So Long, Jesus – the new book is here!

My new book, marking a final farewell to Jesus and his cult, is available now from all Amazon outlets. So Long, Jesus and Other Lessons From Life collects together the religiously-themed posts that have appeared on this blog over the past three years. A great Christmas present for those of your friends who might be considering saying their own farewell to Christian mumbo jumbo. This is the book you’ve been waiting for! 

So Long, Jesus and Other Lessons From Life – get it before the rapture!

A Little More Time

A few weeks back, I experienced a health scare that had me thinking maybe my end was nigh. I’ll spare you the medical details, but I had painful, alarming symptoms, (unrelated to Covid), that suggested I might have a condition that can very often prove terminal. Because of the pandemic, however, I couldn’t get a face-to-face appointment with a doctor for three weeks; I only managed it then when a helpful nurse, who was taking a blood sample, arranged an appointment for me.

Those three weeks gave me time to consider what I thought of the prospect of potentially not having very long left. Let’s be honest, I’m 66 so there’s already more of life behind me than there is in front; the problem brought my mortality into sharp relief. It was a bitter-sweet experience. I was so aware of all the things that make me so appreciative of life: my partner, my children, grandchildren, other family and friends, music, books, writing, everything that I enjoy. I knew that I wanted more of those things, and others that I’ve written about before; I didn’t want to leave them behind just yet. It all felt, despite my age, to be too damned early. At the same time I recognised that I might not have very much control over whether I had more time or not. There’d be some form of treatment offered of course, but then that would become the focus of life and I’d have to consider whether that would be what I wanted.

These thoughts occupied the same space as one of calm acceptance. If this was it, then so it be it. I was – am – in a good place. I have so much in life. I love the people in it and enjoy it all, even the mundane and the stuff I’m prone to stress about. It would be okay to go out on a high, to take my leave, if that was where things were heading, from such a good place. I have no worries either about what happens after death. Nothing happens after death, not for the deceased anyway, and oblivion never hurt anyone.

Finally I got to see the doctor. He told me the results of the blood test were fine. Some of my symptoms had eased after three weeks and he concluded, after examining me, that they were not, after all, life threatening despite how they might have seemed. His explanation of how they appeared in the first place: ‘bodies do peculiar things… especially as they get older.’ They certainly do.

At least the episode gave me the chance to consider and come to terms with my inevitable demise. As Jean-Luc Picard* said to the omnipotent Q when he supplied the good Captain with a replacement electronic heart: ‘So I won’t die?’ To which Q responded, ‘Of course you’ll die. It’ll just be at a later time.’

A later time will do for me.


*Image copyright whoever owns Star Trek: The Next Generation these days (from the episode ‘Tapestry’).

All Along The Watchtower II

I’ve had a reply from my friendly neighbourhood Jehovah’s Witness, Jim and Sandra. Well, from Jim. Sandra seems to have left him to it. Naturally, politeness compelled me to reply to Jim’s reply.  

Jim first:

Hello Neil 

We wanted to say thanks very much for your email. We appreciate hearing what you had to say. We hope that you and your family are well, and continuing to stay safe. We want you to know that we fully respect your beliefs so thank you for sharing them with us. But please consider what we have to say in response with an open mind. 

Firstly, you may be familiar with the ‘Cambrian Explosion’ which marked the time when most of the major groups of animals first appear in the fossil record. The reason they call this an ‘Explosion’ is because of how short the period of time with which almost all animal life suddenly appears. As you mentioned with Occam’s Razor, we have found that the Bible provides one explanation as to how life got here, whereas science points to an accumulation of many different theories that even scientists themselves don’t agree on… such as Sir Isaac Newton and William of Ockham as well as many other scientists who do believe in an intelligent designer – God.

You also raised excellent points about God’s existence too, you mentioned that according to our reasoning things that are complex must have a creator. While we completely agree God is definitely complex, the Bible answers that question by saying that “From eternity [God has] existed” and “From everlasting to everlasting, you are God”. So we can see here that while God is the creator, he is not a creation. So as hard it is for us as humans to comprehend (as everything we know has a designer) God wasn’t created as he has always existed. 

