I’m trying to discover if there is the slightest force, no matter how small, acting on an object. To do that, the object needs to be both light and easily moved. A piece of paper suspended on a pin is an ideal choice.

Nothing happened for quite a while. The only thing that did any moving was my state of consciousness. I’ve never read up on meditation, but I think this is what I was experiencing. When you concentrate for a while on a single thing, you can feel your mind sort of lift or shift in a strange way. It’s hard to describe. A bit like when you’ve had slightly too much alcohol and you feel a sort of buzz in your head, a slight sense of disconnection with the world. Your vision also goes a little strange, although this may purely be a result of staring at the one spot for a long time. But what you feel in your mind is more than an illusion. I discovered this meditative state long ago when I was a teenager, and it scared the hell out of me, because it was a little too different from normal awareness for comfort. This time, however, I shunned fear and found it was rather more pleasant. I thought perhaps I might be on the verge of being able to move the wheel. But even in the meditative state, nothing would happen.

The meditative state was hard to hold on to for more than a few minutes, so I drifted naturally back to a more ordinary conscious state. It was a few minutes after that that I made the wheel move. I mention the meditation only because it may have been significant as a preparatory step for my mind to be able to do this. The wheel gave a bit of a twitch, and another. I don’t know what I was doing except that I was pushing on it with my mind. I wondered if my leg against the table had caused the movement. So I moved it away. Again, I was able to move the wheel a fraction. I wondered if my breath was affecting it. I covered my mouth and nose with my jumper, blew out a couple of big breaths to make sure nothing would get through the fabric, and nothing did. Sure enough, I was able to make the wheel move with my mind once again. It was a difficult experience to quantify, because sometimes it would work, then a few seconds later it would fail. Then I could get it to work again. I managed to get the wheel to move about a centimetre one way, then a centimetre the other way, back and forth several times in quick succession. I was determined to do a full counter-clockwise revolution. But I found it hard to keep the thing going, and also hard to get the direction the same every time. One of the things I did notice was that when it would start to go the wrong way, I could instantly stop concentrating and it would stop moving. Although I didn’t manage a full revolution, I did manage a one-quarter turn in the direction I intended, in several pushes. After that, I couldn’t do anything more.

While this was happening, I was thinking about the possibility of a draft from the door that I had left open behind me. I didn’t want to get up and close it during the experiment, so I decided that I would leave the wheel set up afterwards and see if any drafts caused movement later. The wheel never moved in the slightest, despite me walking about the house, opening and closing doors and causing air currents. When I got up this morning, the wheel was in exactly same position as I left it last night.

During the experiment, the movements were small and didn’t always happen when I willed them. It’s hard for me to figure out exactly what I was doing to create the movement. It doesn’t seem to be about willing something really hard. If anything, when I applied extra mental pressure, that seemed to stop the wheel working. I don’t know exactly what “mental muscle” I was flexing, so to speak, but I’m confident that I was genuinely flexing it. I think it’s the same principle as those “magic eye” images that were all the rage a decade ago. It takes a bit of experimental practice to start seeing them, but once you discover how, you can do it quickly and confidently from then on. Likewise, if I decide to practise the psi wheel a little more, I’m confident I’ll be able to get better at it. But should I?

Well, I’m very conscious that a friend of mine recently warned me about the dangers of playing with forces outside of our understanding. This guy was speaking from personal experience of having learned the hard way, and it sounds like I’m dismissing his advice. It has to be asked: why exactly am I doing this? It’s certainly not to have special powers to impress people with. I’m interested in discovering truth. I’ve been reading a lot of material recently around the view that human beings are made up of energy that transcends the physical body. Are we merely soulless flesh and blood, as the scientists would have us believe? The answer to that has major implications for our view of ourselves, of the world, and of such practical matters as medical science. Medical science, as you know, treats only the body. But are we only a body, or are we made up of more than that? Interestingly, acupuncture is based on the idea of the body possessing several “chakras” (energy centres), and there’s a school of thought that says illnesses can be caused by imbalances in our energy centres. If that is the case, then I’m sure you can see that our view on what it is to be human has major implications for medical science.

Far be it from me to encourage people to grab the nearest Ouija board (I would say an emphatic “Don’t!”), but if you’re an open-minded person interested in learning something new about reality that you won’t find in a science textbook, I would encourage you to try the psi wheel experiment. If you’re a skeptic, then you’re a lost cause until you can learn a little open-mindedness - which you really should. I agree that doubt is a good thing. It keeps us honest and helps us get closer to the truth by questioning what we think we know. You’ve seen me employ plenty of doubt in my experiment above. But skepticism is like doubt on steroids.

