Over the past 3+ years I’ve been doing a lot of introspection (even more than usual) and some new understandings and experiences have cropped up. A little summary:
While I don’t feel like I need a label for my understanding of spiritual matters, for the past 1 and a half-ish years I have identified as an actual atheist. This may seem strange considering I’ve been an ex-muslim for over 7 years now and have been vehemently against religions since, but for all that time before I still felt there was some kind of higher power. My decision to become an atheist, however, was based on the realisation that no matter what, “Higher Power”, “God” and other such names are all imbued with the a priori assumption of intentionality, personality and will, none of which can be proved in the scientific sense. Furthermore, whether there is a ‘god’ or not we seem incapable of conceiving of it without recourse to our own emotions, beliefs, preconceptions, cultural conventions, etc. so we cannot help but think of it in human terms. Of course we could claim gods are like humans after all, as most religions have done & still do (and which I experimented with for a while), but all we have to do is look up at the sky with our naked eyes or a telescope to know there are no humans or humanoid beings up there.
Except the occasional astronauts but they still eat, drink, shit, sleep & die exactly as we do.
Having said that, there is no denying that very often I have received help & support from unexpected places, and “lucky” coincidences have happened to me. However I don’t try to impose my opinions on it anymore, and all I can truthfully derive therefrom is that the world/ universe is responsive. That implies intentionality, personality & will – key word being IMPLIES, not proves. And for now I leave it at that.
Regarding spirituality (in the now-common meaning of personal exploration as opposed to hardline dogma), I now recognise it as a response to and attempt to heal from psychological trauma. That is not a bad thing, and in fact I’d say that’s a good thing. However, there’s a risk that it won’t solve the real problem. Because “spiritual paths” are mostly derived from other cultures/ traditions/ religions (such as neo-paganism, and New Age stuff in general) and followers often don’t work too thoroughly on exposing and critiquing their own thought processes, they just end up heaping more dogma and rituals upon themselves. My parents are a perfect example in their conversion from Christianity to Islam; all they did was swap one form of mental slavery for another.
Even as an Afro-Caribbean who loves to learn about ‘black’ & African cultures & histories, I feel that trying to go back to the ways of our ancestors 100% (e.g. voodoo, Yoruba spirituality, Kemetic spirituality, etc) would be just as fraught. Some require initiations thus are subject to another person’s approval, most require belief in a god/ gods/ spirits (the latter of which they are often pointlessly scared of), many if not most are ethnocentric and therefore not totally compatible to people born into foreign cultures, and let’s be honest – ancient Africans weren’t right about everything. They forgot stuff, fucked up, made shit up as they went along, didn’t always know what they were doing, committed wars & genocides, some were greedy & dishonest psychopaths, and most were just bog-standard normal people just trying to do the best for themselves & their loved ones and make some kind of sense of the world around them. Just like ancient Asians (including Europeans), ancient Americans, ancient Australians, ancient everybody.
Additionally, many modern pro-Africa religions (e.g. Nation of Islam, Nuwaubianism, Hebrew Israelites, Qubtic Church, etc.) are just Afro-diasporans’ re-interpretations of true original African religions. All well and good, except that they share a lot of the trappings of the Abrahamic faiths, either through conscious syncretisation or unexamined beliefs/ perspectives therefrom. On top of that the Abrahamic religions have had so much influence throughout Africa for the past 2000 years that it’ll take a lot of time and dedication to distinguish them from true original African religions.
Prior to my decision to identify as atheist, however, I also came to confront the truth that my imagination has played a massive part in my conception of God, gods/ goddesses, spirits, etc. which I was always conscious of. All well and good, except that imagination is not reality. To be even more honest I’ve spent a good portion of the past 3.5 years trying to “kill off” my imagination so it doesn’t distract me from reality (reality as it is as opposed to how I want it to be). For a good while I succeeded, and now it’s coming back I decided “kill off” may have been unrealistic – ironically. Right now I’m still “training” myself to make use of my imaginative faculties in practical ways rather than allowing it to run wild. I’ve also come to understand that despite how I used to feel in my teens & early 20s imagination is not inexhaustible, but requires “fuel” in much the same way the brain as a whole requires it. What “fuels” imagination? Real-life experiences. Other people. New learning. Memories. Emotions. TV shows & films. And food, drink, exercise, rest/ sleep, all the basics.
Speaking of emotion, I’ve now also come to understand that emotions are just reactions to stimuli. Regardless of whether we prefer certain ones over others, emotions are neither good nor bad. It’s like calling a rock bad for falling off a cliff & hitting someone on the head just because it was subject to gravity, or calling an apple tree good because you prefer apples to cherries. Emotions work as signals, indicators of the person’s internal state as well as of the external environment. There are no “bad” or “good” emotions, just emotions, which we all possess just by being animals.
Now I’ve started to take astrology a little bit seriously. There are two reasons I never used to: my belief in the scientific method, and Islam. Yes Islam forbids belief in astrology. Despite this religio-cultural vestige, however, I’ve had to accept that the sun, moon and weather do influence my & other people’s psycho-emotional state, and from that it seems almost foolhardy to think other stars, planets & heavenly bodies wouldn’t do the same. I only take it seriously as far as it provides a coherent explanation for my personality and life, not to mention horoscopes are a good affirmation source (I read all 12 signs, not just my own). I don’t believe or expect it to answer all my questions, but it’s good to take knowledge no matter where it comes from.
