“You may choose to be any Part of God you wish to be,” I said to the Little Soul. “You are Absolute Divinity, experiencing Itself. What Aspect of Divinity do you now wish to experience as You?”
“You mean I have a choice?” asked the Little Soul. And I answered, “Yes. You may choose to experience any Aspect of Divinity in, as, and through you.”
“Okay,” said the Little Soul, “then I choose Forgiveness. I want to experience my Self as the Aspect of God called Complete Forgiveness.”
Well, this created a little challenge, as you can imagine.
There was no one to forgive. All I have created is Perfection and Love.
“No one to forgive?” asked the Little Soul, somewhat incredulously.
“No one,” I repeated. “Look around you. Do you see any souls less perfect, less wonderful than you?”
At this the Little Soul twirled around, and was surprised to see himself surrounded by all the souls in heaven. They had come from far and wide throughout the kingdom, because they heard that the Little Soul was having an extraordinary conversation with God.
“I see none less perfect than I!” the Little Soul exclaimed. “Who, then, shall I have to forgive?”
Just then, another soul stepped forward from the crowd. “You may forgive me,” said this Friendly Soul.
“For what?” the Little Soul asked.
“I will come into your next physical lifetime and do something for you to forgive,” replied the Friendly Soul.
“But what? What could you, a being of such Perfect Light, do to make me want to forgive you?” the Little Soul wanted to know.
“Oh,” smiled the Friendly Soul, “I’m sure we can think of something.”
“But why would you want to do this?” The Little Soul could not figure out why a being of such perfection would want to slow down its vibration so much that it could actually do something “bad”.
“Simple,” the Friendly Soul explained, “I would do it because I love you. You want to experience your Self as Forgiving, don’t you? Besides, you’ve done the same for me.”
“I have?” asked the Little Soul.
“Of course. Don’t you remember? We’ve been All Of It, you and I. We’ve been the Up and Down of it, and Left and the Right of it. We’ve been the Here and the There of it, and the Now and the Then of it. We’ve been the Big and the Small of it, the Male and the Female of it, the Good and the Bad of it. We’ve all been the All of it.
“And we’ve done it by agreement, so that each of us might experience ourselves as the Grandest Part of God. For we have understood that…
“In the absence of that which you Are Not, that Which you ARE, is NOT.
“In the absence of ‘cold,’ you cannot be ‘warm.’ In the absence of ‘sad,’ you cannot be ‘happy,’ without a thing called ‘evil,’ the experience you call ‘good,’ cannot exist.
“If you choose to be a thing, something or someone opposite to that has to show up somewhere in your universe to make that possible.”
The Friendly Soul then explained that those people are God’s Special Angels, and these conditions God’s Gifts.
“I ask only one thing in return,” the Friendly Soul declared.
“Anything! Anything,” the Little Soul cried. He was excited now to know that he could experience every Divine Aspect of God. He understood, now, The Plan.
“In the moment that I strike you and smite you,” said the Friendly Soul, “in the moment that I do the worst to you that you could ever imagine—in that self-same moment… remember Who I Really Am.”
“Oh, I won’t forget!” promised the Little Soul. “I will see you in the perfection with which I hold you now, and I will remember Who You Are, always.”
And the promise of the Little Soul is the promise I make to you. That is what is unchanging. Yet have you, My Little Soul, kept this promise to others?
That’s a pretty justification for suffering, isn’t it?
This parable is taken from the last of three books that are the trilogy known as “Conversations With God: An Uncommon Dialogue” by Neale Donald Walsch. I just completed the trilogy, and while the books offer plenty of food for thought, I’ve been stuck on this story of the Little Soul and the Friendly Soul. It offers an answer to two of humanity’s deepest questions: Why are we here and why is there suffering?
This Little/Friendly Souls illustration is a theory not unlike many others I’ve come across that attempt to explain why there is such a stark unfairness in the world. Why do some people lead healthy and privileged lives while others—the majority of our planet’s population even—live in extreme poverty and disease? I was never taught that life was fair, but I was given a slew of reasons why. None of them made sense to me as a child and they make even less sense to me now. God works in mysterious ways. Everything happens for a reason. Nothing is coincidence. It’s not for us to question why things to happen to us, the important part is what we do about it. Karma. Manifestation. Sound familiar?
Now, I’m about to launch into full-on critique mode of these beliefs, so if you’re sensitive to people challenging your faith—and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way—consider this your heads up that it’s about to get potentially offensive. I’m not going to water down the intensity of my perspective, although the politically correct part of me wants to in anticipation of backlash. Here, if nowhere else, is the space that is mine to let all my thoughts and feelings hang out. In the realm of written word, we read at our will. Maybe that’s why I like it so much—no one can interrupt you, yell at you, corner you, roll their eyes at you, or dismiss you. I love writing and reading about hot topic subjects like faith, sex, politics, money; all the things we’re not supposed to talk about. Continue reading here of your own accord with these disclaimers in mind. Advance apology for offending you accepted?
