When I scribbled this I was still something of a deist. Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations With God series of books was greatly influential and elicited in me some quite profound revelations about my existence (one particular dream, where I was a ghost who not even my dog could see – contrary to all popular mythology on that subject – had me waking up sobbing uncontrollably with the joyous relief of still being alive, which was the beginning of the most serene & beautiful day of my entire life). I would sit there reading them, utterly absorbed & compelled and nodding my head quite a bit, saying “oh hell yes, that’s exactly what I thought!”
Ironically though (inevitably, in hindsight), the CWG series set me coasting very steadily toward atheism. One of the major points of Walsch’s conversations with his god were that all religions were human creations concentrated on control & retention of membership; hierarchical political organisations in all but name but based on infinitely higher ideals than conventional political parties (and thus able to wield much, much more power & influence – some still do, I’m looking at you, Pope Ratzinger, US fundie retards, Iranian ayatollahs, Saudi Thought Police et al.). Because they’re as completely artificial and arbitrary (and corrupt) as any party or football team or fast-food franchise, no human owes any allegiance to them. The responsibility of each & every human being is to live the most honest life they can and find their unique truth; the one thing or set of things that makes them happy. A pretty simple & obvious philosophy, one might think, but one that’s been coopted & distorted by religions for millennia to the point where joy & happiness in this life is unthinkable for most people in the world. Why? Because they expect to achieve (and have been promised since infancy) perfection in the next world, people most of the time don’t strive for joy in this one.
Reading the CWG series was a defining moment in my spiritual development. It crystallised my beliefs; more importantly it crystallised for me my opinions on organised religions and what political, human-manufactured control systems they are (regardless of whether they were ever intended to be). Since that moment in my mid-teens, literally half a life away, when I’d decided Christians were basically making shit up, I’d long been cynical about religion but still held some kind of belief that something was somewhere, observing if not actually doing anything.
Before I read CWG I met (& dated) a few hippies, wiccans and assorted New-Agers who were into crystals, spirit guides, Magick, paganism, past-life regression, sweat-lodges, peyote and other assorted bollocks. Some had watercolour pictures of their alleged “spirit guides” framed on their walls, usually taking the form of a kindly-looking man or woman dressed in pseudo Middle Earth garb, on a nice colourful aural background. Their bookshelves were full of crystals and books on the various trendy spiritualities of the mid-late 1990s; some called themselves “seers” and some even practiced reiki (occasionally uninvited, which made me very uncomfortable). I thought they were all clear-headed and enlightened at the time. Through hindsight, however, I saw that they were lost, confused and sexually promiscuous people, myself included, clearly seeking some kind of clarity, path, answers or revelations. Much I wanted to be a part of their world, their pseudo-religions & superstitions didn’t really catch on with me and I realised later that I had just been feigning interest, even to the point of wearing a kaftan at some point and allowing some old charlatan to dangle his crystal pendulum over me as I lay down. He proclaimed, as a result of the crystal swinging rather rapidly, that I was “very psychic”; I could clearly see his thumb and index finger moving the leather strap. At that point it all just seemed completely unnecessary & a bunch of wishful thinking.
So I read CWG and I realised I was a deist. After the memory of the books had faded somewhat I simply lived as I chose and tried to make myself happy. But an interesting thing happened a couple of years ago: I read Dawkins‘ The God Delusion. A Christmas gift from my mother, it had been on my wish-list ever since I saw Dawkins’ now-legendary discussion of it at the Randolph-Macon Women’s college on youtube. This book made me re-evaluate whatever I considered my spiritual side. Through close introspection (a favourite hobby) I realised that my cynicism regarding religion was well-placed and that I’d basically been living as an atheist for the past decade or so. It’s not that Dawkins‘ words told me what to think or what I was (which would defeat the entire purpose of atheism, reason and freethinking in general); they made me think. They allowed me to crystallise what my beliefs and opinions were on the subject of religion and made me realise what a true danger blind faith can be to reason and rationality and science (as well as providing some great insights on how religion could be spread and how things such as morality may well have evolved as we did). From childhood I’d loved science & nature, from my biology teacher father’s shelves full of natural history & palaeontology volumes & subscriptions to New Scientist & Australian Geographic, to the David Attenborough (long may he reign) documentaries we’d sit as a family and be enthralled by, to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series and my eventual deep love for the science fiction of people like Asimov (again, dad’s bookshelf – now mine and I wonder if he’s noticed that he’s missing the entire Foundation series), Clarke, Frank Herbert, William Gibson, Gene Roddenberry and Iain M Banks. Dawkins‘ arguments appealed to nerdy side of me as well as the part of me that now, almost instinctively, mistrusted religion and an atheist was born! Well, not so much born – an atheist was made to realise he’d actually been one for years and didn’t know 🙂
I didn’t experience a profoundly upsetting & negative experience at the hands of religion or its practitioners as, so many unfortunately have; I arrived at atheism in such a quiet, understated way that I didn’t realise I was there until a well-spoken professor advised me to simply stop & observe my surroundings. As I think I was already pretty reasonable, the rest just fell into place. “Oh, right … I suppose I’m an atheist then – all the relevant boxes are ticked. OK then. Good. Now what? Oh right – get on with my life!”
Thanks, Prof Dawkins. I think I’ll go and read it again now. Once I finish Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World …