You also mentioned that if God created everything, this would mean that he also created viruses etc. However if we think of Benjamin Franklin, for example, he created electricity… but we would not say he was the cause of people dying due to the electric chair would we? The Bible does clearly state that God “created all things, and because of [his] will they came into existence and were created”. So while we would not dispute God did create everything, things we experience today are present as a byproduct of a situation God never intended to happen.  However this then raises the questions… What was God’s initial purpose for humans? And why does God allow suffering and diseases?

If you would like the answers to those questions, just let us know in your reply and we would be happy to discuss that with you too.  In the mean time, we found this video that we thought you would find really interesting. You can watch it for free and by all means please let us know your thoughts on it.  https://www.jw.org/en/library/videos/viewpoints-origin-of-life/irene-hof-laurenceau-orthopedic-surgeon/

Kind regards, 

Jim

And my reply. I wanted to turn the discussion round to that JW weakness – one of many – their preoccupation with Jesus’ return (or lack of it):

Hi Jim,

Thank you for your response. I hope too you are both well. I have to say I was unconvinced by your assertion that Ben Franklin created electricity – he certainly didn’t. Electricity is a natural phenomenon that humans have been interested in for thousands of years. Consequently, your analogy between Franklin and God doesn’t stand up. If God created viruses, germs and parasites (as he must’ve done if he created ‘everything’) only to let them run amok amongst the rest of his creation, then he is responsible for the outcome. You say this is not what he intended but as an omniscient being he must have known what was going to happen, just as he must’ve known in advance that Adam and Eve would ‘sin’. Yet he still went ahead and created viruses and the like, knowing the havoc they would cause. How could a loving God do that?

I have to tell you, I’m not going to be persuaded of God’s existence by the argument from design, nor by the argument – though it’s really no more than an assertion – from incredulity. It’s the one in the video clip you sent that says essentially, ‘this natural phenomenon is just so amazing I can’t understand how it came about. Therefore it must have been God.’ Similarly, for you to quote the bible’s claim that God has always existed isn’t convincing either; that some ancient tribesman and their scribes thought so does not constitute proof. 

What might convince me? Possibly if the things Jesus said he was going to do had actually happened. Take, as one example, his promise that God’s Kingdom would be established on the Earth while those he was speaking to were still alive (Matthew 16:27-28, Matthew 24:27, 30-31, 34 and Luke 21:27-28, 33-34 amongst other places.) If this had happened, I’d be able to look around and see God’s plan for humankind in action and say to myself, ‘how mighty fine it is to live in the wonderful kingdom God has blessed us with these past 2000 years. He truly is real.’ But of course he didn’t, and Jehovah’s Witnesses and other branches of Christianity have been making excuses for him ever since. 

I keep a blog you might like to read. A while back I did some posts on the non-arrival of the Son of Man, the final judgement and God’s Kingdom on Earth. While you might find them irreverent, you can see them here: https://rejectingjesus.com/2018/01/28/jesus-demonstrates-that-god-doesnt-exist/ https://rejectingjesus.com/2017/06/23/making-excuses-for-jesus-4/

I do hope you’ll read them. Feel free to explore other of my posts too.

Neil  

New Beginnings

Have you ever wished for a new start? That you could do it all over again, but differently? Better? Then be careful what you wish for…

At 50, Tom Fletcher had reached a sort of crossroads in his life. No, not a crossroads, a dead end. The feeling that had haunted him for most of his adult life emerged from the shadows to take up noisy residence in his head. It did not make for a particularly happy birthday. How could it when he he felt he had wasted those 50 years? He really didn’t like his life.

Superficially, he was successful; he was a businessman and company director; he had a presentable wife, two reasonably stable children and a large house in what was known locally as a highly desirable area.
He knew he had to do something. He couldn’t stay with Joyce; that the house was highly desirable while she no longer was, was an irony that was not lost on him. It wasn’t so much that they’d drifted apart but that, at some unspecified time in the past, they had each jumped into separate vehicles and had hurtled off in different directions.

