Intentional Belief, Not Unbelief, is the Antidote to Blind Belief

I spent the last eight days conducting a complicated tarot reading. It was a pretty strong deviation from the way I usually read tarot because this spread, adapted from Karen Engerlman’s book The Stockholm Octavo, was designed to be predictive, revealing eight people who will be significant in my life over the next few years.

I love tarot for its ability to draw out my intuition and deepen my introspection, but I have a healthy doubt about whether it actually accesses something greater.

That being said, I’ve had enough experiences to have a healthy doubt that it doesn’t.

I remain in that delightful (or infuriating, depending on your perspective) space of ambiguity, which is where I like to stay when it comes to spirituality and metaphysics.

However, as I’ve been playing with my cards, trying to divine whom they represent and whether they even refer to real, live people in my life or only archetypes and energetic forces, I’ve been thinking more and more about the capacity to believe.

Children have it, this we know very well.

Adults have it, though they are much more jaded, cautious, and skeptical than any five-year-old.

Depending on to whom you talk (or which movie you watch or book you read), the childlike capacity to believe is either something that we should be glad to lose as we get older (because it’s all nonsense) or something we should mourn (because the pure faith of a child is so powerful).

The ability to believe is a sacred thing. Despite having my belief used against me for twenty some years, I treasure the fact that I do have the ability to believe. Without the ability to believe, hope would be impossible.

Belief in…in what?

That’s the beautiful part. The ability to believe, embraced consciously, comes with a choice. Thus I can play with my tarot cards, trusting that I will find something of value in them. I can write a letter to Santa, suspending my disbelief in the ability of a jolly fat man to fly around the world and slide down my non-existent chimney. More importantly, I can believe in the power of love and the promise of hope.

As The Hogfather illustrates so beautifully in the following clip, the human ability to believe is tantamount to our greatest ideals and values—the means by which we make life meaningful.

That being said, I also find blind belief to be one of the greatest crimes of the human spirit. Because I had my ability to believe abused for twenty some years, I’m very wary of its power and how others want to use that for their own ends.

The ability to believe comes with it the responsibility to believe with conscious intention. Irresponsible belief has been at the root of most of history’s atrocities, from child abuse to crusades, as people harm others in the name of God, science, nationality, or just plain selfishness.

I’ve seen memes suggesting that if religion had not existed, 9/11 would never have happened. I wish world peace were as simple as removing a certain kind of belief, but I also know that even in the absence of religion blind belief can still drive people to horrible ends. Few are aware that Jim Jones was an atheist at the time that he convinced an entire colony to drink poison. And look at the history of science, where people have horrifically experimented on slaves, inmates, children, disabled, and mentally ill, not to mention animals, all in the name of reason and knowledge.

Perhaps it comes down to semantics more than anything, but I don’t think we need to believe less.

I think we need to believe better.

In fact, I don’t think it’s possible to not believe. We will always believe in something, whether it be in the good-hearted saint giving out presents or the cold-heartedness of humanity. We can’t help the believing—just what we choose to believe.

Which is where reason comes in.

Belief and reason, faith and logic—they’re not meant to be opponents. They’re meant to be allies. Belief gives us the ability to live out things we cannot hope to see or prove (or perhaps even constructs we create ourselves). Reason gives us the ability to be discerning in how we believe.

It’s tragic to never teach a child to doubt what his or her authorities say. But it’s equally tragic to never teach a child how to be conscious of belief and in belief. Those who have never recognized their choice in believing, be they religious or atheist, are in a dangerous position, at risk of having their ability to believe become a weapon against themselves and others.

That doesn’t mean that responsible, conscious (even skeptical) belief would eliminate cruelty. There will always be those who are heartless.

But if we focused more on creating a consciousness of our belief mechanism, it would largely eliminate cruelty from ignorance, manipulation, or blind obedience.

However, that would require us as a society to embrace belief as the sacred yet powerful tool that it is. Just as any tool or skill needs to be developed and taught, our ability to believe with reason needs to be fostered and the consciousness of it awakened.

I hope that in the new year we can see this shift to create intention behind our beliefs.

 

 

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Winter Solstice New Moon

Do you feel the energy of the new moon on top of the winter solstice? Darkest, longest night of the year, just before the sun comes back. The earth calls to me to shed anything that is no longer serving me.

To dance it off.

Cry it off.

Bleed it off.

This isn’t a call to leave behind so much as it is a call to go deeper.

It’s as if the universe is saying, “You are done with this layer; release it into me. Now, let’s look at the next.”

May your solstice be blessed and beautiful.

 

 

Bob Jones University Slammed in Report on Sexual Abuse

In February, I reported that Bob Jones University had canceled the independent investigation into how they responded to sexual abuse. The outcry following their decision was staggering, far greater than anything I’d seen before. I believe it forced their hand to reinstate G.R.A.C.E. to finish the investigation. However, I was hesitant to hope that the final report would actually see the light of day, so I watched and waited.

On Thursday, G.R.A.C.E. released onto their website a 300-page document chronicling their investigation, findings, and recommended actions.