What I now know is that yesterday evening I made use of some kind of energy from within myself - energy that science does not even acknowledge exists. This personal confirmation reaffirms to me the complete inadequacy of the closed-minded, anti-spiritual attitude of what is called science today. We are more than just physical bodies, and this knowledge is either being supressed or ignored, to our detriment.

* It appears the video I’m linking to is an elaborate hoax. An unfortunate choice on my part, but hardly proof that genuine psionic ability is a farce. Just another example of the countless illusions that magicians have been using for centuries. Proof only of our ability to be fooled. It’s like I said at the top, “If you would like to prove it to yourself, you’ll have to do a little work.” No video is going to convince anybody. [Appended 7 August 2008]

Truth-seeking versus emotional attachment

If you haven’t already noticed, I’ve been going through a sort of mental transformation lately. “Or maybe you’ve just gone mental,” says you. The best way I can summarise it is this: I stopped caring about being right and started caring about becoming right.

Okay, I wasn’t a stubborn bigot to begin with, but what I did was take a reasonably functional pencil and sharpen it to a point (all the better to stab you with). I took a step back from everything I held sacred, and I willingly allowed the whole construct of my beliefs to come under threat. And you know what? That seems to me like the most objective thing I could ever do.

My Christian faith is right now more in jeopardy than it has been in many years. Good! It’s a chance to look at the cracks properly instead of always trying to paper over them. If Christianity is the truth, well then, it will reveal itself to be so, when investigated. If it’s not, then it’s not. I refuse to care, either way. All I want to do is move closer to the truth, whatever the truth may be.

You know, if I’m honest, I’ve always believed in Christianity because it seemed “most likely to be true,” not because of some eureka experience where it blew the top of my head off. And this is what prompted the great war of my past between Christianty and athiesm. At various points in my life I wanted to escape Christianity, because it had become torturous, and I always had the emotional escape hatch that said, “You’ve never known for sure that this is all true.”

Emotions are such a problem when it comes to truth-seeking. We get emotionally attached to beliefs and it clouds our thinking, provokes us into knee-jerk reactions against opposing beliefs instead of careful consideration, where we attack a perceived threat, rarely asking ourselves if we could be the ones who are wrong.

Let information and evidence lead me wherever they want to lead me. I’m learning, as much as I’m able, to stop caring about where they lead or where I want them to lead.

Here’s an example of how difficult it is to be objective. Back in junior high school, I witnessed someone doing psychokinesis - moving an object with his mind. At the time, with the wonderful open-mindedness of youth (and I don’t mean that sarcastically; it’s a shame we often lose it), witnessing this thing blew me away. But years later I developed a more scientific mindset and I came to view the event as trickery. I even tried reproducing the “trick” and had partial success (I stress partial). So I took the view that true psychokinesis was very likely not real. It was the view that my scientific mindset wanted, to keep things neat and tidy.

More recently, I’ve been back in contact with this same guy and I learned to my amazement that his psychokinesis was the tip of the iceberg. Suffice it to say, he had been experimenting with far more esoteric knowledge and had ended up paying a price for it. Over twenty years later, the guy has no reason to feed me a load of BS, and I certainly didn’t prompt him to say the things he said. Now, with a more open mind, I have no doubt that I witnessed true psychokinesis back in junior high. If I wanted to cling to that strict scientific mindset right now, I would have to view my friend as a liar of staggering proportions.

You see, it’s not as simple as someone saying, “Here is the truth.” The “truth” meant one thing, when seen through the filter of a rigid belief system that insists on a certain view of the world. It meant something completely different, when interpreted through a mind open to possibility.

Here’s a better example (better because you’re a part of it; you heard it on the news, and now you can examine your own memories of how you reacted to it when it when it all came out): the whole paedophile priest scandal in the Catholic Church. If you were interested in defending Protestantism or athiesm, you might have thought, “Here’s the awful results of all the sexual repression of the Catholic Church.” On the other hand, if you are a Catholic, you may have seen it differently: “Jobs involving children attract sexual predators. This is true of schools, Protestant churches. And the Catholic Priesthood is no exception.” Which side has made the right deduction? Ultimately, you don’t know without further investigation, but you’ll get people on both sides who will cling to their own theories as fact. I think this illustrates our tendency to leap to conclusions based on what we want to believe, rather than what the actual truth might be.

There was an amusing moment on a recent episode of Doctor Who when the Doctor and several others were trapped aboard a passenger craft that was travelling over the surface of a planet where it was said that no life could exist. Except someone outside started tapping on the door, repeatedly - even going as far as mimicking the exact number of taps the Doctor did in reponse. The passengers got scared. The scientist on board kept saying things like, “There’s no one out there! It’s impossible!” Whereas the Doctor said, “I’m so glad you’ve obtained the absolute knowledge of everything, but would you mind moving? Because someone’s trying to get in.”

