A return from the blogging sabbatical

 

 

Image

I decided to take some time off from writing, although perhaps it wasn’t really a conscious decision. That’s pretty funny though, considering I had only just begun.  Instead, I have been continuing to wrestle various issues, mostly centered around my full-time struggle with religion, god, and the like.  I don’t remember what has been shared previously here, and I haven’t looked through previous blog posts in a while. The gist of my conundrum has been that I had left the Catholic Church some time ago and, ipso facto, any real, substantial belief in “god” has pretty much been jettisoned as well.  Instead, I have gravitated towards a more Buddhist spirituality due to a lack of “proof” of the former.  (This isn’t to say that I buy into the Buddhist belief of reincarnation and other shit like that.  I find such things as fanciful as other religious beliefs.)

What has been so attractive about Buddhism is what Siddhartha Gautama said (and I’m obviously paraphrasing here):  Don’t take anything I say just on faith alone.  Take what I say and test it.  If it fails you, abandon it.  If you find that it works, then use it.  There seems to be an “empirical-ness” built into the method of Buddhist practices.  I dig that.  Some have argued with me that the same sort of “cause and effect” relationship exists with prayer in Christianity.  I say, “nay nay.”  In Christianity, insofar as I understand it, one offers prayers to the deity and, as a result, grace, peace, joy and other gifts are metered out as that deity sees fit.  It was my experience that such gifts did not come.  Sorry, there was no Santa Claus.  However, with Buddhist meditation, with focusing on breathing, with actively performing things designed to quiet my mind, I absolutely did experience peace, a decrease in anger, and an increase in clarity in thinking.  I also noticed that my relationships with others improved.  I have been much more happy.

 In spite of the obvious benefits of Buddhist practice, I still find myself searching for answers to the “god” question. Some of the questions that  just vex me to no end are:

1.  If God exists, why does he (sic) make his presence so difficult to discern?  A related question is,

2.  If the Christian God is real, why must THE most important decision of a human being’s entire life be based on something that is so difficult to discern AND be made on pure faith?  Namely, we must believe and accept that Jesus is Lord in order to be saved.  Otherwise, guess what awaits us?  That to me is simply untenable.   We could go on for days and days about this point alone, but what if, through honest investigating and searching, I come to the rational belief that Jesus was not God, using all of the “gifts” of my intellect, will, senses, etc.?  Would I still be banished to hell for that decision?  What does that say about this all-merciful God?  “Sorry, Johnny. You work on the problem was sound, but you still got the answer wrong.  You still failed the test.  No partial credit.  Go to hell.”  “Sorry God, my name isn’t Johnny. YOU go to hell.”

3.  If the Christian God is real, how can he be both all merciful and all just?  How can opposite qualities, being possessed to infinite degrees, exist in a rational, intelligent being simultaneously?  That defies all logic.  “Sorry, it’s a mystery!”  Don’t give me that.  That’s a cop out for something you don’t understand.  And, I don’t mean to sound glib or disdainful.  I just can’t take such “god of the gap” answers and fallacious reasoning any longer.  Of course, if my reasoning has any problems in it, I’m completely open to it being pointed out.

4.  If the Christian God is real, how are the numerous scriptural contradictions and obvious fabrications explained?  (I do not care to list them here.  For a brief listing, see Dan Barker’s book, Godless, or just use Google or something.)

5.  If God exists and we have immortal souls, at what point in the evolutionary development of man did “souls” get infused into human beings?  There are all sorts of logical problems with this.  And, for the record, I do believe in evolution.  To deny the truth of evolution is to act as if one has had a transorbital lobotomy.  I will not go into the defending evolution here, but the evidence for the existence of evolution is so overwhelming, that one has to be practically decerebrate to deny it.  (And so, how could a specific man named Adam be made from the dirt?)