Why share my criticism of belief at all, you might be wondering. (I am actually wondering that myself right now.) Well, simply put, because I know I’m not alone in my faithlessness and I often feel very alone. I share my perspective here in case anyone else will relate, so that maybe they won’t feel so alone in what the people around them might call their cynical thinking. I’ve been labeled pessimistic, bitter, dark, negative, and many other things for observing the suffering in the world and declining to believe there are any reasons behind it. If others have been called these things, too, I write this in hopes that they might gain some sense of company in what often feels like an isolating society for us.
If you’re someone who does have faith in something, be it traditionally religious or unconventionally spiritual, I humbly invite you to read on if only to hear another’s unfiltered viewpoint. Who knows, maybe reading about my qualms with belief will serve to remind you why you have your beliefs in the first place.
Without further ado…
I recently watched a documentary called “Child of Rage”. It’s the true story of Beth Thomas, the kind of girl horror movies are inspired by. If you watch the documentary, you’ll see real footage from recorded sessions between a psychologist and Beth when she was very young, no more than six years old. You’ll hear her describe, quite placidly, how she stabbed her infant brother with a knife while he slept, how she squeezed his genitals deliberately to cause him pain, and how her adoptive parents had to lock her in her room at night so she wouldn’t try to kill them, too. At one point, the psychologist conducting the interview asks Beth to tell him about her birth father.
“What was that nightmare like?” he asked.
“When he touched my vaginas…” Beth said, pausing.
“K,” said the therapist.
“…Until it bled. Hurt it a lot, until it bled. And, um… Wouldn’t feed me a lot. He hit on me. Wouldn’t be very nice to me.” She shakes her head.
“How old were you?”
“Hm.” She thinks about it, scratching her eyebrow. “One.”
Can you imagine looking into her pretty blue eyes and telling her, as kindly as you could, “Your dad molested you so that you could learn to forgive. Your soul wanted this suffering, because it wanted a reason to practice forgiveness. And your dad agreed to be the one to make you suffer because he loves you.”
Not your lingo? How about this.
“Beth, who can say why your dad did those things to you? But it’s all part of God’s plan, and it’s not for you or I to question it. All you need to know is that God loves you, and everything he allows in your life is for his ultimate glory.”
Still not your lingo? Maybe this would be closer.
“Everything in your life is manifested by you, consciously or unconsciously. You are the creator of your reality. This means, Beth, that you manifested your dad sexually abusing you.”
How about, “Beth, because you didn’t manifest health, happiness, and wholeness, your dad was able to harm you in ways you could have prevented if you had. But don’t worry, now that you know, you can manifest a better future for yourself.”
Tell Beth—and her little brother John, for that matter—these reasons for their pain. Look them in the eye and tell them your belief. Oh, you don’t want to say it to their face? Yes, I agree, that might be disrespectful.
Beth’s story is just one of many that has me bucking against the idea that there is any reason whatsoever for the suffering that exists in this world. I find faith-stemmed beliefs to be nothing more than an abstract way of trying to deal with life’s cruelty. What do I find wrong with that? Beliefs are often the source of cruelty itself.
I wish I could say that I respect others’ beliefs. That’s what I’m supposed to say. But I don’t. When someone tells me that they believe that a woman should dress modestly, saving her virginity and even the baring of her shoulders for only her husband, I don’t respect that belief. When they say that the penalty for violating this belief is being stoned to death, I respect it even less. When I read that Adolf Hitler believed he was doing the Aryan race a favor by getting the world rid of the “Jewish Problem”, I don’t respect that belief. Neither do I respect it when someone says they believe in “the one, true God”, whether the god be found in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or Catholicism, because the supposedly one and supposedly true god has led his believers into mass murder and other atrocities at some point in history. I wish it ended there, but we all know that religion-fueled violence—aka, belief-fueled violence—continues today. Why would I respect a belief system that perpetuates fear, sexism, and war; and, on a more personal level, shame, ignorance, and intolerance?
One could accuse me of being intolerant of others’ intolerance, therefore making me just as intolerant. Touché for you. But I want to make clear that while I do not respect many others’ beliefs, I do consciously endeavor to respect another’s truth. Truth and belief are very different. I can believe something that’s not true, and I have. I probably still believe in some things that aren’t true, in some recess of my mind that hasn’t been provoked into self-examination yet. But truth… I’m fond of saying that there is no truth, for truth, to me, is an individual’s sole, subjective, and relative experience. I have convictions that are very true for me. I know they are very untrue for others. Others have experiences that are very true and real for them, experiences which have not been true for me. Therefore, what would make truth absolute? Proof? Science has both proved and disproved the existence of God many times over using varying evidence as proof. There’s still disparity.
