30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.
I agree with William when he said, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.
This column is about trivial things. This one, God, is the most trivial of all. I want to make that clear from the start – and I think it’s the great downfall of God and religion. How important people place it in the lives.
God, beliefs, morality, religion – these are the last things I use to form an opinion about a person. I have so many friends with so many varied beliefs. And it matters not one iota what they believe in. Just as what I believe in isn’t really anyone’s business.
But I thought I’d get a few words down about it – this trivial, trivial thing.
When I was very young, I was given a book. Not the bible, but rather This I Believe, an anthology of writers talking about their varied faiths, edited and compiled by John Marsden (doesn’t look like it’s in print anymore). Amongst other things, it inspired me to write down my own thoughts on faith, God and religion.
I do it every few years. Just write down what I believe. It’s very therapeutic.
Before that book, I had gone to church with my parents occasionally. I was so bored and inattentive at the time that I’m pretty sure those visits had no affect on me as a person. My parents stopped taking me very quickly in favour of Chinese language classes.
And since then I have had zero contact with formal religion. It just doesn’t affect my life. If it wasn’t for This I Believe, and it’s unwritten challenge of – hey kid, get your philosophy in order – I probably would never have thought about God again.
That’s probably not true actually. Because my life journey through my beliefs is a river, not a line. And what has shaped it has been a million influences.
At 17, writing my first ever This I Believe essay, I would say I was a half hearted atheist. Around this time, I discovered the word ‘agnostic’. I can’t remember who said it (it might have been in the book) but agnostics are just the WORST.
Believe in something. Don’t choose “can’t decide”.
In the last 13 years, I have moved away from atheism. On one hand, I discovered certain pros for the competition, which I will get into. But more importantly, I have some very worrying cons against atheism.
To start with the last one, there was a Global Atheism Conference in 2010, held in Melbourne. Global Atheism Conference? Come on. What kind of bullshit cult is this? In the last decade, Atheism has become a religion of it’s own – or at least it’s edging that way very quickly.
The only, and I mean ONLY, people who have ever tried to push their beliefs on me have been Atheists. They take out ads on buses in London promoting their wares. They ridicule and make fun of those who have not read their books and see things differently. And now, they have closed off little conferences that do nothing but preach to the converted.
Atheists, like all religious nuts, believe they are right. And yes, they use science and so their beliefs are not, you know, like fairies in a pretty garden. But it is turning into a bullshit mass movement. And my idea that belief should be trivial is being left behind by this Atheist movement.
Can you really tell me that all atheists know everything about their beliefs? Or have they just read two Richard Dawkins books and are now smug assholes?
Now, I’m not talking about ALL atheists. I’m talking about the ones that organise conferences. The ones who buy ads on buses. The ones that ruin holidays with their politics and beliefs. Where is Pete Townshend to hit them with a guitar.
Atheism used to be easy. You don’t believe in fairy tales. Nowadays, when you say you’re an Atheist, people ask you when you last read The God Delusion.
So, nothing against those who don’t believe there’s a God. In fact, good on you for thinking about it and deciding on something. And fuck those bastards who have turned it into a religion in and of itself.
Not that I’m an atheist anymore. In the years, my view has changed to include a God. Here is a quick headline rundown of how I went from a to b.
From not believing there is a God, means there is no meaning to life.
If there is no meaning of life, then I quote Joss Whedon – “If what we do doesn’t matter, then all that matters is what we do”. Basically if you want meaning, you create your own.
From there – there’s the Oscar Wilde idea of “My life is my life’s work”. If we create meaning to our own lives – wouldn’t we want it to be the very best meaning? Which means we’ve now reintroduced the idea of living a ‘good’ life.
So what are the criteria of a ‘good’ life? Is living by the code set up by the bible? Or something that is personal? Personal is of course the best. But no man is an island, and you have to take moral codes and lessons from what is around you.
I decided to become an artist. Write music. Be a writer. So my personal definition of a good life became to live an artistic life. And to live it fully. Essentially, to leave behind a good biography for someone to write. Taking cues from my idols and heroes, from Keith Richards to Stanley Kubrik, or whoever. Live an interesting, artistic life.
But interesting by who’s account? From here we find Bob Ellis, who wrote in his “The Nostradamus Kid“, the idea of the future camera. That one day, someone will invent a camera that can look back in time and see everything we have done. And we need to perform for that camera, and that future audience.
(It’s not far off from Willie’s “all the world’s a stage” thing)
Who is this imaginary future audience, who’s audience-ness is shaping my life and my actions? It’s no one. They don’t exist. They are just a focus of an idea. Like a meditation mantra. Something un-nameable to hang something on.
And if you’ve come that far, you might as well just name that imaginary thing “God”.
Because for me – if life is a story – then God is not it’s writer. It’s not even it’s editor. It’s the reader we are trying to impress.
So, God is not a person. Certainly not one that looks like Alanis Morrisette.