This list could go on ad infinitum (a little more latin as a shout out to my Catholic friends), but these are just some of the questions that still make me lose sleep.  I’m simply not satisfied with throwing up my hands and saying, “aw fuck it, I’ll never have answers to these questions.”  Neither am I satisfied with the cop out, “You just gotta have faith, Michael!”  (Please do not start singing George Michael.  Please.)  The reason I think this is a cop out is that, if God really made us, then he also made our intellects, our reasons, our senses.  It seems to me entirely ridiculous and cruel for a god to give us such capabilities and then to demand that they be purposely suspended.  “Sorry kids, I want you to just ‘believe! Use those tools for discovering that spoiled milk is yucky, but when it comes to proving that I exist, sorry, I’m not going to subject my superior nature to being discovered that way!”

One last thought before I wrap up.  This part of my life is extremely difficult, and I don’t share either it or that it is difficult lightly.  I do not desire condolences or sympathy.  However, I do wish to explain something.  When belief in a god, especially as defined by a religion that one loves, no longer seems tenable, it’s as if one’s world is turned upside down.  The warm rug that one used to curl up on and fall asleep on has been pulled out and tossed asunder.  There is not a small amount of fear, anxiety, depression, disorientation, loneliness, self-doubt, and anger.  I’m sure there are other emotions as well, but those are the ones closest to the surface right now.

These emotions may come out in communication with others, in Facebook posts, in overall demeanor, and the like.  To most people, that would seem perfectly natural.  To the most judicious and gracious of souls, I’ve been met with warm hugs, understanding nods, and accepting words.  To her great credit (and perhaps the greatest proof of a loving god so far), my loving wife has treated me in the most admirable of ways and she has my praise.  However, there are some who have reacted to me in various, negative ways.  I’ve been called an apostate.  I’ve had various personal faults of mine voiced publicly by friends who felt that I was acting disdainful towards their religion.  All this goes to show me that this topic hits so very close to home and I guess I can’t really blame others for reacting with such strong emotion when I, myself, am also experiencing similar strong emotions.  These issues touch the core of who we identify ourselves as being. I can tell you that I will try to treat everyone with respect.  I may not respect beliefs that I think are silly (if you think that you need to cut your testicles off, where fancy sneakers and kill yourself so that you will meet up with a spaceship, yeah, that’s pretty stupid in my opinion) but I will try to convey that, as a person, you are worthy of respect and love.  I hope that you all can do the same.

Thanks for reading.  More to come.  -michael

Advertisements

Addiction

Image

I don’t quite know why the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman has made me so sad. Maybe it’s because I really, really loved his work as an actor or maybe it’s because we were just about the same age. Maybe it’s because I am, like he was, an addict. Maybe it’s an amalgamation of those things and more. Whatever the reason, I’ve been sad since his death.

I didn’t know him, and for all I know the man could have been a complete jerk. But wow, could he act! He played some of my favorite characters. I wonder what it is, this connection between the highly creative and the addicted. We see it so often. Of course, they don’t always go together, but they happen often enough that surely there’s something there.

As for me, I’ve been lucky. My addiction to prescription pain medication was caught early on. It started early in my teen years, when I was first diagnosed with classic migraines. Back then, there weren’t a lot of preventative treatments, so the neurologists that diagnosed me just gave me a shitload of percocet. Not good for a young man who had a family history of drug and alcohol addiction a mile long. I’m very lucky to have had a mother who stepped in a few years later when things were getting really rough to help me get clean.

Here I am though, almost 44 years old, and the “rapacious creditor” of addiction still plagues me. I still have to be extremely careful with alcohol. It doesn’t take much at all for me to drink everything in site and black out. A couple of years ago, I developed pneumonia. The doctor prescribed a cough syrup with hydrocodone in it. I thought, yeah, i can take week’s worth of syrup as prescribed. It was gone in less than 48 hours. And god forbid I get a hold of an unlimited amount of money. I still struggle with smoking, having started that nasty habit at the age of twelve.  I could go on all night, listing the addictive behavior I’ve been enslaved by, but I’ll spare you the gory details.