My issue with suffering and belief has been increasing with every year I age, and has gotten especially intense and unpacifiable in the past two years. Who knows why. It’s not like anything in particular happened to me or anyone I love in that time. No personal traumas, no diseases, no deaths in the family or anything that might obviously set off an existential wrestling with meaning and purpose. Just my observations of humanity today and throughout history, and guesses at the various probabilities in the future. When contemplating these observations, which I try to do less than daily, I am nothing but angry. Actually, if I’m angry, it’s because I’m sad, deeply, deeply sad. That sadness manifests as anger. Hot tears pouring down the face, hands trembling, mouth afraid to open, vision going blind anger. It jolts me from the reverie of an afternoon at the beach when I turn the radio on and hear that children have been shot at gunpoint in their elementary school. It mocks me when I’m scrolling through a friend’s new baby photos on Facebook only to see a picture of a beaten, chained dog come up in my feed next (the photo being posted to bring awareness to animal cruelty). It haunts me when doing research for a character I’m auditioning to play, as I read account after account of women who have been abducted, sold, and shattered in every way imaginable. And, most of all, my anger silences me whenever a conversation with a group of friends turns to spirituality. For there is no spiritual reason, religious or pseudo-scientific, for suffering that has ever come close to assuaging to me.
The attempts to justify suffering make me angrier than the suffering itself. It’s one thing to try and theorize the world’s brutality from a sheltered distance. It’s another to do it straight to a torture victim’s face. It’s easy for me to say over lunch with friends in sunny Los Angeles that I think some souls volunteered to be “evil” humans in order for the rest of us to take a turn knowing what it was like to be “good”. When I imagine actually saying that to a person who has experienced pain at the hands of others, whether it be a thirteen-year-old girl who was cyber-bullied or a ninety-year-old man whose bedsores were crawling with maggots from neglect; a grieving father whose son was killed by a drunk driver, or a woman whose face is scarred with acid burns because she wanted to go to school and was unlucky enough to be born female in Afghanistan, I shudder with shame. I can’t even imagine the words leaving my lips.
“Your soul wanted to experience forgiveness.”
“You subconsciously manifested that for yourself because your fear attracted it to you.”
“You’re paying back a karmic debt for a crime you committed in a past life.”
“You agreed to this life before you came here, even if you forget it now.”
“It’s part of God’s mysterious plan, and He loves you.”
What kind of love is that? Where is love in any of that? Where is the love?
If I have just been gang raped and I’m crying in a hospital bed, and you tell me that it happened for a reason—any reason—it would crush any soul I have left. Though you might think you’re coming from a place of love, you’re really saying it just as much for yourself as you think you are for me. You need it to be true. To think otherwise, well, that would just be too depressing. Too immobilizing. It might be a denial of the faith you profess that keeps your marriage together and your social status intact. You need to believe your own words because to entertain the possibility that they might not be true might unravel you to a place of grief and pain so great that you might collapse. It might re-trigger the rage you buried toward those who hurt you, and that might mean living with your anger and confusion once more. It’s much easier to just believe, if you are able to, that whatever suffering you experienced happened for a reason. You lost your baby for a reason, your brother was kidnapped for a reason, your dad abandoned you for a reason, your mom died of multiple sclerosis for a reason, and you got cancer for a reason. Somehow, that makes it better for you to swallow. But if your reasons are said in attempt to comfort me in the midst of my suffering, no matter how well-intended, they would feel like the opposites of love. Where is your compassion if you believe I must’ve had a karmic debt to repay? Where is your empathy if you believe I brought it on myself by manifesting it? Where is your humanity if you believe it was part of God’s plan? Where is your love?
When we try to justify suffering, we are no better than the perpetrators of the suffering who began it. They think they’re suffering is justified, too, whether it’s their race at the coexistence of another race, a sex at the coexistence of another sex, a marriage model at the coexistence of another marriage model. We all think we’re suffering so much because others different than us simply exist. We make it our job to eradicate them in ways grotesque and subtle, public and private, because we can’t bear the existence of someone different from ourselves. We are all coming from the same place: righteousness. Where do we think all this righteous belief is getting us?
Shit happens. I think it’s as simple and devastating as that. I don’t think anything happens for a reason. What’s the reason? If it’s not for us to know in this lifetime, when is it for us to know? After our life here has ended? What good would it do us then, especially if we forget it as soon as we reincarnate into yet another physical life, as so many believe? What good will God’s mysterious plan do if we’re up in Heaven with Him basking in His glory? How does that help me or you or any being on this planet now? In my eyes, all faith does is allow us to live in denial. It allows us not only to perpetuate fear, shame, ignorance, intolerance, and war; it also allows us to dehumanize one another.
