What we think is not that simple. Yet, what we think is of the utmost importance because it affects our lives and the lives of those around us. What we think can literally decide whether we live or die, whether we live well or not, or whether we are happy or not.
The thoughts that are important are really our beliefs about ourselves and about other people. The fleeting thoughts that shoot across our mind in moments of anger or pain or fear are not so important if they are important at all.
However, what we believe is of vital importance.
What we believe is not just a matter of choice. Often we believe what we have been taught to believe. It is not a general habit of humans to question their beliefs. Yet self-knowledge is also of vital importance.
If we examine ourselves and our beliefs we can be truly astonished to find that we do not believe things for the reasons that we thought we did. We can also find that we believe things we did not know that we believed.
The most evil thing we can do to a child is to teach them what to think. Many adults want to do precisely this and they do it. The most common way to control a child is thinking is through fear and the use of religion. It is not by accident that so many religious people send their children to faith schools or homeschool. They do this to ensure that the child grows up to be an adult who thinks the way they have been told to think.
Growing up I was subject to three different forms of fundamentalist Christianity. Much of my religious teaching was received from nuns the Catholic Church. I was taught that to question was wicked and I was therefore evil to do so. I was a child split in two. I questioned and I felt guilty and afraid for doing so. I found it hard to not ask why and I found belief in what I was being taught elusive. This left me feeling more afraid and more guilt ridden. (This was compounded by parents who never admitted to being anything other than perfect and who also marked me as wicked for daring to question them.)
This teaching I received and learned well, that adults were infallible and to be obeyed, made it very easy for adults to abuse me. I was a good boy and I did as I was told even when the adult instructing me was a paedophile. The way I had been taught by both my parents and my religious teachers made me the perfect victim. It also kept me quiet about my father’s violence because I knew that I deserved his hatred.
Many people today wrongly assume that I am an atheist. I think it is more accurate to say I am agnostic. It is accurate to believe that I am anti-religion. I am and I am strongly so.
I have no faith in anybody who tells me how much they love Jesus. Why? Because the love cannot be anything but counterfeit. You cannot love what you are afraid of. Why would I say such a thing? Quite simply because to Christians unbelief means damnation, therefore their God’s love is conditional. Love that is conditional is an oxymoron. I’m not sure that I have used that word correctly! Love that is conditional is not love.
Naturally those who follow this belief system will twist and turn themselves inside out in order to deny that their God’s love is conditional or that they are afraid to disbelieve. Even if all one is required to do is to believe in the interpretation of the Jesus story it is still a condition.
For those who have been brought up in this belief system it is even harder to escape it. In order for one’s belief system to be examined one has to be prepared to lose friends and family. In short one has to be prepared to end the world as one knows it, and start over. This is the most painful thing anybody can do.
I did it I know what I’m talking about. Before one gets carried away, it needs to be borne in mind that I had a very stark choice: change or die, or worse, become insane. I came extremely close to both.
I credit two people for saving my life. They did so by telling me something that I did not know: that I had a choice in what I believe. This was a revolutionary concept to me. It was also an extremely terrifying concept. The idea that what I had been taught was wrong and that I could think it wrong and choose to believe something else was not within my view of the world. To even contemplate the idea had me believing that God would strike me down dead at any moment. I do not exaggerate. My recovery was punctuated by long periods of sheer terror because what I was learning was in complete contradiction to all that I had been taught. The terror resulted in a brief hospitalisation. Only those who have felt terror for extended periods can know of what I am writing. Words cannot convey the feeling of terror.
The two people were my therapist and the writer Dr Dorothy Rowe whom my therapist introduced me to via her writing.
Over a period of five tumultuous years, I slowly but surely began to let the light of knowledge heal me. I began to feel safe in choosing different ways to think. I began to feel safe in rejecting many of the ideas and teachings that had been foisted upon me.
One of the biggest handicaps to my recovery was my belief that merely to talk about my abuse was sinful. The commandment that one must honour thy parents was one of the chief reasons for this. It took some time for me to realise and accept that I was not a bad person for telling the truth.
The change in me was astounding. I began to enjoy life and all of the negative ways that I had hitherto used in order to survive began to fall away. I was so taken by my newfound freedoms and the lessening of the pain of day-to-day living that it did not occur to me that it could get even better. I was still ignorant about the very core of me, my core belief.
Even though I understood that it was wrong of adults to physically assault me and to use me for their sexual gratification my core belief was that they did this to me because there was something wrong with me.
In August of 2007 I met somebody who treated me badly. I was in their company for two days. I could have, with some difficulty, chosen not to be but I instead disassociated. This was not a choice but an automatic reaction and one that many abuse victims use in order to survive.
To cut a long story short, this was the first time in my life that I was aware that I was not at all at fault. This person treated me the way they did because of something in them and not because of something in me. It was because they were like this towards me from the very beginning of our meeting that I was able to see that I was blameless.
The next few months I went through more terror and many days of crying non-stop until finally I reached the very core of me and let that poison out. I knew then that I had been abused not because there was something wrong with me but because there was something wrong with those who abused me.
This gave me an even greater sense of freedom and still does. I’m radically changed the way that I dress. I started to wear colours. I started to be myself. I became more artistic or rather I recognised that I am an artist. I dropped friendships because I realise that they were not. Whilst I remain polite to others I no longer have people in my life that I don’t want in my life and who do not have respect for me.
Learning about oneself is an ongoing process. It never ends. Its rewards are great.
I will always fight against fear-based teaching and I will always insist upon the right to think and believe as I wish. Not just for me but for everybody. I will always challenge those whose desire it is to force others to accept their ideas. I will always do what I can to share the light of knowledge that was shared with me with others.
There is always a choice in what you believe. To question is not evil. To teach unquestioning obedience is.