What is it that causes this craziness? As a former therapist, I know the theories, yet I’m still perplexed by this problem which plagues so many people today. And I’m even more perplexed why some people are able to get free of these demons and some aren’t. I had heard in a few placed that Phillip Seymour Hoffman was clean for over 20 years before his most recent relapse.  For me, it’s been a cause of despair at times.  When will the maddening temptations end?  “Some say that the only way to be free of the desire is to give in,” we hear from some recovery literature.  Yet that same recovery literature promises that a higher power can and will deliver you if he/she/it is earnestly sought.

I never found that to be true.  God never showed up.  At least not in a discernible way, a way that he/she/it seemed to for so many others (at least, the way they claimed).  And that, in part, is why I don’t really believe anymore.  It may sound sad to some, but it’s my story.  To me, it’s not sad at all.  It was very liberating to shake the dust from those sandals, to finally speak those words that, for so long, I was afraid to say:  “I don’t believe in you.”  So I found something else.  Meditation does it for me now.  I don’t have to rely on the whims and fancy of someone or something “out there” to save me from myself.  In fact, I’m learning that I don’t even need to BE saved!  I have an innate goodness, built right into me.  I am a Buddha.  I am recovered.  Yet at the same time I am still wounded and broken.  I am both, and.  It’s when I sit, breathe, and I’m really connect that I am no longer plagued by the crazy compulsions anymore.  It’s then that I’m really at peace.

Buddhists believe in reincarnation.  I don’t know about that.  Christians believe in Heaven.  I still like that thought, to be honest, but I’m really not sure what happens after we die.  My hope for Phillip Seymour Hoffman is that he continues on, but without the suffering that he had here in this life.  The gifts he shared with us will certainly be missed.

I’m not sure any of this made sense, but if you stuck with it through the rambling, I thank you.

Becoming Buddhist

baby buddhaMy decision to “become a Buddhist”  occurred slowly (as if one every really “becomes” a Buddhist, when in reality they adopt Buddhist practices – “Being a Buddhist is more of an action than a state of being, at least IMO).  I had been having such a very had time with the faith I was raised in: Catholicism.  Well, perhaps not with *that* faith per se, but with the whole concept of God, especially as He is presented in Catholicism specifically, and in western religions generally. 

See, I just didn’t *get* God.  Or maybe “He” didn’t get me.  Intellectually, I understood the concept of a creator, an un-created being, a deity, a non-contingent reality.  And for most part, I still buy into that concept.  Where I couldn’t quite connect, as say, my wife could, or many of my friends, was the whole concept of a “personal” God.  “Someone to hear your prayers, someone who cares,” as Dave Gahan sings.  Sure, I’d had what I *thought* were real experiences of this God, this Lover of Souls who “knows you better than you know yourself,” but when I look back on these experiences now, it’s easy to think that these were just fabrications created by my mind, made to feel more real due to emotional impressionism and a desire, a wanting, them to be real.

Maybe they were.  I really don’t know.  How can I?

What I DO know is that I have very real, very tangible doubts (can a doubt be tangible?) about the existence of a loving, personal God.  I’m not saying that He *doesn’t* exist.  To say such things would be the height of hubris.  But what I *have* been saying, at least to myself, is that I desperately want to know.  I crave understanding.  But how can I get that understanding?  Ultimately, I can’t.  I’m convinced, at the present time anyway, that there simply isn’t any way to know – and I mean to know in an experiential way – that He *really* exists.  And so, what am I to do?  Well, what I *did* do is seek out a philosophy that made sense to me.  That “met me where I was at,”  (I sure hate that expression) and what I found was Buddhism.

What struck me about Buddhism, as a practice, as a manner of living, as a philosophy, was that it is highly experiential.  Observable.  As one’s sitting practice of meditating develops, one can directly see peace, tranquility, and a calm mind developing. And it doesn’t rely on faith in some God “out there,” to provide grace in order for one to wake up, become enlightened, become actualized, whatever term you wish to use.  Now, there may BE a God out there providing grace but Buddhist practices don’t rely on one’s supplication and sacrifices to that deity.  Just practice.  Meditation.  Calming the mind.  Detaching from one’s attachments.  Practicing compassion for others.  Loving one’s self and other living things.  It’s all very simple.  No dogma, no infighting about this doctrine or that tradition.

What a breath of fresh air this has been!