He needed a solution, if one were possible, that did not entail solicitors, law courts and tearing apart everything he’d ever worked for. The kids were more or less independent and he’d been a hopeless parent anyway. While most of their upbringing had fallen to him, he always had the feeling he’d let them down and should never have been a father. Someone should have told him, back when Joyce started insisting it was time they started a family, ‘No, not you, mate. You’ll be lousy at it.’ But they hadn’t and instead he and Joyce had had two children in quick succession; babies she seemed to lose interest in once they stopped being babies. But he was becoming bitter, and he didn’t want to be. What he wanted was some way of putting things right; for himself, mainly – he acknowledged that – but also for the kids.

If anyone could return to an earlier time in life simply by willing it, it would be Tom. His thoughts were perpetually occupied with the idea that if he could find some way of returning to, say, the months leading up to his marriage, in the late nineteen-seventies, he’d be able to set things right and correct all his mistakes, second time around. He wouldn’t marry Joyce, that’s for sure, wouldn’t pin himself down to marriage at all, not until much later anyway. Everyone had said they’d been too young at the time. Of course this would mean Daniel and Penny wouldn’t exist, at least not in their current form, but Tom was pretty sure they’d be around with at least half the genetic complement they had now – their mother’s – with someone else providing the other half; the man she’d marry instead of him. It was an absolute certainty she’d find someone else, and that she would have children with him. She had been the driving force behind their marrying as well as their becoming parents; that wouldn’t change. Who knows, maybe she’d have more children with another man. Maybe the third or fourth child that Tom had denied existence when he’d had his vasectomy would see the light of day in the new reality he envisaged. And with a bit more luck maybe all of them would find themselves with a better father than he had been.

What would happen to the reality he intended leaving behind? The one where none of this had occurred – the unhappy marriage, the failings as a parent? Perhaps it would cease to be entirely, like a cauterised artery. Or maybe he’d just be found dead in his bed and the rest of it would go as normal, or…

But he couldn’t think too deeply about what was going to happen to the present here and now. He’d just have to leave that to fate, or God, or whatever it was that was in charge of such things; the same controlling force that was going to grant him, he felt sure, special dispensation to take another crack at it. With this conviction, his wishful thinking intensified. On this his birthday, he would will himself back to that easier time and start again.

At first it felt like mild vertigo, a dizzy spell that took him by surprise and caused him to lose his balance. He slumped in his office chair and closed his eyes. He gripped the arms of the chair but then realised that this might give the wrong impression to whatever cosmic force was now taking charge of him – that he wanted to cling on to the present – so he let go and allowed it to lift him out of his body.

Once he started to fall, he fell rapidly.

Back beyond the day in September that changed everything, back before his own promotion. Before hysteria over the royal death, before his first breakdown (how strange that feels in reverse); the kids leaving home, past the difficult move to the new house and, eventually, out of the digital age.

…Into the callous eighties, when he made his money, which, with an unexpected relief, he now feels falling away; his children becoming ever younger, ever more demanding, until finally they vanish.

He feels himself falling further, back into an even more primitive age. The nineteen-seventies, where he’s young again and slimmer, both physically and mentally, all of the accrued wisdom of his years, which he hardly ever noticed he had, stripped away somewhere in his backward flight. It is, he thinks, a small price to pay, especially now that he feels his body returned to its twenty-something state that pleases and re-invigorates him. His burning ambition has returned too, along with all of his worries about ‘making it’ and supporting his young wife and the family she wants… and of failure. But it doesn’t matter; he will deal with all of that much better this time. He won’t have a young wife or children waiting in the wings; he’ll know how to marshal his anxieties and use them productively. Enough of his old self will survive to guide him through that. He’ll reassure his younger self that all will be well.

He can, he suddenly realises, become a gambling man and with his future knowledge make his fortune betting on the outcomes of Cup Finals and Grand Nationals and even Christmas number ones. With a little application, he’ll be able to recall all of these and decides he’ll write them down as soon as he arrives at his destination, in case they fade from his mind over time. He feels a frisson of excitement at the success he is going to make of everything this time round.