It’s long. If you’re not directly tied to BJU, you probably don’t want to read a book-long report. And if you are tied to BJU, you might find it pretty damn triggering, like me.

Even though I think it’s always wise to read the original documents of something of this magnitude (and I will finish it eventually), the New York Times also did an excellent article that summarized the findings and recommendations.

There’s a part of me that still can’t believe this is happening. To have another Christian organization condemn the way that rape and sexual assault counseling was handled and to suggest that the school’s most beloved “counselors” and “godly men” be banned from speaking on the topic or from having their books promoted is more than I ever hoped for. To have the media actually pick up on the story and start to show the world the fucked up environment that was my reality is even more astounding.

Bob Jones University, under the direction of a new president–the first of whom isn’t actually a Jones, released their typical, carefully worded non-apology in the same vein as their non-apology for racism. I’m not sure at this point whether to hope that things will change or not. In my experience, they’ll do something that publicly looks good, but they themselves won’t actually change. They’ll just go underground with their victim blaming.

The greatest hope I have thus far lies in the fact that this investigation has prompted a more official investigation into whether BJU can legally be held responsible for counseling students not to report crimes to the police.

In other words, for obstructing justice.

I’m excited to see this develop further. I make no attempt to pretend to value anything about BJU. And this report makes for three organizations within the circles of the IFB that have been exposed (The rape scandals surrounding Jack Schaap and Bill Gothard being the others).

Grab a seat and a bag of popcorn as the empire comes crashing down. I expect that this could be as big as the Catholic Church scandal.

Maybe my prayers to Kali are paying off after all…

Singleness is Good for your Relationship

Considering that I got married at 21, before I’d even rented my first apartment, I might seem to be the wrong person to talk about the importance of singleness; however, most people don’t know that I actually planned on being single for life.

When my partner came into my world, love was the last thing on my mind. I’ll never forget the horror and dismay I felt when I realized I’d fallen for him and that marriage suddenly didn’t seem like an atrocious idea. I mourned losing my unfettered future.

The way people talk about being single makes it sound like a horrible curse, and since I did experience a measure of loneliness in high school, I get part of that.

Yet when I hear someone bemoaning the lack of a girlfriend or boyfriend in their lives as if having a relationship is the only thing that will make their lives feel fulfilled, I can’t help by inwardly groan at how much they are missing…and how unready for a relationship they reveal themselves to be.

So very few of us ever learn how to be alone with ourselves. We surround ourselves with people, if not physically then virtually or fictionally, to the point that we don’t even know what silence sounds like.

And our media tells us that being alone is bad, that it means there’s something wrong with us. The good guys in the fairy tales get married and live happily ever after. Only the evil queens and witches live out in the woods by themselves. We have musicals where the main plot line is the need to find a mate because god forbid the protagonist turns thirty without having had five children!

But if I could give one piece of relationship advice—just one that could create the potential for successful relationships by itself—it’s learning to be content single.

The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. It may look paradoxical to you, but it’s not. It is an existential truth: only those people who are capable of being alone are capable of love, of sharing, of going into the deepest core of another person–without possessing the other, without becoming dependent on the other, without reducing the other to a thing, and without becoming addicted to the other. They allow the other absolute freedom, because they know that if the other leaves, they will be as happy as they are now. Their happiness cannot be taken by the other, because it is not given by the other. –Osho

If a person is looking for a partner to make them feel loved, to take care of them, to make their life meaningful, or to end their loneliness, they’re setting themselves up for failure and disappointment. Beyond the very fact that the desperation of “must have mate” is a little bit like having a neon sign on your chest that says “Run away if I ask you out,” the fact is that no one will ever be able to fill in those needs!

Because they’re things we have to do for ourselves.

Self-love can’t be replaced by love from another. Self-fulfillment can’t be fulfilled by another. Our life’s purpose can’t reside in another.

It’s our own individual work.

Putting it on another person automatically creates an unhealthy dynamic in the relationship because it says, “In order for me to be a healthy, whole, stable person of value, you have to love me.” If someone walked up to you and said that at the first date, would you really want to be with them?

Unstated yet still implied isn’t really better.

I hesitate to even call something love if someone needs another person to complete them. It’s just using that other person as a distraction from the fact that they haven’t found completion in themselves. Taken to its extreme, it becomes an excuse for someone to use their dependency as a weapon, threatening all manner of tragic things if the relationship ends.

I’m not saying that every couple who coupled up without doing some work in singleness first is automatically unhealthy and unstable.

It’s possible to learn how to be complete and alone while in a relationship. I’ve had to learn how to differentiate myself, love myself, fulfill myself, guide myself, and be with myself while still being married.

But it’s hard. There aren’t many pop references of what it’s like to be in love without losing yourself in the process. Undying, unconditional, obsessive love is still the ideal, despite the fact that it usually means an unboundaried love.

I see singleness as an opportunity to get your shit under control before entering into a relationship. There used to be this joke that I think had more truth in it than people realized. “You never find love when you’re looking for it. It’s when you’ve finally given up that love finds you.”

I prefer a spin on Osho’s thoughts. You’re not ready for love until you are content just being single. But who’s going to write that into a musical?