I am currently reading How We Believe: Science, Skepticism and the Search for God by Michael Shermer and like many such books it’s making me think a lot.I thought that this would be as good as opportunity as any to detail the history of my beliefs.
When I was a young boy I considered myself Christian. I did this for a number of reasons. The first was a book of Children’s Bible Stories which did not really do justice to the Bible. For instance, the Children’s Bible Stories version of the Book of Revelations had a big happy ending where all evil is existed, all the good come back to life, and there is peace and immortality on Earth–which stands in stark contrast to the bloody death toll that is recounted in the real Book of Revelations. The second was a children’s choir at the local Church which exposed me to some speakings on God when we sang on special occasions. The third was an after-school group called Shalom that was a good break for my parents, and that gave me a feeling of belonging and a greater knowledge of the Bible than I would have had otherwise; candy was used as a reward for answering questions correctly, and proved to be a wonderful incentive, especially after my younger brother and I repeated the program often enough to know the answers by heart to the the point that the organizers had to ignore our hands even when they were the only ones in the air for fear of giving us too much candy.
My memory is a bit unclear on the specifics (perhaps there were no specifics) but eventually I moved away from Christianity. Looking back, I attribute this to a few factors—most of them having to do with the Problem of Evil. The Problem of Evil for those who don’t know is the question why bad things happen when God is omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent. On my particular small scale I started off being distraught by the death of my great-grandmother and great-aunt. These deaths upset me, but I took some comfort in my belief they were in Heaven (I still don’t know today whether they were Christian or not, but I was a kid so I didn’t particularly understand the exclusivity of Christianity at that point). The death of the family dog Dougan when I was 9 was much harder to take. Oh, how I prayed and prayed, first for the sparing of my dog and then the bringing of him back to life. When both failed to happen I think that is when my belief first began to falter. Of course we weren’t long without a dog (a happenstance I remember as being quite controversial at the time) so perhaps it wasn’t too serious an impact on my belief as it would have been if the absence had been protracted. But the roots were there. Then in the latter days of elementary school when times seemed the darkest and only my friendship with a few other outcasts provided a ray of light, how I prayed and prayed for the ending of that Children’s Stories of the Bible, that fairy tale ending, where the evil would be all gone and the good would reign triumphant. How often when I was feeling beat-up, world weary and depressed did I pray for Christ to come down and slay all those who tormented me and preserve those who I loved? The failure of that to occur day after day, turning into weeks and months was when I started to seriously lose faith (though I will note now that I actually know what the Book of Revelations details that I am glad my prayer did not bring down that bloody period on us all). And perhaps the final nail in the coffin was when my dear friend Kirsten, who was my girlfriend at the time, convinced me to forgive two of the greatest tormentors of my youth, Nicky and Marianne. And that was when I first realized that things were not as black and white as my youth had seemed to suggest–when I started to realize that kids had been kids, that some of my own stuffiness was to blame, and that these people were not evil–they had their faults but they also had some good, just as I was not good–I had my good, but also had some faults. After that I think it was pretty much determined that I would lose faith in Christianity even though it didn’t happen right in that moment.
During Grade 11 I managed to find a name for what I now believed. I was an agnostic. I didn’t know whether God was real or not–I was completely undecided. I decided that I would stay open-minded but that I would not fully commit without solid proof–a personal encounter with God or an angel for instance. But even as I was holding that agnostic view I continued to be drawn to matters of theology. I watched documentaries and read books on Christianity and even managed to pick up a few Wiccan and Taoist texts. Something drew me towards the spiritual at the same time as I was drawn towards the stars and the mysteries of the cosmos (again in the forms of documentaries and sci-fi/fantasy books and shows).
By the first year of university I considered myself a Wiccan. With my sister-in-law’s expertise I have since come to alter the title (though not the content of my beliefs) to Pagan, or more accurately Neopagan (this was due to a differing interpretation of the Wiccan Rede–I advocated you could harm others in self-defense which is not exactly a solid definition of the Wiccan Rede).
Since I know that Paganism has a pretty broad range of possible beliefs I’d thought I’d end with a summary of my main belief points at the moment which I find personally empowering and fitting to my view of the world.
1. I believe in a God that is essentially good and that answers to many names.
2. I believe that God interacts with the world in a subtle fashion (at least nowadays).
3. I believe that human beings have the ability to subtly influence the world around them (think spell-casting, prayer).
4. I believe in low-level psychic powers (energy detection, shielding)*
5. I believe in the Threefold Law (whatever energy you put out into the world good or ill, comes back at you threefold).
*It occurs to me that the low-level psychic powers will take some explaining. First, I’ll start with energy detection. Ever been in a place where you have a great feeling of awe, a sense of something more? For myself I feel that in places of ancient architecture and of religious worship (Churches, monasteries, old buildings, etc.) That, to me, is a detection of energy though from where I’m at now that’s one of the more in-your-face examples. There’s a few simple exercises which can increase your capacity for energy detection and they all pretty much come from the same root. Just move your hand slowly towards an object (a rock, leaf, book, pet, someone else’s hand–it helps if the object is going to reliably remain stationary) and stop when you feel something like resistance (note: keep an open mind about this, and trust your feelings). This sensation of energy resistance is a form of energy detection. Eventually, you’ll be able to get to the point where you can detect energy from an object without having to actually get near to touching. For example, if I’m in a class or at a social setting, I can generally feel the energy of people in the room. It’s nothing grand you have to understand, just a series of impressions really, but it’s a fascinating (and I think worthwhile activity). My hope is that by sensing people’s energy I can see them a bit more clearly–see their potential and worth as a person not just their physical traits or abilities. Of course, as I’ve said in an earlier post, I got introduced to this at a young enough age that I think it remains a factor in being a bit uncomfortable with physical contact with people. The second low-level psychic ability is really a logical procession from the first. If we’re all emanating energy then a large group of people concentrated in a small area would emanate rather a lot of energy, yes? And if you can detect such energy, then having a method of filtering out some of the unwanted stuff so you don’t get an overload would seem like a good idea, hmm? And this is basically what shielding is: a bit of protection from psychic overload. My first encounter with this was when I walked into the high school cafeteria in Grade 9. I was so overwhelmed by all the noise and energy that I couldn’t remain in there. Since I was seeing a counselor pretty regularly at the time I was wise enough to ask for some help in the matter and the counselor introduced me to shielding. Originally I had to accompany the “raising” of my shield with a physical gesture but the value of the shield is mostly mental so the next step was a visualization and now it’s generally reflex though I do often take the time to visualize just to be sure. I will also note for those who know about such things that I do not see shielding as at all the same thing as raising a circle for spellcasting. In my view, the shielding protects me from psychic overload. The circle has two different purposes in my mind: the first, to protect me from any harmful energy directed by other people’s spells towards me and the second to act as an area where some of the normal laws of the universe are suspended long enough for me to work a spell. So, in summary I don’t believe in telekinesis, teleportation, telepathy, or any high-level psychic power like that but low-level stuff like energy detection and shielding I do believe in.
Apologies for the length of this piece. There’s a lot to be said about spiritual beliefs and my own odyssey has been a long and fruitful exploration. And I continue to be drawn to theological discussions be it in the form of books, television shows, music, non-fiction or fiction.