He becomes aware, as he hurtles through the vortex, that he isn’t slowing down. He is going to have to jump, to disembark from his backward journey at some point soon. It’s the early days of his marriage, and a sense of the elation he’d felt then catches him by surprise. He’d forgotten it, smothered as it has been by all the later complications. He braces himself as he experiences, in reverse of course, his own wedding, sensing again his uncertainty and lack of conviction. But it doesn’t matter, the mistake is being undone.

Then courting, as his mother always called it – old fashioned even then – when he is free and life enjoyable, though, knowing what lies ahead, also uncomfortably ominous. He will jump any time now, even though he is aware he’s travelling faster than ever, deeper into his own past. He braces himself; he’s reached a point before he’s even met Joyce. This is further than he intended to go but it will do; his teenage years, unlike his childhood, were happy. He has no objection to experiencing them again. So he tells himself to jump. But jumping, he now realises, was only a metaphor. He can no more jump than he can stop to blow his nose; this is a metaphysical experience where legs and noses are an illusion, physical attributes that will only return when the ride ends and he surfaces again in his own younger body. So he wills himself to stop instead, like he used to will himself to wake up from bad dreams, but instead he just keeps falling.

He’s a boy now. Young Tommy. Alone, feeling the abandonment and anguish of his father’s leaving. Grief, as he now recognises it. The shiny kernel that should be at the heart of this younger self is dented and dull. His older self makes to touch it, to give the young boy comfort and consolation, but it remains out of reach. He cries, experiencing the pain all over again, until he collides with the moment he learnt of his dad’s death, the single event that wrenched the life from him and closed down everything that was warm and bright.

Then beyond. His daddy alive again, lifting him onto his shoulders, the thing at the centre of him bright and shiny once more. He wants to live here, in this one moment, perpetually, with time stopped, prevented from travelling forward again.

But he keeps on falling backwards, further back into the past of his own life. To where he’s happy, with mummy and daddy near, and nothing to worry about. He doesn’t even know what worrying is any more. The big dog next door sometimes frightens him but once his mummy comes out in her sunny apron and he can wrap his arms around her legs. He is happy again even if everything is silly because it’s all back to front.

The smell of milk. That is all there is to him now. He smells of it, he wants it. He is warm. Words have failed him; he has no words. They have gone. They have not arrived yet. Smells and feeling warm or cold or hungry or messy. That is all. A little world of his own little body.
Then he’s back where it’s dark and red, wet and warm. There’s noise; steady and loud. Nice noise. And he feels a sense of unravelling, of everything coming apart, unknitting. Until anything that might be considered consciousness – his consciousness – is obliterated.

He is a string of nucleotides, but he doesn’t know it. Doesn’t know anything. He is a strand of RNA in search of another strand of RNA; he is a chemical half.

And then he is nothing at all. The strands that once made him are absorbed back into the bodies from which they came.

Everything about him has gone.

And time lurches forward again. Another string of nucleotides, not his, finds its way in the dark to one that waits for it.

And another child is born, another grows up with his mummy and daddy. There is no accident this time because the new child is ill the day his dad should travel and he stays at home instead. Another child, still whole and happy, goes to his school in his place and, later, finds true love where he didn’t.

Another has a successful career and raises a child – just the one – instead of him. She doesn’t know, this other, that hers is an alternative life, one that might never have been and was never intended to be.

In some other reality, Tom lay slumped in his chair. His body was still warm, and his heart beat rapidly, but he was not there.

He had had his birthday wish, his second chance to begin all over again.

Body Talk

So you’re not getting a new body when you die. Sorry about that. It all comes down then to what you’re going to do with the one you’ve already got. I don’t know what condition it’s in. Your genes and the wear and tear it’s undergone in life will determine that. My own isn’t too bad for its age, I guess, though it suffers from inexplicable aches and pains these days (fibromyalgia) which is probably only going to get worse as I get older. All the same, that’s better than the alternative, so I’m not going to let it stop me from enjoying life.

