Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Death of the Philosopher

A little dramatic, right?

Disclaimer: What follows is personal, probably overly so. You have been warned. Run away if you don't care to read about my personal life, I won't be offended. Also, I'm aware that I tend to bitch and moan at times, and I've taken an active effort to keep that out of this post. Some things, however, have to come out, and I feel that this should be somewhere where people can see it.

I've changed a lot lately. I don't know that I can point to a single event that has caused this, and I really wish I could. However, anytime I try to tag it onto anything that's happened to me, such as my time in Ohio or at college or certain events with regard to career, personal life, family, friends, or anything else, I come up short for explanation. The truth is, I think this is just me, and there's no stopping it.

The first thing one must understand about me as a person is that my arch-enemy shares my body with me. No, I don't have a split personality, I just abuse myself constantly. Psychologically, emotionally, socially, health-wise, and anything that is not overt self-harm. What's really strange is that I didn't realize this for a very long time, and when I did, I became extremely interested in why I would do things like this to myself.

I developed severe social anxiety when I was much younger. As a result, though I tend to be eloquent with the written word, I am pretty much a blundering mess in any social setting where I'm not completely at ease, and my facial expressions often become weird and my body language exaggerated when I feel I have excess nervous energy to burn off. It offends me, unnecessarily so, when this is pointed out, simply because I can't help it. I'm not good at laughing at myself when I'm under pressure. I have tried to adopt the mentality of not speaking to remove all doubt that I'm a complete idiot as a policy, but I just can't seem to do it. Because try as I might, when I have something to say, I just have to say it. It's important to me.

If you were paying attention, I just did it again. I called myself an idiot. I'm not gonna keep count of this, but I just caught that reading over this, and I'm not correcting it.

What can cause a person to hate themselves so much, and why persist in such behavior when that person is rational and understands exactly what they're doing? What is the point? Why not be normal and roll with the punches, make mistakes, get yelled at, and move on without turning every slight error into an internal cycle of self-hatred? Even though I'm the one doing this to myself, it's taken me a very long time to even process sufficiently to figure it out.

I didn't realize the full extent of what I was doing to myself until around the same time I left my religion. Now this is not an anti-religious tirade. I truly don't care how one rationalizes their religion, or what someone thinks the essence of it is. That is personal. However, this also means that my religion is personal to me. My religion, the one I learned growing up, was overt and extremely damaging self-hatred, wrapped in religious dogma. It would be very easy to point to authoritarian figures teaching fundamentalist faith, and it would be very easy to talk about religious extremism and try to make connections to more moderate religion here, but I don't care about that right now. You see, for me, there were some extremely influential things that happened to me, resulting in repressed memories. I wish I was making that up.

Firstly, I experienced bullying and being the bully, in reverse order. Quite simply, when I was very young, I was an ass to everyone around me and very popular. This then reversed as I grew up, and I became what seemed like universally ostracized. One might call that justice, and one might be correct to do so. However, because of how this happened, I became acutely aware of what it is like to be disregarded, what it is like to be alone and hated for no apparent reason. The ultimate expression of this happened in high school, when going to school was like stepping into a portal to hell. Socially, I was the weird kid that was constantly criticized while minding my own business, I was the guy that didn't know all of the popular things, and for the most part, people enjoyed ridiculing me about it instead of telling me what I was missing. I learned to stop asking. I learned to mind my own business, aware of the fact that I suck and will be alone, and standing up for myself results in people just walking off and leaving me alone with my thoughts. There were no fistfights, only silence and quiet rejection. The Christian classmates I had at my Christian school, who were all recognized for knowing their Bible, knowing the right answers, and being great, didn't care about me because I was a little different, and any explanation I had to give fell on deaf ears. I learned my lesson well, and it's taken a very long time to unlearn it as much as I have so I can have friends. I was poisoned with what I thought was the knowledge that no one gave a damn about my existence, outside of my immediate family, and if they did, they were there to criticize me and attack me, kick me until I conformed.

