Leaving My Religion: AKA How George Carlin Saved My Life

That’s right. You heard it here first.

I couldn’t begin to list each way that George Carlin’s vast library of live stand-up comedy shaped me into the man I am today, but I can distill the essence of his advice down to two words:

Question everything”.

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Nothing in life is as it seems. Seems like an obvious point. But what I’ve discovered over the last few years is how wrong I was on almost every conviction I had. Not totally wrong in many ways, but I was rarely 100% correct. Over the years, you build opinions, beliefs, strategies, and checklists that help you navigate the world. As the years wear on, you refine these factors. You smack yourself in the forehead for ever believing something you had so much conviction of, earlier in your life.

George Carlin was the saber with which I cut through the bullshit in my own life. George Carlin was anti-(almost) everything. And to quote Tyler Durden:

“Only after we lose everything, are we free to do anything.”

The same concept can be applied to how you look at the world by, primarily, questioning everything. If you question everything, it gives you an opportunity to look at the world through a considerably less biased lens. George Carlin was the catalyst I needed in my life. My family watches Fox News exclusively, with devoted fervor if you need to be more convinced that they didn’t teach me to question much.

I grew up in a fundamentalist/charismatic Christian family. My whole mother’s side of the family was into speaking in tongues, miracles, spritual warfare, Hellspeak, etc.

This terrified me as a child. My father had no influence on my spiritual life – we rarely spoke about anything beyond farming and duck hunting – and therefore my mother was my de facto spiritual teacher. She was and is, a beautiful, thoughtful, caring, generous, and godly woman who did the best she could. However, she was unaware of the dangerous mental toll that these intense spiritual subjects could have on a developing mind.

When we’re born, we’re simply an empty vessel. We know nothing. Therefore, we’re dependent on those in our immediate vicinity to fill us in on how the world works. It shapes our outlook on the world, and no matter what you do, those who get first crack at teaching you the ‘truths’ of the universe, will have major sway in the conventions of your thought-life. The whole universe is a mindfuck. We’re just bugs on a rock in a void.

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They taught me from the beginning that Santa Claus was not real. That was a deliberate tactic implemented so that I wouldn’t question in the future whether Jesus was real. Seems smart from the Christian perspective, so I can’t really even fault them for it.

BUT, when first thing out of the gate, at age zero, you’re being taught that God created us all and there’s a devil out there in this world who messes with your thoughts and wants to torment you in hell forever if you don’t do and say and act in the Christian way. Your worldview begins skewing in a certain direction. It may not seem like much, but consider this metaphor: If two ships left the Pacific Coast at the exact same time in the exact same location, but one ship is facing just 1 degree in a different angle, 24 years of sailing and you’ll find yourself in a much different part of the ocean than the other ship that left at the same time. Same goes with your worldview. You could grow up in the same town, same school, same after-school extracurriculars, as all of your peers, but when you’ve been given such a denigrating worldview that attacks your thought-life primarily, you’re going to be in trouble.

A popular Bible verse among devoted Christians is found in Joshua 24:15: “…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Seems innocuous enough right? For 24 years of my life I believed that this was one of the best verses regarding raising a family and navigating the secular world. I drank deep of the ‘kool-aid’ so to speak, and believed with my whole heart that this was such a profound verse and that I was a member of the one true religion – those who weren’t, were lost; reveling in sin. Only after some serious self-reflection, honest critique, heavy study of philosophical articles from all perspectives, and a particularly enlightening LSD experience (see: “Acid in the Jungle” on my website), I realized that my specific form of religion was so much more damaging than beneficial.

It all seems so beneficial on the outside: love your neighbor as yourself, do right, help those in need, etc.

But what goes unaddressed is the intense psychological toll it takes on those who are brought up in it, only to experience cognitive dissonance later in life as they find that what they were taught simply doesn’t line up with the world that they observe. Compounding this issue when asking questions regarding your religion (in my case, fundamentalist/evangelical/charismatic Christianity), is the built-in safety measures that safeguard the religion from real skepticism.

In my particular version of The Faith, it’s taught that you essentially can’t question God or the faith itself. It attempts to separate itself from other religions by claiming to be a relationship with Jesus/God/Holy Spirit and not a religion. That’s the first safeguard. The second is that questioning certain aspects of the faith are akin to blaspheming. To question God means to have no faith in God. This is a deeply-flawed outlook. It’s human fucking nature to question why we’re here. We weren’t asked to come here, we didn’t ask to come here, and there’s no definitive rule book on how to live in this world. There’s a thousand religious texts claiming to be the rule book, but that only makes each of them look less so. Third, is the insistence by everyone who taught me my worldview (seems a suspicious practice doesn’t it?) that Satan and his demons actively intervene in the lives of all humans to bring them death, destruction, and a future in Hell. Therefore, thoughts that question your religious doctrine – instead of realizing you have these questions because the doctrine is flawed – are seen as ‘attacks’ from the enemy meant to drag you closer to hell. As C.S. Lewis (who used to be my favorite writer) attests:

“The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” – C.S. Lewis

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Frightening. Imagine living your whole life questioning every second whether you’re headed to hell or not because life seems to be going well for you. It’s the perfect way to construct a vicious thought-cycle.