And that’s what I’d recommend to you too. Enjoy life, enjoy your body. Indulge it in its appetites. The Christians who tell you you’re wrong to do so, who quote verses like Romans 8.13 at you are missing the point:

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Denying yourself will not take you to Heaven, won’t make you a better person and won’t make Jesus like you any more than he does already (which is not at all, on account of his non-existence.) Of course, it’s sometimes a good thing to delay gratification, if others might be adversely affected, for example, but usually it’s not. Most of the time it’s okay to do with your body what you want to do with it – it’s yours for that reason. So enjoy training it, exercising it, eating well and wisely, grooming and pampering your body, keeping it as fit and clean as you possibly can. Enjoy being creative and caring. Be sensual (as in enjoying its sensations) and have all the sex you want, however you want it – with protection, specially if you don’t intend creating more little bodies – and with whichever consenting partners you want. Your body has evolved to be like this. You have evolved to be like this. Anything else is an aberration.

Why am I saying this? Because having reached 65, I’m very aware of the physical limitations that make themselves known as one gets older. Your body, my body, everybody’s body will eventually and irrevocably let each and everyone of us down. You will have experienced some debilitation already, whatever age you are; temporary illness, ailments of one sort or another, injuries, viruses, infections and malfunctions. Your body will eventually undergo the ultimate malfunction and let you down completely. It will die. Don’t leave it until that time approaches – and which of us knows when that is? – to appreciate it. Enjoy it now, whatever stage of life you have reached and whatever shape your body is in.

Am I preaching hedonism? Not exactly. But I am recommending you take pleasure from whatever activities you use your body for, no matter how mundane they are. And let’s face it, all human activities, including the cerebral, involve the body one way or another. Be a sensualist, as in enjoying the body’s sensations, and find pleasure in all things. Give pleasure in return and in many varied ways to others.

Isn’t this more life-enhancing than all that unhealthy ‘death to the flesh’ stuff (Romans 8.13) at the heart of Christianity, which regards the body as corrupt (Romans 7.24), sinful (Romans 7.5), lowly (Philippians 3.21), weak and dishonourable (1 Corinthians 15.43) and unworthy of a place in the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15.50)? It surely is. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15.32 that if the dead are not raised in new spiritual bodies then we may as well live our lives according the maxim, ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die’. There is no resurrection, there are no bodies other than the ones we have now, so perhaps, for once, Paul was on to something.

You too can be free

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One of the most liberating aspects of jettisoning Christianity was the realisation that nothing I did had cosmic significance. Nothing anybody does has cosmic significance. Yet to hear the cult’s leaders and spokesman talk, now as then, everything matters.

First and foremost, what you believe determines whether you lived forever in Heaven or not. Can you credit that: what you believe. So better get that doctrine sorted out! Right thought makes all the difference. You only have to read a few Christian blogs to realise how important this still is. Believe something only minimally unorthodox and your eternal life is in jeopardy. Not only that, but what you think in the privacy of your own head about issues like abortion, homosexuality, politics and society is subject to the Lord’s scrutiny. Better get it right – ‘Right’ being the operative term. It means recognising that Trump is God’s Chosen One because the Almighty is really only interested in the USA. He has much less time for other nations, except maybe Israel, so better get your thinking straight on that score, buddy.

God is, or so his self-appointed mouthpieces like to tell you, obsessively interested in how you, as an individual, spend your time, the language you used and whether you’re a faithful steward of the money he supplies (that’s the money you work hard for yourself). He lays it on your heart about how you should spend your time, the only valuable way being in the service of his Kingdom-that-never-comes. You’re made to feel that if your marriage isn’t close to perfection then you’re not really working at it (though god knows the biblical view of marriage is nothing like the one promoted by today’s Christian leaders). You’re made to feel you must share the gospel with everyone else you have relationships with: children, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, complete strangers. Don’t they too deserve to have a chance at eternal life? You don’t want them denied it because you failed to speak up, do you? Well, do you?

