For one reason or another, I have found myself attempting to articulate the collection of ropey ideas that passes for my beliefs to various people lately. And every damn time I have, I’ve gotten up the following day, and realised I’ve done another dismal job of it, left half of it out or phrased something badly, and that it’s probably left them thinking I’m either strange, credulous, half-mad or half-baked. Or some combination thereof.
So, as the afternoon sun slips away behind the clouds, and 2004 coughs blood and dies in the gutter like the dog it was, I thought I’d attempt to write them up here, so’s I’d have something I can point people at.
Something to remember, before I begin: belief is an analogue state. Some days, most of this is complete rubbish. Other days it’s gospel truth. Most days, it’s somewhere in between – some bits feel more right than others. This is cobbled together from thoughts and ideas from a variety of sources – from my own experiences, from other’s accounts of their experiences, and from observing commonalities between various faiths, schools of though and rantings of mad bastards.
Lastly, and most importantly: these are just my beliefs. Doesn’t make ‘em true, or anything. I’d never suggest that I’ve got a better handle on the way the universe works than anyone else does. This is just what gets me through the week, you know? I reserve the right to change any or all of this based on later experience. Holding beliefs you’re not willing to change is a bit stupid, really.
- I freely admit, I do not understand organised religion. I don’t understand why a person would bestow the power to intercede with God/the Universe/their conscience/really anything onto anyone else. Further, I don’t understand why anyone would ever describe themselves as belonging to any sect/faith/church at all.
Tell me you believe in a God, and my response is “so do I”. Tell me you believe in a God what wants you to do X – I don’t, but I can see why people might. What I don’t understand is why anyone would ever describe their faith in such a way that it might ever get confused with a single other person, to allow any label to be applied to their faith to makes it anything other than theirs, and theirs alone. For me, anyway, Faith is 100% inside your head. I can’t see how it can ever be a thing you share with anyone. With that in mind:
- I believe in what, for lack of a better term, I shall call magic. I don’t believe in the supernatural, only in the natural that we don’t fully understand yet, but I certainly believe that it’s possible to alter events in the physical world using techniques that have come to be referred to as magical. I have done this in a manner that while it might not satisfy scientific rigour, was certainly persuasive enough to convince me, and that’s all I need.
- I believe in gods. To lift from Alan Moore, “The one place gods inarguably exist is in our minds where they are real beyond refute, in all their grandeur and monstrosity.” I emphatically don’t believe in worshipping them, as I don’t want to encourage them, but I do believe in treating them and the ideas they embody with a certain respect. In my experience, there’s nothing that’ll fuck you up faster than the inside of your own head, and it seems to me that gods can be a tool to help you there, provide you treat ‘em right – they’re collections of ideas that have lasted and propagated over millenia, so regardless of whether or not they exist outside of our heads, they probably have a lot to tell us about the bits between our ears. Personally, I have a favourite in some of the aspects of Odin, and I may come back to that later, but that’s really not a lot to do with what I’m trying to get set out here.
- I believe in God. That’ll probably come a shock to a few people. Oh, I don’t believe in anything that’s described in any book, and I don’t believe in an interventionist god, but I do believe in something that’s easiest to name as capital-G-God. Exactly what it is, I have a great deal of trouble articulating. The creative force (in all the ways you could take that), I suppose. It could be one of Grant Morrison’s higher-dimensional beings playing a game. It could be the universe itself, trying to understand itself. It could be one vast oversoul, decanted into flesh in each of us. It could be us, in our distant future mastering a science so complex that its very mastery brings our whole continuum into being, making creation a loop. Why not?
I don’t, however believe that God wants or requires worship, or has anything to say about how we should live our lives. If this force that I believe in has any emotions or sentience at all, then it loves its entire creation, and doesn’t need to impose a damn thing on it. We’re here, because it (probably) intended we be, and all that’s required of us is to make the best of it we can. A variant on Deism, basically. God both exists, and is kind of irrelevant.
- (And here’s where I turn into a class-one hippy – there’s just no way to talk about an idea like this one without sounding all “peace and love maaan”. Rest assured that I still don’t believe in either peace or love, and will still stab you if you attempt to hug me. Everything remains normal, despite the next paragraph or two.) I believe that the we’re all one thing. You, me, the desk this keyboard is resting on, this keyboard. One thing. Our physical universe exists because we have forgotten what we are/decanted ourselves into it/something else. We are not, in our truest selves, these sacks of meat inhabiting a physical universe. We are not separate from each other. We are God, we’ve just forgotten. Space, time, self, ego, is all an illusion. It may have come about because we decided it’d be fun, or it may have been a mistake (or even a fall from grace, if your tastes run that way. Mine don’t.). Either way, it’s what we’ve got.
It’s possible (indeed, I hope it’s the case) that when we die, we’ll return to our prior state, that we’ll be released from this physical existence into our truer self. I wouldn’t count on it, though. I mean, if this is all a mistake, then god knows what happens – complete oblivion seems quite likely. But even the best happens, I don’t think we’ll be ourselves. I don’t think that “Alasdair Watson” will continue to exist when I die, whatever happens. Which is fine by me. “Alasdair Watson” is an identity this part of us has evolved to cope with this existence, not any other.
- None of item 4 or 5 matters a damn bit, except that it’s vitally important. (Hold on, it’ll make sense in a minute) We’re on this earth for however long we’re on it, and anything that happens after, happens after. For me, the morally correct thing to do is to behave like an atheist – if your actions are based in any way on the presupposition of something beyond this existence, then, it would seem to me that you’re not fully engaged with this existence. All we can do with here and now is make it better for all of us, in whatever way we can, and act like that we know for sure that there is nothing but this – waiting for a life beyond this one to get it right is missing the point completely.
Because we’re not separate, and to help one is to help all. Our only obligation is to leave things better than we found them, in whatever small way we can. That may mean giving it all up and becoming a relief worker in a disaster area. It may just mean being nice to our friends, and trying to enrich their lives in some small way by our presence.
That’s more or less it, I think. I may add to this post over time, or attempt to refine or clarify it. I’m bound to wake up tomorrow and realise that I’ve left something out, after all. I am quite happy to talk about this with anyone that wants to, for any reason, but would prefer to do so over email, where I can feel more able to take my time and think through the answers, rather than doing it quick and dirty in a comments discussion, so that’s why I’ve disabled comments on this post. You know where to reach me, in the unlikely event that there’s something you found fascinating in here.