Secondly, I learned about hell before anything else related to religion. It is literally one of the first things I remember, and remembering it is like remembering pure terror. This touches on religious dogma that I reject, but one must understand this above all: to a seven year old, sitting in a church service where someone is screaming about the decay and depravity of humanity, screaming about how we all deserve hell (complete with vivid description) and we'll get it if we die tonight, unless we accept the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal savior, does something very dark. I would go so far as to call it psychological abuse. I never received it from my family, but I did receive it from the church. So what did I do? I prayed for salvation, and I didn't stop. I laid in bed so many nights being terrified of going to hell, being scared that I didn't really mean it, that I wasn't repentant for how terrible I was enough, that I hadn't criticized and destroyed myself enough in the sight of the the Lord to be good enough. I really don't give a damn about grace-based dogma vs performance doctrine, which is the standard response to this. I do not care because I wasn't thinking about that, I was thinking about who I was being told I really am. I was thinking about whether I'd actually repented, because I had been told my heart is deceitful, evil, horrible, two faced, you name it. I believed the core of my being was dark and horrible, and I got saved publicly at least 3 times before the age of 18, and probably hundreds of times in private, with just me and God.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I discovered that I was being lied to about a book you probably all know called the Bible. This hit me hard because the one thing that kept me sane in high school was getting into Apologetics. If you know standard Christian defenses of the faith, you know they center around classical philosophical arguments for the existence of god and hinge on the Bible being true, inspired, and inerrant. Along with this, I began to believe the things I was being told about being unique, about being a superhero that can save Christianity. I then discovered criticisms about the Bible for the first time, and when I lost my belief in inerrancy, my religious nature was given a killing blow. Then I went to college, was written about as "sub-Christian" in the school paper for debating the inerrancy of the new testament autographs (and winning, by the way). Given what you've already read here, you'll understand when I say I was not surprised when I read those articles, but I was disappointed. That's alright though, I thought! I will be a superhero, I will save Christianity and redeem it from this dead religious dogma and worship of a broken book into true Christianity, true communion with God! All one needs is one's intuition. Of course, as a lot of you can probably guess, this met with serious, serious opposition. Being excluded and alone was nothing new for me, but I wasn't totally excluded. I had good friends at school. It was a golden age for me, and I can't write about it enough to do it justice. Then, well, we all graduated and drifted apart, they to their lives, and me to well...whatever I'm doing. I keep in contact with some of them still, and that's pretty cool. What you have to understand, though, is that the entirety of the controversy around inerrancy was a pivotal period for me, where the apologetics I'd learned imploded and I began clawing for something, anything to save my faith, which I didn't know had been struck with a killing blow. Liberalism, Emergent Christianity, Eastern Orthodoxy, whatever it took, I was going to find that one piece of the church that had anything to do with truth. I was going to prove that I was not "sub-Christian," but the more I met people that had already heard about me, the more I realized that these people were mostly the same as the ones I knew in high school. The more I studied the authorities, the more I realized that "authority" is a word that should barely ever be used, because most of the time it means the person that is the best in a group at fooling everyone into believing we have a clue what's going on.

I could write an entire paragraph about my experiences dating here, but I can't do that in good conscience. Let's just say if there is a fourth influence, that is it. I do have one thing to say about it that does not apply to anyone in particular: Somehow, I gained a belief that someone was going to fix me, make all of this rejection and despair worth it, be my strong other half to hold me up and point me the right way. This belief was so strong and so poisonous to me that I've not only just figured out I have had it, but how very very wrong it is. You see, no one can do that for you. You have to, and you're the only one that can heal those emotional scars, you're the only one that can bring about fulfillment and wholeness in your life. I, of course, learned the hard way.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that at this point, I have brought rejection and despair with me, I had been causing it with  my own actions, and the seeds of this tendency were in my past. My religious intuitions began to vary wildly, and when I came into contact with others like me with totally different views, I retreated into the only practice I've felt good about myself for: critical thinking. I began to analyze every bit of data I could find about religion, about the church, about science, about philosophy, about anything claiming knowledge of ultimate reality, or just reality in general. I'm nowhere near complete on this, because there is so much data. However, two things have become obvious to me from this investigation:

1. Though religions spring out of personal enlightenment, not a single one contains the ultimate truth. I'm inclined to say that there is not one, and that if there is an ultimate truth, a god of sorts, it is extremely well hidden behind layers of our reality, and none of us have the faintest clue about the true nature of reality.

2. People have an inexhaustible propensity for egocentrism, and to prove they exist, to make their world exist to others, they must compete and be the best at something. Whether it is enlightenment, religious expertise, being spiritual, being mediocre, being revolutionary or intuitive or intellectual or achieving immortality or being the best at one particular thing or being above it all, people seem to have this propensity for going straight for it. It makes great evolutionary sense, and I think if we want to understand religion, we must understand just how psychological it really is, how much it plays into egocentrism and narcissism and vanity.