Life is going well, therefore it’s easy, does that mean I’m not doing enough for my church or my community and that satan is surreptitiously leading me towards the underworld?

But God wants us to have a happy life…

Yeah, but a happy life doing what He’s asked you to do.

How do I know if I’m doing the right thing? Wouldn’t I be happy if I were doing the right thing and making the right moves?

Maybe… maybe you’re enjoying your life because you’re indulging in the world too much, Satan totally has a hold on you, bro. Love god, the whole of the world is evil and you’re becoming evil by enjoying anything that comes from the world and not God. Enjoy hell.

But I’m reading my Bible every day and trying to take steps to be a Godly person. But I can’t control my hormones at 16 that make me want to get laid. And when I can’t get laid, every 16-year old my age is whacking off.

Well if your faith was stronger, you wouldn’t have a problem with these Earthly desires. You’d just call on God and he’d deliver you from these feelings.

I call on him all times of the day to help me with this, and yet I still do what the Bible says is wrong.

Tough dude. I guess you’re not a good Christian like you claim to be. Enjoy hell. Make any tiny, totally-human mistake and spend the next week in a cold sweat believing that if you died right now, you’d be on a one-way train to the Hellfire. Have a nice afterlife.

I don’t think I need to explain how dangerous this is for any developing brain, especially if it had been developing in that framework since age zero. A tree can grow up tall, straight, and majestic. However, if you move or shape the branches in it’s early stages, the tree will grow within that framework into almost any shape you want. It goes the same for the human brain. It grows within established frameworks. The most healthy way to mentally grow is to be taught that almost everything is a theory and that it’s up to us to decide for ourselves how life works, not to be told.

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Once I began questioning the doctrine I was taught growing up, the whole house of cards began to collapse. But the scar is still there in my heart and in my mind. It took me 24 years to get to the point where I realized that I don’t believe what I thought I believed. Evangelicals want to proselytize and evangelize. I believe that people are entitled to their beliefs and it’s not up to anyone to force their beliefs on someone else. Charismatic Christians believe in ‘getting drunk in the spirit’, I believe that natural intoxicants have been used by the human race since the beginning of time and can be a shortcut to discovering ourselves (psilocybin, DMT and LSD in particular). Fundamentalists of all stripes believe that their holy text is the perfect and inerrant word of god. Which is impossible for all the religions to be correct. Isn’t it very possible that they’re all wrong?

You’re taught not to trust your instincts. You’re taught that only God knows, and we are born evil and flawed.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” – Proverbs 3:5

Is there any practice more insidious, dangerous, and damaging than a practice that teaches you not to trust yourself but to trust ethereal, all-knowing spirits, religious figureheads, and texts written during a time when a thunderclap was thought to be a physical manifestation from an angry god?

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I’m just starting to learn to trust my instincts. But I still feel an ever-present set of eyes watching me during all moments of my life. I strive every day to realize that no one is constantly watching my every move and that I’m free to live unencumbered, but I also know that if I have been living life looking through the Fundamentalist/Charasmatic lens from the age of zero to twenty-four years it’s going to take more than six months to unlearn my entire outlook on life. It’s an exhausting, frightening, terrible, loathsome, fearful process.

My entire family still believes in what I used to believe. It still shapes all aspects of their lives and it would kill them if I came clean on this issue. They’re doing what they think is best and it’s not my business to try to change how they feel. After all, I was in their boat just a year ago. They also could be right. There’s no definitive proof that they’re wrong. I just don’t believe it. At the present time it seems better to engage in conversations with them regarding these issues, but taking the role of (pardon the pun) devil’s advocate than to outright argue the opposition. But as life goes, we make the best decisions we can with the information at hand. The future may be different. The future will be different.

George Carlin taught me that we can only be offended if we choose to be. Humor is one of our greatest vehicles towards Truth. Keep an open-mind and realize that you know nothing. Open yourself up to learn anything and everything. His tirades against organized religion I found concerning when I was younger, but as the years wear on, I realize how truly brilliant and transcendent those bits were. Humor is the single best weapon we have against religious infrastructure. And humor is universal. It’s a universal language. Catch the fever.

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I raise a glass to all of you out there going through the same outlook-shattering transition that I continue to forge on with. Keep it up.

And of course, I’ll be praying for you.

-Thompson | 4.24.2017

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