It's really not like that

 There are infinite ways we organize our worlds, and despite our better judgment, the lenses which have once informed us can slip through the cracks and take a turn in our world-building activities. One I reflect on often is religion.

I was raised for the better part of my life with a Catholic worldview, one that was wrathful and disguised as all-loving. This isn’t to say that this is everyone’s experience with God or Catholicism, but it was mine.

In many ways, the all-knowing Catholic God served as a voyeur, a surveyor, a judge, and a condemner. All acts were up for judgement, and all experiences served, at least in my mind, as a form of consequence. This is how it was taught to me, and this is what I believed.

As I got older, I naturally came to dismiss the organized relationship with higher beings and denounced the Catholic church entirely (for a million reasons you can probably suspect). With much resentment and confusion, I declared God as a tool of exploitation, and a mechanism of social control (both of which are in some ways true, depending on the context, as well as group and individual relationship). Historically speaking, I had loads of evidence to back me up on this claim—and to be honest, the point of this mini-essay is not to disprove this.

At the time, it was easier for me to suggest that God was entirely evil, rather than suggest than the world I was taught to believe was manipulated by select hands and fed to me consistently throughout my youth. It’s always so much easier to sit on a polarity than it is to untangle.

Despite my hard push out of the Catholic door, I held a firm grasp onto the notion of God for a year or so. By the time I was 15, I had decided God and all things related were an utter waste of my time. Those were dark years, not because I lacked God, but because my own development stripped me of the central point of my world.

So, for a while I said, Hey! God categorically blows, and you are all suckers for letting this invisible force dictate your life! Religion is much more than that, and I knew that even at the time.

Saying goodbye to God was not the end, and as a deeply sentimental person it was easy for me to transition into a form of self-built spirituality that forged my own meanings. But there were years between the two.

As I transitioned into this form of spirituality, I felt that I was exempt from the plagues that were bestowed on me as a child, and that my new world image was far more kind. In a lot of ways it was.

But when uncomfortable things arose in my life it was still something related to my actions. Some lesson I had to learn, a trial the universe had put me through. When uncomfortable and grief-ridden experiences piled up, it was an indicator that I was being punished, and that there was some moral failing the universe had ‘caught’ me on.

We hear this narrative a lot right? That there are lessons in everything that we do, that we repeat cycles until we break out of them them. I’m not denouncing these positions either, because like all things there are truths there. I am suggesting, simply, that these stories we tell ourselves can be twisted in a way that is just right for our maladaptive worldviews. 

For those who believe their circumstances are consequential, there is the risk that we might ‘make sense’ of these discomforts, or even poor treatments by our inner and outer worlds simply because we believe we deserve them. The universe knows better than to give us what we don’t deserve, right?.

So maybe that is the risk of the all-knowing concept. Perhaps our positioning of God or the universe as an omniscient being (much like Santa Clause) has granted some of us with an internal panopticon, one where we are both the object of surveillance and the surveyor. This is only complicated by the tragedies of humanity, where we have been trained to police others and ourselves so that the powers that be hardly have to.

I know now that the idea of viewing our life experiences as lessons is a process through which we learn about navigating circumstances when they arise. It is not to find out why they happened or what we can change about ourselves to prevent them from happening again (there is always a line, so, grain of salt here). Accountability is good, but too much of a good thing becomes imbalanced.

The reason I am writing all of this to you today, oddly enough, is because I saw a squashed slug on the road this morning. Beside the remains, another slug. Because I find it nearly impossible to not anthropomorphise everything, I decided the slug was grieving his friend.

Obviously, I don’t know that for sure, but when I looked at the poor pair on the road I couldn’t help but wonder if I were them, if I could have contextualized the reality of what was happening. I moved the living slug to the brush of foliage to avoid a similar fate.

In this circumstance, I have the privilege of human knowledge, knowing that I am large and that these sorts of incidents happen without rhyme or reason. No one targeted the slug, it just got squished.

So, once again there’s this theme of unknowing, that perhaps there is a gap between our lizard brains and the actual trajectory our lives take or some wider context we don’t have the minds to witness. Maybe there isn’t a higher intelligence, or larger more zoomed out being like the slugs have. But maybe we are just as small as the slug, in the grand scheme of things, and maybe there is nothing more to it. 

I refuse to believe the universe is keen on punishment, though it creeps into my mind from time to time. When I feel that way, like the odds are stacked against me, or like my circumstances are personal and cruel, I’ll try to remember the slug which faced a random and perhaps unexpected loss.

There is no lesson in that moment, only in the moments that follow. It was not planned, at least in my estimation. Instead, I'll choose to believe that the universe is kind, generous, and maybe even at its worst, neutral. But it is not punitive, it is not judging, and it does not have an ultimate moral rule.

Life is beautiful and often uncomfortable, but the nature of things is not malicious, it is simply like us: imperfect and frequently enjoyable.

 

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