But it is a belief in something that doesn’t exist, outside myself, is judging me. When I lie in my bed at nights and wonder if I’ve been good to God, it’s me wondering if I have had a “good” day, and if that audience will look at what I’ve done and think of me well.
Which excludes me from being an atheist.
The popular question is – does God exist?
The popular answer is – it doesn’t matter.
For years, that answer seemed like hocus pocus bullshit. But now I agree. It doesn’t matter. I’m not sure it’s for the same reasons the church would give. But here are my reasons.
Religion and God are, most thinkers will agree, a necessary invention at a certain stage of civilisation. People generally create moral codes, and tend to do it by committee. Religion – big and small, good and bad – spawn from this idea.
The fact – and it is a fact, really – that God doesn’t exist should null and void the lessons learnt in religion.
BUT – a big capital BUT – where have I learnt my moral code?
I’ll tell you. There’s one person who taught me more about good and evil, right and wrong than anyone else.
And that fucking do-gooder doesn’t exist either.
I’ll give you another. Captain Kirk. Or Spiderman. Or any character ever played by Steve McQueen. I am the product of learning from thousands of people who don’t “exist”. Does it null and void the lessons I’ve learnt?
Did the boy who cried wolf actually exist? Why don’t atheists attack that story?
So, there is some value in fictional people.
Now, lets take that further.
Dee Dee Ramone is a hero of mine (especially during high school). The guy is dead. I’m never going to meet him. The Ramones were personas at best. They are almost cartoons. How much does “Dee Dee Ramone” exist? That’s not even a real name.
What about Keith Richards then? If that guy was a fictional character, he’d be an unrealistic one. Again, I’ve never met him. What I learnt reading Rolling Stones biographies – is there more value to that than Catcher In the Rye? I don’t believe there is. Both are stories and I’ve taken what I chose to take from them.
Someone I have met then. Michael Stipe for example. I shook his hand once, and had a small chat. Those 3 minutes of confirming his physical presence had little affect on how I feel about the guy, and what I learn from him.
Real, not real. Fiction or fact. Alive or dead. It’s all the same. What gives something value is me, and where I choose to find inspiration.
So whether God exists really doesn’t matter. I’m not dealing with truths when I think of beliefs. I don’t know if there was a Jesus, anymore than I don’t know if Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads to play guitar. But I know which one I’d rather believe in, in both cases.
The problem is religion. It’s usually a pretty bad thing. But as the years go by, even I’m softening to that.
I have an addictive personality. It’s probably lucky that Paul McCartney got to me before God. But I look at KISS conventions, or the Joni Mitchell message board, and I think – a lot of what religion does for people is here. Community. Self validation. A feeling of being unique and special within a group.
Beth, for years now, has been someone I go to when I want to talk about these things. I once asked her about religious nutters. In particular, a guy I saw on the street with a Jesus sandwich board, ranting and raving.
She said, and I paraphrase, that guy is just a lunatic. Pure and simple. And he uses religion as something to be insane about. It’s the same lesson as anti-racism 101. That group of black kids that broke into the local shop aren’t black kids. They are just kids – and dickheads at that. Skin colour, belief, age, gender – any combination of those can produce a dickhead.
Religion is so big, there’s bound to be some real dickheads there. If you took religion away, they’d probably be a dickhead about something else.
(I mean, the Nazi’s were Darwinists gone mad. It’s not hard to see the religious parallels there. Dickheads are everywhere.)
So that is a brief overview of why I decide to not Not-Believe in God.
But then there are the reasons I do.
And I just have to look at La Sagrada Familia. God, that is a fucking humbling experience. Looking up at those spires, and the work – since 1882 and not scheduled to finish for another 15 years – and you think, man, Gaudi really loved God. I mean he really, really loved Him.
That sort of outpouring of inspiration is – well – inspiring.
I want to live like that. I want to express myself with such thunder.
And God can take me there. I’ve chosen my own unique God to be my guide, but a God nonetheless.
Also, a lot of my heroes believe in God (although mostly troubled and turbulent relations at best). Stuart Murdoch. Neil Finn. Craig Finn. Jeff Tweedy. Tim Rogers. That’s just the music guys.
There’s no shortage of inspiring works in the name of God. So many churches. A million songs, movies, poems and books. It makes me think if you let yourself go to something bigger than yourself, then amazing things can happen.
This was a tough piece to write. I hope that you take it in spirit it was intended – a discussion rather than, ironically, a sermon. I usually don’t talk about this stuff, but I do think about it a lot.
In those very rare times I do talk about God, I have come up with a perfect nugget-sized analogy to sum it up.
The school of painting I’ve always been drawn to have been the impressionists. Those murky colours and shapes that suggest reality but don’t reflect it. Like the awesome “The Fighting Temeraire” by Turner or “Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte” by Seurat. And so – I take an impressionistic view of life.
I’d rather blur reality for the sake of beauty.
This I believe.
(Small post script. The name ‘Danny’ means ‘The Lord is my judge’)