But I still think the constellations’ names are complete dogshit.
Not to mention 2 interesting little tidbits: not only can our star sign change under certain conditions – and apparently everyone’s has over this past year, but the Western zodiac has always been incomplete anyway. There never were just 12 constellations, but as many as 88 that are officially recognised. Yes, EIGHTY-EIGHT (see the full list here if you’re interested). So how the fuck could anyone take astrologers so seriously if they were withholding info from the beginning?!?!?
Life & death are of equal value. Just because we generally prefer being alive to being dead doesn’t make it more valuable or better. We will all die, and we can believe all we want but there is no evidence that life after death is even possible. We are just another species of animal among millions on this one planet among billions. How can we think we’re so special in this universe?
Positivity isn’t always good. In fact there are times when it can be genuinely evil. For those disabled by self-hatred, lack of self-confidence or belief that they have no control over their lives, it’s a massive boon to have an ideology that gives them a sense of self-worth, value & purpose. However, there are hidden dangers:
- TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS TO YOU: you aren’t responsible for everything that happens to you. Sometimes people may give you trouble just because in their mind you represent a particular ideology they disagree with or you remind them of someone else – you are not responsible for that. Sometimes people may feel that because you’re good-looking you must be dopey or materialistic when you’re actually an environmentalist activist with an IQ over 200 (or vice versa; they assume you’re good-looking therefore you must be really kind-hearted & intelligent when you’re actually Donald Trump) – you are not responsible for that. Sometimes accidents happen – you are not (necessarily) responsible for that. Yes you “have to” deal with life as it comes but don’t always blame yourself for your failings or shortcomings (unless you’re a dickhead who loves drama).
- DON’T HAVE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS/ FEELINGS: impossible therefore unrealistic, and “negative” emotions/ thoughts are just signals so ignoring them may result in greater psychological harm over time. For example, you may have just pushed through a really important business deal but went without sleep/ food for a while in the process, then you take on another project that promises more money but your subconscious mind is saying you can’t do it, you ignore it because it’s a “negative” message and press on. Whether you succeeded at that 2nd project or not, the “negative” message continues so you force yourself to take on other projects to distract yourself therefrom, when all your brain was telling you was to get your ass to bed and catch up on the sleep & food you missed! Then you can deal with new projects!
- LAW OF ATTRACTION: this probably underlies the above 2 points. It’s this belief that the universe reflects back to you the “energy” you “send out”, so if you send out “negative” thoughts it responds with giving you negative situations. If you send out “positive” thoughts it responds with “positive” situations. I don’t say this is untrue per se but it does instil a kind of fear that certain emotional states or certain thoughts are forbidden, plus there’s no focus on external action or actionable skills/ plans. People need to physically do things differently for their lives to change, otherwise the law of attraction won’t do fuck-all for them. How’s that for a “best-kept secret to success”?
- NO SYMPATHY FOR OTHERS’ MISFORTUNE: assuming the law of attraction is true, it makes sense that people are poor, ill &/or unloved because they were or are “negative” & need to be avoided so their negativity doesn’t rub off on you, while those who are well-off, healthy & popular are “positive” and you need to keep company with them. Well no, many people fall ill due to simply living in certain places, eating nutrient-depleted or heavily processed or allergenic foods, being underactive or overactive, having a familial predisposition to certain conditions or having their immune system left undeveloped by physical or psychological traumas that happened when they were too young to remember or be able to prevent – all of which have nothing to do with being positive or negative. Likewise many rich people did not earn what they have but just happen by accident of birth to be from old-money families, whose ancestors plundered, murdered, maimed & raped their way to those resources, and are either wilfully ignorant or proud of it and advocate a return to those “good old days”. Many poor/ “low-class” people are descendants of the victims of those plunders, murders, tortures & rapes bearing the epigenetic markers of those traumas, or they may even be direct first-hand victims themselves. This aspect of positivity smacks of Vedic Hindu-style belief in karma, and results in a kind of apartheid where people in different walks of life refuse to associate with each other.
- CUI BONO?: this is probably the most understated but most pernicious harm of positivity. The self-help/ self-development industry is a multi-billion dollar business, and why is that? Because we are spending our hard-earned money buying merchandise, going to lectures & seminars, implementing the values of self-help gurus and their marketers/ agents/ sponsors/ propagators. There is nothing wrong with this per se, but always pay attention to who’s gaining the most benefit from the time, effort & money you expend. If it’s not you, you are wasting your time and you should either do something else completely or go for your goals without such “help”.
And I’m not the only one who’s noticed (note each word is a separate hyperlink). That’s why I’m currently finding Mark Manson‘s works so good, because he doesn’t mind talking about the “ugly truths” of life.
On top of that, I’ve also been pondering the notion that I am privileged. Earlier in my life I would’ve called bullshit because being ‘black’ in this ‘white’-worshipping global paradigm completely negates and precedes anything & everything else. But a case could be made for that, because I’m male (especially poignant in how people treat me compared to my girlfriend), physically fit & able-bodied, born in England, not dark-skinned, and admittedly attractive. I might write another post on this.