And then there’s the guilt when you can’t do all of this. You’re not sure you believe all the right stuff. You think you do but then you’re told about some point of doctrine you hadn’t considered and it is, apparently, really essential you do. So you consult the Holy Spirit who you think lives in your heart and you wonder why he hasn’t spoken up before now. Maybe you have liberal views about abortion. And really, you can’t find it in yourself to condemn all those ‘sodomites’ you’re told about; what difference does it make if you do or don’t? And your marriage is less then perfect. In fact, it’s a little bit messy, like human relationships tend to be, and sometimes you want just to relax, maybe laze a little bit. Not everything you do has to contribute to the Kingdom, after all.

But the guilt won’t let you. What kind of Christian are you, anyway? And as for witnessing at every opportunity, you wonder why you feel like a dog that’s compelled to pee at every lamp-post. Can’t friends just be friends? Can’t you just appreciate others for who they are, not as sinners who need saving? Apparently not.

What a wonderful release it is then, when you finally realise that none of this crap matters. Nothing you do, say or think makes the slightest bit of difference to whether you or others live forever (Spoiler: you won’t, they won’t.) How you act may help others feel a bit better about themselves or provide you with a sense of fulfilment but that’s the extent of it. Outside your immediate context, you’re insignificant, and there’s great significance to that. The pressure is off; God is not watching you to see whether you’re a good and faithful servant. Your time, money and thoughts are yours and yours alone. It’s entirely up to you how you use them, free from the tyranny of religion.

 

Lost and Found

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Be who you are…

because in the end those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.

(attributed to Doctor Seuss)

But what if who you are is pretty horrible? What if, when you’ve discovered your true self, you find you’re actually mean-spirited, selfish or greedy? Worse: what if you find you have paedophile tendencies or a compulsion to harm others or to murder?

Perhaps I’m naive (I am naive; perhaps I’m now being excessively so) in thinking that an individual’s true nature can never be like this. Someone who is hateful, spiteful or cruel has not discovered their true self nor are they acting from it. Being oneself does not lead to the exploitation of others. Think of the self-actualised people you know, those who are most themselves; they have no need, and no desire, to manipulate or hurt others. Those who do behave like this, act from a damaged part of themselves not from their essential selves.

Am I saying all people are inherently good? No, evidently they are not (though I’d argue nor are they inherently bad). But those who are in touch with themselves have a sense of completion and wholeness that transcends the petty, the unpleasant and religion. It is these people we like being around, because they inspire us to be like them. Others – the majority, perhaps – continue to be dictated to by whatever it is in life that has soured and distorted them, and the world continues to reflect both kinds of people; those who are lost to themselves and those who know who they are.

Desiderata

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There’s really no secret to what life is about. It’s simple – simplistic even. All the same, it took me most of my life to discover it.

The best way to live your life is to be yourself.

That’s not as easy as it sounds, because you have to have pretty good sense of self to begin with and, for a multitude of reasons, such awareness can elude you.

It’s possible that this is because none of us truly has a self. Current thinking among psychologists and neuroscientists is that the self doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion, created by competing and often conflicting processes in the brain. I picture it like those optical illusions in which carefully arranged shapes make it appear, as in the figure below, that there’s a different shape in their midst, when in fact all that’s there is clear space. Maybe the neuroscientists are right about this, but even so, the self is a damn convincing illusion.

Kanizsa-triangle

Because the brain’s processes are ever active the illusory shape at the centre is subject to constant change – which we perceive as mood swings, changes to our personality, acting ‘out of character’ or being out of sorts with ourselves. Perhaps what I really mean by being yourself, then, is finding a point of equilibrium for the shape at the centre, where it isn’t constantly buffeted by the turbulence of the brain’s activities. However, this is merely to exchange one metaphor for another, so for now I’ll talk about the sense of ‘me-ness’ that we all experience subjectively and intuitively, and know as ‘the self’.

Perhaps you’ve never been in tune with who you are, living, as Plato called it, an unexamined life (he believed such a life wasn’t worth living). Perhaps like me, you drifted through the earlier part of life, allowing unplanned, random experiences to pull you along in their wake until you were left in a place you felt you don’t quite fit. Maybe though, you’ve heard a small inner voice calling you, telling you that this isn’t you. Perhaps, as I experienced for many years, the incongruity between who you are and where you’ve ended up is taking its toll on your mental health.

