Part X: Building my own beliefs.
So. The here and now. I’m 25. It’s been around a decade since I lost my faith. I still miss it. I miss it like a boot to the gut. I miss it like tearing out a tooth. It is sharp and deep and still bruised, and I don’t know if that will ever go away.
But I am still faithless. I still don’t have a religion. I wanted to, for a very long time, but I am burdened by knowledge. I am chained down and bolstered up by conversation, and study, and my own precious thoughts that I reasoned out step by step. It hurts to have that freedom, because the price you pay for sincerely questioning your belief is to accept the answer, and it will always have been your choice. Your fault.
I read something around a year back that has been fizzing in my brain like cartoon dynamite; the idea that most of what people say they believe, they only believe because they are vomiting up ideas that were given to them, verbatim, without examining them to see what matches with their personal ‘this is what I think’ beliefs. The obvious example, and the example that was used, was political parties. In England there are two main parties, and perhaps three or four others that also have some political weight. But most people in England, the overwhelming majority of people will say “I’m a Conservative” or “I’m Tory”. They are saying that their political beliefs are in line with the beliefs of that party. But if you went through, point by point, the beliefs and values of that party (whatever they happen to be), it is wildly, wildly unlikely that they would match up perfectly. Most of the time it doesn’t match up all that much. But, it’s a tangible identity, and once that is decided (“I’m Tory. That’s it.”) people don’t examine it further.
Subnote: it’s perhaps a slightly iffy example to use English politics at the moment, as they appear (and perhaps it is only that they appear) to be in a state of flux, with the possibility (in the next 4 or 5 years) that other parties will actually have a meaningful say. It would’ve been much easier to use North American politics where, I gather, there is very much a two-party system. But I know even less about NA politics than I do about the one’s that happen in the country I live in.
What I believe now, it is built by me. A caveman in a wasteland, I have dragged every rock and forged every tool as I build my own beliefs. They are mine. They were made of blood and bone and pain, and they are mine. I will build my beliefs high and carry them with me wherever I go, because every part of them is precious to me. No God told me to carry them. No unanswerable authority taught me these rules. My rules, my ideals, my morals were made by people. People who shared with me, who argued with me. People who blamed me for my ignorance and who still won’t step out of their borrowed doctrines. Everything, everything I believe was wrought on human error and human knowledge. On human opinion and human work and human acknowledged ignorance and I will continue to drag it with me no matter how much it hurts, and if the day comes when I am wrong again I will tear it all down again and start over because that is what freedom of thought costs. The price of truly asking a question is the admission that you have to hear the answer, and it was your decision to ask.
There is perhaps one belief I value more than any other. It is also the hardest, and by far the most terrifying. Remember, the cost of reading ahead is that you decided to do so. The recompense is you can then think about it.
When you die, you will be gone forever. You were unique, and beautiful, and endlessly precious and you will be gone like a blown fuse. You will never return. You will not go to a better place, you will not come back again. You will end, completely and utterly. You will cease to exist.
This is terrifying. It is terrifying beyond all thought, because you cannot run or hide or reason and it does not care about you no matter what you do. You will live until one day you are gone and you will leave nothing but a bag of blood and gore that is the hollow shell you are gone from.
Good. Because this is not a test. Your life matters. What you do matters. Every bad thing you have ever done is your fault. Every good thing you have ever done is your fault too.
Now you know. You are burdened with the most terrible freedom I know of.