Got God?
// Kevin Murray

I was born in sleep and raised in sleep
and wake to find myself sleepwalking.
The figures I know all have shadows …
This world in its order decomposes into air…
- Aaron Shurin

Religion is a four-letter word. It is the opiate of the masses; it is a patriarchal power structure bent on world domination; it is fanaticism, death-threats, suicide bombers and no birth control in the Congo; it is madness. Monstrous. It is cliché – just like this whole paragraph. Think again, for yourself: I’ve just delivered you a payload of propaganda.

Have you got God? Think about it. How did you get him? Met him at the supermarket? At a Yoga retreat? In a wet dream where he wore a Harry Potter mask and you played Hagrid in a halter-top? Chances are, you got him through doctrination, from the thick lips of some robed guy who heard something from some other robed guy, and you probably keep him through faith. A good friend of mine who is a philosophy professor at a major Ontario university once told me a story about his experience with faith:

He spent 12 years in a Catholic seminary in pursuit of the divine revelation he expected was right around the next cloister. It never arrived. “Twelve years... praying and searching and preparing for a life of service to God. And you know what I found? A hiding place for other gay men who couldn’t come out because it meant their eternal souls if they did.” He eventually left the seminary and married a woman, became a professor, and fathered two children. After 25 years of wedlock, he finally admitted the truth to his wife and himself. He left, and on a soul-searching trip to Bhutan, he visited a shrine where he saw a naked statue of a Buddha depicted in full sexual union with a female consort, complete with heaving breasts and a fully erect penis. My friend describes this encounter as the penultimate; it shattered his spiritual conceptions, leaving him liberated. “It just validated my sense that sexuality can be an integral part of some spirituality,” he explained. For him, the old adage was true: In the West, God is found without. In the East, God within.

My intention is not to promote Buddhism and denigrate Catholicism. Rather, it is to advocate for direct experience. In the case of my friend, he had to fall out from the falsehoods of the church to find his own truth, as must we all. The fallout will be free thought, and it is also the theme. Because whether it is the words of your professor or priest, the authority of some sacred text, or your mother’s sweet soothings before bedtime, your minds are full of faith in authority of one kind or another.

You have faith because it has been encouraged. You’ve been told, “You’re a good little girl. Now eat your brussel sprouts.” You’ve been conditioned into our cultural traditions, hopefully through love. Oh yes, much of this has been done with all the best intentions. For instance, at the tender age of 12, I was offered a brand new bike for my Catholic confirmation present. That means I traded my soul’s eternal fealty for a shiny blue and white CC 12-speed from Canadian Tire. How’s that for a bargain?

So enough of faith, and on to experience, and what we can verify with sense and science combined. We are all in a process of redefining our religious identities in a sea of blinking, winking symbols all vying for our attention, slipping past us into darkness. Our secular society is recalibrating itself, and the end results will look nothing like we expect.

As I write this, I am preparing for the Burning Man festival, a 50,000 + art and music gathering the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. The party ends with the ritual torching of a skyscraper sized wicker man, set to an orgy of fire and drums. Many bring hand written pages containing hurts, hates, and fears to the Man in the days leading up to the event and pin them to him, others write wishes. When the Man burns, many report a great spiritual alchemy. Perhaps spirituality in modern times will become what we make it, because it appears as if we have rejected the gold-plated patriarchy of our churchly fathers.

In my next column, I plan to capture a tale of spiritual transcendence on the high desert playa, a rite of passage for adults who have spent too long in extended adolescence. Welcome to the Fallout Files.

// Kevin Murray
Humour & Fiction Editor

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