Instead of hearing peoples’ beliefs on why suffering exists, I’d rather hear people’s empathy, followed by solution-oriented ideas on how we might try to alleviate the pain and prevent the causes of suffering from happening again. At least temporarily. Sadly, I don’t think any solution will be permanent for any problem. We’re never going to ‘end’ sex trafficking, or ‘solve’ the world’s hunger problem. As long as there are humans, with all our greatness and all our fallibility, there will be cycles of war and peace, of feast and famine, of greed and generosity. If history shows us anything, it’s that nothing is permanent.
Does this mean we should just throw up our hands and do nothing? I don’t think so. First of all, I think if we’re going to help one another, we need to start with our selves. One of the many paradoxes I’ve found truth in is this: one must be selfish to be selfless. If you don’t love yourself, how can you genuinely love others? If you don’t treat yourself with compassion, how can you be compassionate to someone else? I’ve found that when I focus on me first, accepting myself, loving myself, nurturing myself, and healing myself, I am able to be these with anyone else with a lot more authenticity. I used to focus on applying this paradox the other way around, attempting to follow adages like, “By loving someone else, you love yourself.” While I wouldn’t say that’s untrue, it wasn’t as effective for me as looking inward first, then outward. When I tried to accept someone else before I had accepted my self, my compassion was shallow and conditional. I think we can only love someone else as truthfully as we love ourselves.
When it comes to suffering, I don’t want to hear any more abstract justifications for the why and the how of it. That’s spinning humanity in circles, with everyone calling everyone else wrong for beliefs that are all contradicting each other. Someone’s faith-based antidote to pain is another’s justification for causing it. Therefore, I think it would be a beneficial first step for people to let go of belief, and of faith. Secondly, let’s talk more about finding practical solutions, void of religious agenda, and then begin applying them. What kind of suffering makes you angriest in the world? Child labor? Animal abuse? Female circumcision? Marriage inequality? Look up an organization that’s already making headway in combating the source of whatever cause you feel stirred to help. Can’t find one? Start one.
Some argue that their faith is what inspires solutions to help alleviate suffering. I argue that there are plenty of faithless people who have come up with the same ideas, so it’s not belief that’s motivating steps toward peace, compassion, and love. It’s just you, and me. I help people because I want to, not because it’s my Christian duty or because I’m trying to accrue good karma. Some wonder how those with atheistic inclinations are motivated to be good people. To paraphrase a quote from my friend Alex, “Does it make me happy to cause pain to others? No. Does it make me happy to help others? Yes, it does.”
If faith and belief are supposed to promote love and peace, I see them failing appallingly. The common denominators I find in observing much of the world’s suffering trace back to belief void of concrete reason and to faith based on hearsay. From the caste system of India to the human sacrifices in a North Carolina occult, from the snubbing of one’s neighbor at the block party to the shunning of a child who departs his or her parents’ religion, faith and belief are at the root of it all. It doesn’t matter what the belief is or how good it sounds on paper. Belief is what alienates us from each other, leading to separatism over hypothetical rights and wrongs that we can’t seem to agree on as a race. It is belief that motivates suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism, belief that keeps women uneducated, belief that keeps a father from attending his son’s wedding to another man. Faith is not the answer to the problem of a loveless world; it is the problem itself.
I realize I’m saying big words here. I know such bold statements are more effective when backed up by multiple examples and other sources. It’s a challenge trying to stay within the confines of an appropriate length for a blog when I could elaborate my points for much longer. If you’d like to read more material on this subject that gives point-by-point examples, I highly recommend reading Sam Harris’ “The End of Faith”.
My goal is not to shit on your beliefs any more than I’d want you to shit on my lack of. Neither am I trying to un-convert you from whatever belief system you are currently served by. We’re all going to continue believing and not believing whatever we want. My goal is to evoke questioning and self-examination. I used to be a purity ring wearing, Bible-quoting, evangelizing Christian. Because of the sincere questioning and thought-provocation of others, I saw the rigidity and lack of love in my beliefs. I am a much more forgiving, empathetic, accepting, and loving person now. Being a good person because your faith teaches you to be is insincere. The world doesn’t need more posers pretending to love because of some afterlife reward incentive. Ironically, that is what is spreading hate. Be a truthful person. Be true to yourself, and be true to others, and recognize that truth is relative and subjective. Be you, and I hope you’ll find that you’re a being of even more effectiveness and kindness without your beliefs that you are with them.