It’s lamentable when our personal views become so sacred that they are put beyond the realm of ever being re-examined. We can be so stubborn that we won’t consciously admit to being wrong in the face of contrary evidence. Or we can be afraid to to change a belief, because there is a cost involved.

I actually find it difficult to write this stuff, because I sense that there may be some Christians who know me wincing and thinking I’ve gone too far. But if you’re not permitted to step outside of your beliefs and look in at them from an open perspective, how can you expect someone else who’s starting off from outside to ever make his way in?

It’s unavoidable that we’ll individually build up a belief system of one kind or another. And it’s unavoidable that we’ll develop an emotional attachment to it. I intend to keep that attachment as flexible as I can.

How to slowly kill yourself and your children

[Appended 27 July 2008: On my stats I've noticed that people are arriving at this blogpost through search engines, using phrases like "how to kill yourself." I have no idea how to give a complete stranger a reason to live in a single paragraph, but if you are thinking of committing suicide, what I can do is offer you an understanding, listening ear. So please, contact me. Nothing would make me happier than having opportunity to help someone.]

I have had a problem with being overweight my whole life. It was pretty bad when I was at school, until I finally had a moment of clarity at age sixteen (i.e. I had the hots for a particular girl and wanted to be in with a chance). I cut out lunches, bedtime suppers, and went cycling every day after school. It worked. Within a couple of months I was looking great, and I kept most of the weight off for several years. But I gradually started putting it on again, and although I never ended up with the same obesity as in my boyhood, I did end up with this annoying layer of flab around my middle. I’ve even made an effort to eat reasonably well in recent years, but I never managed to shift the blubber … until something came to a head in December 2007.

I started experiencing some bowel problems. That’s a lie. I’ve been having bowel problems for a few years. You know, soreness, minor bleeding, occasional constipation. Okay, if you need to, have a big horselaugh and get it over with, because I’ve actually got some important things to say here. It got to the point where I would hate the thought of going to the toilet. In December 2007 I decided: This can’t go on. What’s the first thought that comes into your head? “Go see the the doctor.” That might well be a big mistake (I’ll get back to that in a minute). What I did was a little internet research and I came across an interesting site called Wai Says. Some of the stuff on the site is radical, but I came across an interesting piece on how “Eat more fibre” is not the answer to constipation. This piqued my interest, because I had a very fibrous diet already and it wasn’t helping.

To cut a long story short, I learned that the old “Five portions of fruit or veg per day” is a misnomer. I was getting my five portions a day, but I was making it all veg, no fruit. When you think about it, fruit is completely different than vegetables, in terms of sugars, so how can the health profession make this blanket statement, lumping the two types of food together as if you can ignore the quantities in each? I’m convinced that lack of fruit sugars was a major factor in my constipation, and my overindulgence in vegetables (too much fibre) meant that my bowels were often trying to evaculate food too quickly, causing soreness and bleeding.

That’s not the whole story. I still liked my weekly (or twice a week) Chinese takeaways, full of who knows what in terms of artificial additives. I decided the only thing to do was to cut everything out and start off with “safe” foods - those proven to benefit the human body. Six months later, here’s how I eat …

Breakfast: Every morning I have toasted brown bread with butter and honey, a big tall glass of pure orange juice, and a slice of melon. I find this perks me up to the degree that I don’t even feel the need for a caffeine drink. In the beginning I was pining for a cup of tea and a big bowl of cereal, but these cravings vanished after a few days. I actually have a big problem with cereal. I think it was instrumental in me gaining weight in the past, and the processed nature of it responsible for some of my bowel issues. In any case, I find cereal completely unnecessary. Pure orange is great, and I go the extra mile to buy the “not from concentrate” variety.

Lunch: Sometimes I don’t bother. If I do, it’ll be a banana, crisps or nuts, or all of those. You might find it weird I mention crisps. Well, the only crisps I’ll eat are those hand-cooked Kettle Chips containing nothing artificial. Also, I don’t want you to get the idea that I’ve got this completely regimented eating schedule. I don’t. I just know what I can and can’t eat.

Dinner: Every evening I will have some kind of meat with my meal. I regularly buy fish (proper fish, like a Salmon steak straight from the meat counter at your supermarket, not some processed Fish Fingers), steak, and bacon. I never make chips, nor do I buy those oven chips (which are coated in fatty batter). Instead, I cut potatoes up into wedges, roll them in olive oil and cook them in the oven (a little herb is nice on ‘em, too). I make three particular meals regularly: (1) salmon, pasta & salad; (2) steak, wedges, peas, mushrooms & onions; (3) bacon, egg, rice, mushrooms, onions. After dinner, I will often indulge in a cup of tea and some chocolate (the expensive organic 70% cocoa variety); I find it doesn’t do me any harm at all.