It’s also possible that you have heard your inner calling but have been told – by society, family or church that who you are is inconvenient, undesirable or unrealistic. ‘Just settle yourself down and conform to what we think is right for you,’ they’ve told you – and you have. They’ve convinced you that you won’t be accepted if you’re truly yourself, so you’ve suppressed or obscured who you know yourself to be.

Alternatively, you’ve assumed a role you know isn’t you. You’re doing a job that allows for no self-expression (because, after all, we all need to make a living), you’re in a relationship that suffocates the real you or you’ve been a church member, striving to conform to everyone’s unrealistic expectations of you. The result is you’re stressed, unhappy and uptight. You’re acting, as the term ‘role’ implies, without any authenticity. We all act from time to time, of course; there are occasions when it is unavoidable. But to live an entire life this way is to invite strife and depressive illness. To be healthy, happy and whole, you need to be authentic – true to yourself.

To adopt a religion is to assume a role. It is to deny your real self (Jesus demands you do: Matthew 16.24) and pretend you’re something you’re not. You can no doubt convince yourself God is doing a great work in you, sanctifying you and making you increasingly Christ-like, but the more you act out the part, the less like your genuine self you become. How can this be right for you, for your happiness and well-being? Adopting any ideology is to add a fake and unnecessary veneer to life that serves only to mask your true identity. Replacing who you are with a predetermined set of religious or political beliefs is mere play acting. Denial is not a solution; embracing your self is.

I hope that like me, you have reached a place where you know and embrace your real self. If not, and at the risk of sounding like a poor man’s Wayne Dyer, I’d ask you to take time to listen to your inner voice. Recognise it for what it is; it will not lead you astray. You know deep within who you are and who you should be, whether that’s an artist, teacher or baker; parent, celibate or gay; writer, performer or mystic; builder, musician or doctor, or a combination of these and other possibilities. You have to be what makes you happy. You owe it to your self.

Pearl of Great Price

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Once Born Again™, I became involved with a local church, where my friend Simon took it upon himself to play Cupid, fixing me up with Jane. I was more than a little surprised a girl could be interested in me, but figured, in my flight from myself, that as she was interested, I should make the most of it. Sex wasn’t much of a problem: as good Christians we may’ve played about a little, but we stayed away from what the church liked to call ‘pre-marital intercourse’.

It wasn’t long, though, before Jane wanted to marry – she really wanted to get married. I wasn’t so sure and told her about my escapades with Sam, adding of course that I had since renounced such sin. She said that as long as it never happened again, she had no problem with my past transgressions. I felt pretty sure it wouldn’t happen again. After all, Jesus and his Holy Spirit were taking care of my old nature.

So Jane and I married and over time had three children. While I was very much involved with their upbringing, I would often feel I was ‘letting the Lord down’. When, as happened on holiday once, a group of younger men came round a corner minus their shirts, I found myself instinctually admiring them. What self-crucifying shame I would feel after occasions like these. I would even confess such ‘sins’ to a senior work colleague, a devout and very genuine older lady. I’d spare her the details of how exactly I’d ‘let the Lord down’, of course; I could never have brought myself to say I’d been turned on by naked male torsos. But somewhere deep within me I longed for intimacy and closeness with another man. I knew this was strictly forbidden so buried my desires deeper and deeper, suppressing and subjugating something vital about myself. I was on course, though I didn’t recognise it, to making myself ill. I was convinced that I was doing the right thing – for myself, for my marriage and for God.

My marriage, however, was in trouble. Jane seemed to have lost interest in our children, which hurt me greatly (and didn’t do them a lot of good either.) This and pressures at work, where my boss’ affair with a female colleague was creating some serious problems, made me question whether God really cared. When I needed him most, petitioning him for the wisdom to deal with these problems, the heavens, as the scripture almost says, were as brass. God, it seemed, just wasn’t interested. Perhaps, I started to wonder, he wasn’t even there. Added to this was the internal pressure I was still subjecting myself to; the tension and stress of sublimating my true nature. I was deeply unhappy. While the situation at work was eventually ‘resolved’ (by my finding a better job) I had become chronically depressed and remained so for several years.

