My twitter friend Anne complimented me recently saying “It takes guts to blog about personal spirituality”. I took a great deal of comfort from that, because she’s right. It’s hard.
The post-Enlightenment West is unusual among many world cultures because we regard talking about religion as a private matter. I read of somewhere – was it Bali? – where a typical meeting of strangers includes “How are you? “, “How is your family?” , “Are you married?”, and “What religion are you?”. I assume not all in the same sentence!
I firmly believe that not talking about the inner life diminishes us, yet fighting your own culture ain’t easy. In the words of the song, “I fought the law, and the law won.” Many people simply do not want to engage with this stuff. I’d probably be a millionaire by now if I switched to blogging Oprah-esque personal development.
Writing about what I do is difficult because it’s personal. It affects me. I don’t talk about spirituality, agnosticism, atheism out of mere academic interest. It’s apatheism, a portmanteau of apathy and theism/atheism which says, “I don’t know and I don’t care that I don‘t know.” I care that I don’t know. The question of whether or not there is some higher reality to be found affects my life, my emotions, my fears and my frustrations.
Not having a firm position feels rather like rowing a solitary boat through a rolling sea. Up, down, no safe haven in which to anchor, and no fellow passengers to share the oars.
“Doing” spirituality is hard and I’ve never been fond of spiritual “work”. If one is going to include spiritual practices as part of one’s search, such as meditation or even just listening openly to a friend of a different faith, that takes time and effort. I can’t honestly say I’ve spent a lot of energy on this yet. It’s ambitious to think I could experience enough in one lifetime anyway. Books are safer.
The search is also hard in an intellectual sense. I’ve spent time reading very obtuse philosophy debates in online forums. “Before we debate God,” says one, “let’s decide if ‘god’ is a coherent concept.” Phew. At the end of this, often my head hurts and I feel stupid. I do value good reasoning, after all, half my undergrad degree was in philosophy. But at the end of the day, there will always be a better argument around the corner and I simply don’t have time to understand them all.
I’m also bruised by the times when someone who likes to be seen to be intellectual wades in and wins the battle, while simultaneously killing her friends. I’ve been one of those people, and I’d rather lose the ego. It’s a weakness of intellectuals; some of us learned to feel self-worth because we knew more big words than someone else. When others do have better arguments, it’s humbling.
Writing about a spiritual search also exposes me on a whole different level. See, there’s a funny thing: When it comes to religion people not only judge what you think, they also judge your character. Online friend Kimh asked if my writing will be abstract study, or more of a memoir. I think it has to be at least partly personal because otherwise it‘ll be dull as iron. But I don’t want it to be about me. I want to hide behind argument and erudition. I don’t want to have my life up for scrutiny as well. Frankly, sometimes I’m not a nice person at all. Apparently we all have secrets, and it’s OK to keep some of them hidden– at least that was the theme of Dexter season three. But he’s an imaginary serial killer.
Writer Matthew Paul Turner recently wrote of the difficulty of being truly honest in a Christian context where you’re not supposed to talk about some things. I think it’s hard being honest full stop, regardless of one’s persuasion. What if I’m making some obvious mistake and people laugh at me? What if my friends disown me? What if I offend people who don‘t share my (non)beliefs? It would be much easier to merely present ideas. Ideas are external to me, I‘m safe. However, in the case of spirituality, ideas are carried within a life.
Right now, the sun is shining through my window, and warms my chest. With support from friends, much of the time I’m happy. I remind myself this is a path I’ve chosen and I can step off it any time. The adventure remains, and also a hell of a challenge.
PS: Go check out Anne’s very cool blog if you’re interested in innovative small business.
How do you feel talking about your personal beliefs with other people?