Challenging Beliefs 02/25/21

When I was in high school, I used to order T-shirts off of TShirtHell. They had all kinds of fucked up designs, and I loved all of them. The one that I loved the most featured Jesus on the cross, winking and giving a thumbs-up. It read: “Jesus Did It for the Chicks.”

I wore that to school one day and my English teacher absolutely lost her mind. I got sent home, and felt pretty cool about it.

The school I attended was in the fourth-largest city in Oklahoma, so very small in the grand scheme of things. It was full of churches, full of bigots, and I hated every last one of them. Compounding this was the fact that I’d been forced to go to church my entire life. I’d fall asleep listening to the pastor drone on. We’d stand up, sing, sit down, repeat. I hated every minute of it.

What I hated the most, and what I was savvy enough to get even at twelve years old, was that no one in church was really saying anything. It was all a loop. Sermons were true because they came from the Bible, and the Bible was true because it was written by God, and God is real and trustworthy because the Bible says so.

I’d argue for hours with my dad about this. I remember one time he came home with a long, printed-out article. I had asked a simple question: “If got knows everything, the past and future, then how is he Good when he condemns people to hell? That means he creates people knowing they’re gonna burn forever.”

They tried to explain to me that He knows everything, but that human beings are given a choice…it made no sense. Still doesn’t!

Within that particular dichotomy, of course.

I went to college and studied philosophy. My first professor was an Irish guy who worshipped at the altar of Daniel Dennett. Between him and my vegan Ethics professor, I turned into a completely different person. I only ate Taco Bell bean burritos, and I spent all day marveling at how the world could be so stupid to believe in a big, bearded man in the sky.

Over time, for whatever reason, that smugness stopped appealing to me. I got into lots of different things (including drugs!) and started to feel like something was off. I realized that I had never really challenged my atheistic beliefs in quite some time. That bothered me. Was I somehow no different from people who get locked into dogmatic Christian beliefs and never question them?

Long story short, I did not end up returning to Christianity, but I did develop a much wider, more interesting view of the world and how it works. I conceive of a spirit world, a living earth, psychic phenomena, and other “fringe” ideas as being more than likely true. I put “fringe” in scare quotes because those ideas are only “fringe” to us, now. Most of humanity throughout time (same brains we have today, by the way) believed these things to be true.

This developed into a kind of radical detachment from every idea I have that comes down the pipeline. I can’t really believe in much outside of my current experience. There are even times when all the things I mentioned above seem fake to me. On those days, I’m an atheist, I guess.

On other days I experience such a profound connectedness to a spiritual force, that I wonder how I ever believed it couldn’t be true.

But what I try to be, is always arriving. I’m always just showing up to the party. I attempt to have my thought process remain fluid and open to change. Take the v*rus, for example. There are times when I feel like this is one of the greatest incidents of mass hysteria in recorded history. Dying empires tend to create those conditions. Other times I’m like “damn, this looks pretty nasty…better be safe.”

What this means, functionally, is that I don’t have a ton of friends. The friends I do have are great, and we argue and disagree all the time and get along just fine. They get me, and it’s good to be gotten by a small circle of pals.

I’d put this forward to you fine folks (thanks for reading, by the way): when was the last time you really did a deep dive into your core beliefs? When was the last time you tried to utterly and completely tear down your worldview, the things you hold most valuable?

I can’t tell you about the rabbit holes I go down in service of keeping myself sharp, because most of you would (rightly) think that they’re gross. But it’s my belief that a fluid, constantly evolving brain is necessary for both wisdom and creativity. The artist loves a messy picture.

Take the thing you believe in the most and steel-man the opposition. Read the absolute smartest opponents of who you fundamentally believe yourself to be. Avoid snark and Twitter. Really deep dive. It’ll change the way you look at everything. It’ll make the world more interesting.

And, funnily enough, you find yourself being more correct on average than dogmatists on every side of every aisle. Who doesn’t like being smug? Maybe it never stopped appealing to me after all!

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