Ultimately, once I had reached my fifties and the children were grown, Jane and I separated. I knew I couldn’t go on suffocating my feelings; the mind is not designed to be a pressure cooker – something has to give. I started to accept, though not yet embrace, my innermost nature. The relief was immediate and tremendous. I felt I had found myself and I didn’t care that society might not particularly like what I had I found. I had to be me, and not the uptight, miserable person I had become by denying my essential self. I squared up to the exciting yet daunting prospect of starting over, and acknowledged that if I were to have a new relationship it would be with another man. And so it was.

Over time I came to like myself – imagine that! All I’d felt for most of my life, since the time at the YMCA, was self-hatred. That was what Christianity, what Jesus, had done for me. Arguably, it had also ensured, by keeping me firmly in the closet, that I hadn’t died prematurely during the AIDs crisis of the 1980s. Perhaps though I’m giving it too much credit.

I’m ‘out’ now, in every sense: to my wonderfully supportive children, to you who read this blog (obviously) and to friends. Match-maker Simon, he who suggested going to the YMCA all those years ago, cut me off about a decade ago. As a born-again Christian, he regarded homosexuality as beyond the pale. His ‘principles’ meant more to him than our long-standing friendship. I still miss him, very much.

I don’t miss God. He has gone entirely and I’ve long recognise that he was never there to begin with. Instead, I have a sense of authenticity and my energy goes into living, not denial. I’ve become involved with the local LGBT Centre and I’m seeing a very nice man who I’m going to call Thomas, to spare his blushes. I’m very happy and feel, at long last, I really know what life’s about.

If you can stand it, I’ll tell you more next time.

Heaven’s Above

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I was struggling for inspiration this week with the homework assignment from my writing group. The title was ‘Heaven’s Above’ (or maybe ‘Heavens Above’, without the apostrophe) and possibly I was having difficulty with it because I don’t believe in a Heaven above, on account of there not being one.

The other night, in a local bar, this young guy came over to talk to my friends and me. He was a doctor from a nearby practice, and he started by asking how, when the time comes, we’d like to die. While perhaps not be the best way to start a consultation, his question provoked some interesting responses.

Then, having somehow detected that my friends and I had reached a certain level of maturity (we’re in our 60s), the young doctor asked what we felt was the point of life. He had, he said, a real need to know this, because having achieved all he wanted at 28, he was left wondering if there was any purpose beyond 30. I like to think we all gave him good answers. There’s life in these old dogs yet! For me, it was falling in love (yes, it happens to old people too) together with friends, lovers and other relationships, particularly those with my grown-up children and beautiful grandchildren. There’s also – though I didn’t bore him with the details – achieving authenticity, accepting yourself and living true to that self. Then there’s all the other things that make life worthwhile; being open to change, having new experiences, learning, helping others, reading, writing, conversation, music, walking… You will, I’m sure, have your own list.

I know that Sartre claimed that ‘Hell is other people’ and Lee Marvin thought much the same thing when he rumbled in Wand’rin’ Star that ‘Hell is in hello’, but Heaven is in these same things; in friendship and our other relationships. There may be some who think it’s easy for me to say all this. ‘After all,’ they say, without knowing me, ‘you have a good life. It’s pretty easy to feel positive about something that’s already going well,’ which is true. Except my life has had its share of traumas, problems and pains, and still does. But life is good and worthwhile in spite of these, and it’s purposeful too without recourse to God or Jesus. Who needs these two old frauds? We make our own Heaven here, now, in our own lives.

Am I saying count your blessings? Yes, I suppose I am, but not, I hope, in a glib way. There are so many good things in most of our lives; all we have to do is make them our own. ‘Lay hold on life,’ as the old hymn says, ‘and it shall be, thy joy and crown eternally.’ Maybe not eternally, but certainly beyond the age of 30.