In her monthly column, Jessica Yu speaks to everyday people from a variety of faith backgrounds about how their religion plays out in their daily lives.
In our first year of university, Jack and I took a class in Modern Literature together and for a while all I knew about him was that he was the kind of student that seemed comfortable using a lot of words I didn’t know the meaning of as he referenced texts I hadn’t read. The only other thing I knew about him was that other students referred to him as Cowboy Jack because he seemed to wear bolo ties with everything. I was surprised when we became friends who exchanged ideas for creative projects we were working on. Once, we even found that we were both working on naively plotted narratives set in outer space. His was a screenplay in which audience members symbolized stars by holding fairy lights which were tied to the single actor and cut throughout the play.
Right Now: How would you describe your belief system?
Jack: It’s hard to say. While I don’t adhere to any formal faith, I consider myself to be a spiritual person. I do have an idea of God inside me but not in the conventional sense. I don’t really see God as an individual agent, but rather a force of creation and destruction. I don’t necessarily think that this “God-force” is actively going about and causing disasters. Rather, I believe that this “God-force” is flawed and imperfect like human beings, and could only create the universe in the likeness of its “imperfect” image.
I believe that human beings embody this duality. We are gifted with our creative and altruistic forces of love, kindness and empathy, yet made imperfect by our capacity for things like dishonesty and malice. By this way of thinking, I believe that human beings have a responsibility to be aware of their destructive or evil faculties, while trying to exercise their capacity to be good as much as possible. This is simply for the sake of the common good. There is enough misfortune in the world without people having to suffer the injustice of their peers. People should be inspired into acts of compassion simply for the love of their fellows.
I also believe that part of the imperfection of being human is our impermanence. We are born, we live, and then we die. Simple. And for what its worth, the fact that there is nothing after death makes life seem all the more valuable.
That sounds very carefully thought out. How and when did you decide upon this?
It’s happened over many years. Only very recently do I see it as a clear “system” of beliefs. But if I had to choose a place to start, I guess it would have been when I was about eleven years old. I was very sick, sicker than I’d ever been before. It was probably only a bad flu, but feeling so fragile made me think about my own mortality – something I’d never really thought of before. It was terrifying. The thought of my mind, my consciousness, everything that made me a human being dissipating into the vacuum of space, like a radio show cutting out halfway through a sentence as you drive through a tunnel. One moment, there is a stream of consciousness and a constant relation of words, thoughts and ideas. And then the next moment, nothing. Just static. In the following years, this idea started building an empire inside my brain.
Rather than thinking about whether I was doing good in the eyes of God, I thought of whether I was doing good in the eyes of humanity. I was no longer troubled by having sexual or deviant thoughts (which I had thought to be sins in the eyes of God), but rather how my actions would affect those around me, and how society depended on good will and universal participation.
How does your belief system influence your daily life?
I tend to perceive people in terms of the good and evil inside of them, and how the relationship between these internal faculties guides and dictates their behaviour as human beings.
I also tend to think about everything in relation to society. I figure that if everyone in life gave as much as they took in life, then the world might actually gain some sort of balance.
My belief in the creative “God-force” helps me to see and appreciate beauty in the cosmos. I frequently find myself silently saying “thank you” when I see something that makes me think about how intricately detailed the world is.
How does you belief system influence your interactions with others?
It makes everything a bit strange. I frequently find myself looking for inherent values within people, and I forget sometimes to just take people for their surface value. I find myself drawn to people with very strong personality traits. People who are obviously very creative, kind, altruistic and outgoing inspire me massively. Something about the good inside them gives me great hope in humanity. However, when I see people who are overly selfish or materialistic (associated with the evil/destructive forces), I can become bitterly resentful and misanthropic. I am especially disappointed when people I expect to be good do not meet my expectations.
How does you belief system influence your view of yourself?
Because of my beliefs, I hold myself to massively high personal standards, especially in relation to what I should be doing with my life or when I come to situations where I know I’m going to disappoint or inconvenience others. A lot of the time, I find myself violating the values established by my own belief systems. Like all humans, I have an innate capacity for cruelty and dishonesty. I interpret the guilt that accompanies these feeling as an appropriate punishment. This tends to make me a bit negative and self-loathing at times. That being said, if I were truer to my own belief system this wouldn’t be such an issue. Technically, I should probably be more accepting of my evil behaviour as a condition of my own humanity and thinking about how can it be rectified by doing good in return. Sadly, it’s never that easy.
How do you think presenting as a follower or instigator of this belief system influences other people’s interactions with you?
People honestly just wonder why I could be so bothered with such an elaborate way of thinking, half-seriously joking that I should get out more. Let’s face it, faith of any kind just really isn’t in fashion at the moment. In the age of individuality (which is what we live in now), people are very interested in being the authors of their own lives. They are interested in how commodities, careers and lifestyle choices individuate their personal life narrative from everyone else’s. As a result, people are often interested in my beliefs as a kind of curiosity, but they don’t see how it fits into their own ideas about who they are and what they want to do.
That being said, some people have been interested in what I say because they are looking for a somewhat religious sensibility without the usual hang ups. You don’t have to pray, you can be hungover and in bed on Sunday morning, and if you think about it, my beliefs don’t really have any rules as such… It’s more of an interpretative framework – a way to look at life that provides some vague pointers on how to live.