I became an atheist for a while, and now I'm at the point where that word doesn't have a meaning for me anymore. I disagree that atheism is a religion or anything like a religious movement, but the movement itself has already corrupted the correct definition of the word (totally apart from recognized experts, by the way), making conversation about it impossible without a fucking sociology study. I will not fight another one of these damned uphill battles just trying to make a simple statement, and the truth is that labels are just too comfortable to hide behind.

You see, when I became a non-believer, I let the horrible raging fury in me pour out, and it was nowhere near the anger that I've learned to constantly direct at myself over the years. I was so mad that I'd been lied to, so angry that all of this torment I'd put myself through for so many years was all for nothing, all to bring me to this singular moment of loneliness, this death of my god at the simultaneous realization of his name.

I've just figured out what the title of this post means. You see, my god was called the Philosopher, and he was that idealized version of me that I wanted to be. I'd even have conversations with him and he'd tell me the nature of the universe. Maybe I do have multiple personality disorder. Intuition leads to understanding indeed.

The truth is, my fury is unimpressive, unimportant, and small. I am one person, and my opinion means less than nothing. All I managed to do is alienate some of my friends, piss people off, and convince even more people that I'm an angry person. I am not an angry person, I am a defeated person. I was given dreams, given all of these grandiose delusions about being unique and special and beautiful and how all of this stupidity I've had to deal with for years would be worth it, and the truth is that it's all for nothing.

It's in the faces of the people I see, in the words insisting that others should just be quiet, stop ranting, stop railing, just stop, just be quiet. Go get help, go see a therapist, stop being so angry, come back to Christianity for more abuse, just calm down and be cool. Just be silent. Go to your slaughter silently. Buck up and take it in silence like a man, stop complaining.

Maybe that's why I'm writing this post. This post is as emphatic of a no as I can muster toward every downcast face, every exhortation to shut my mouth, every trite solution and stupid tautology that people use to try to fix me. I have become spite in the face of an unfair and ridiculous society, and I will not cooperate, nor will I participate in the sickening nauseating mob mentality that we're all supposed to just go along with. As much as I enjoy being a mysterious quirky guy that no one understands, this needs to be said. My opinion does matter, my experiences do matter, and so do everyone else's. They don't matter because of some cosmic plan or because of some beautiful spiritual essence they have, they matter because our race is an emergent product, coming out of the sum of its' parts. If that's spiritual, then I'm spiritual. We can be better, but we need to leave this absurdity behind, we need to stop one-upping each other and seeing who has bigger swords/guns/nuclear missiles/insert phallic references here and figure out the power of thought.

It really doesn't matter that I dealt with some hard stuff in my life. What really disturbs me is that I am unbelievably and unfairly far from being the worst case scenario, and I am nowhere close to the only one. If you want to know why I criticize everything, that is why. Because it's not fair, and people should not have to deal with a world that kicks them over and then keeps kicking until they submit. They should not be poisoned by hope and fear from a young age, they should be taught to rise above their egocentrism, and they should be taught that the universe is scary and beautiful and wonderful and terrifying and we change it with our very thoughts, so we should make them good ones. Maybe I'll be able to take my own advice one day.

Here's what I really mean to say: the Philosopher is dead. How can I continue to worship a god that does not exist and is such offensive vanity? Who taught me to deify and to destroy myself? Who taught me to be a sheep, silent to the slaughter, simultaneously a god and the ultimate reject, the one that is being killed and takes it all on willingly?

Yeah, haunting, isn't it?

If you care at all, if any of this bugs you at all, then do me a favor. Don't pity me, don't apologize to me, don't feel sorry for me. I don't care, it's done. It's painfully clear to me at this point that arguing does nothing and that being a revolutionary will just create more of these delusions. If you care at all, do one thing: question everything about yourself, and don't let this systematic abuse keep happening. Sure, I'm full of shit. That doesn't mean everything I say is wrong. Take what you know to be true from this and really think. Kick over your preconceptions, realize your limitations, and think. Don't hate yourself, but do violence to your ego just for a little while and really come to conclusions because you believe in them, not because of fear or hope or what you want to be true. That is the best gift you can give me.

The Philosopher is dead, and his eulogy has been read. Time to move on.

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