I’ll be the first to admit this is not the only way to eat, but it represents a pattern of eating that is the only way to eat, if you want to maintain your health. The pattern is this: Eat real food. Avoid all processed meats and as many artificial food additives as you reasonably can. When you’re at the butchers browsing the meats, did you ever look at the label under the sausages that says something like, “Actual meat content 75%”? What the hell is it that the rest of the sausage is made of! Do yourself a favour and buy an actual pork chop or something. You want to know a really delicious alternative to a humburger? Buy a tenderised minute steak (instead of a processed pattie; the meat will be tougher, but still brittle enough to bite), some tomato (as an alternative to ketchup), add lettuce, onion, cheese, and put in a bun. Delicious.

For a savoury snack, if you buy a packet of Kettle Chips crisps, you know you’re eating actual slices of potato cooked in sunflower oil. Look at the ingedients label on a packet of Pringles and you’ll see an unintelligible list of chemical substances that is frighteningly long. I noticed a Smarties television advert a while ago that said “No artificial colours.” This is the perfect example of the way companies will try to deceive the public into believing their product has a healthy side. Here’s how you tell. When a product says, “No artificial colours,” it means there are artificial flavours, otherwise they would proudly display “No artificial flavours or colours.” I see this all the time, and I steer clear of food like that. When you purchase candy for your child, do you realise you’re giving him nothing more than a lump of chemically enhanced refined sugar? Do you honestly believe that is beneficial? Do you suspect, as I do, that it might be harmful? Why not introduce him to a variety dried fruit snacks instead?

Here’s how common modern eating habits work. The crap is there being sold, so we buy it and eat it. And we find that it tastes nice. So we keep on doing it. And the detrimental effects don’t show themselves for years, until we suddenly realise we’ve turned into Ten-Tonne-Tessie, or we’re diabetic, or we’ve got bowel cancer, or who knows what else. A friend once said to me, “All things in moderation.” But to me, processed foods and artificial additives are more akin to slow-working poisons, and it would be crazy to subscribe to the idea of arsenic in moderation. One microgram won’t kill me, but don’t ask me to eat it anyway. I was at someone’s house a while ago (quite a rich family) and they asked me if I would like a glass of orange. I said, “Yes, please.” Then I watched them lift a big bottle of diluted “orange” from the cupboard, fill the bottom of my glass with this chemical substance, then top it up with water. And they handed this poison to me like it was normal. These are people with their heads in the sand, who (despite being rich) will save a few pennies by buying artificial orange juice that doesn’t even taste like orange, and think they’ve make a sensible choice. I let my guard down recently at a barbeque, where there was processed meats on offer. So I indulged, just this once. I paid the price the following day; my body, now re-sensitised to eating real food, almost felt like it was trying to tear me a new arsehole.

Am I an alarmist? I think I need to be. I’m no dietition, and I’ll be the first to admit there may be some innacuracies in this article, but if you still think there’s no link between cancer and food, you clearly haven’t been watching the news in recent years.

I no longer have bowel problems. And I’m glad I was able to sort my problem out without resorting to a doctor. Although I didn’t realise until recently how lucky an escape I may have had. I know of someone else who has bowel problems who did go to see a doctor. And the doctor prescribed a remedy. In other words, the doctor gives you something that allows you to keep on harming your body without noticeable ill effects (until it’s too late), and also helps keep the laxative industry running smoothly, as well as helping you grow dependent on an artificial means of keeping your body functioning normally. The last thing the health profession needs is to run out of sick people. It’s called treating the symptoms instead of the causes. Far be it from me to strike off all the good doctors in the world, but this is something to watch out for.

I could very easily have ended up sitting here today as overweight as I was in December, thanks to doctors. “Ah, you must have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Here’s a prescription.” Instead, I’m 2.5 inches slimmer at the waist and feeling a darn sight better than I’ve felt for most of my life. And I did it without dieting. Dieting is fruitless because it’s temporary. I lost weight even though I’m eating chocolate regularly, for goodness sake! What I did was make a permanent lifestyle change - one that I’ve adjusted to completely and love, and one that will stand to me for the rest of my life. I have not only woken up to the dangers of unhealthy eating; I have lost any kind of craving for it. When you detoxify your body from all that crap, you learn that the foods God placed on this earth for our enjoyment are actually delicious.

The only downside to this healthier way of living is that it costs more. And to that, I reply with a simple, “So what.” Putting your health and your bank balance side by side on the scales strikes me as foolhardy in the extreme.

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