Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Crisis of Doubt

It has become clear to me recently that I am reaching a turning point of some kind; that all the new stuff that I am doing and experiencing in this period of my life is leading towards a real sea-change in how I see things and who I think I am. What happens during this time, and how I handle it, will probably have a profound determining effect on the rest of my life and how well it goes, and so I do feel a bit of pressure. And maybe because of all this, I feel a growing and genuine crisis of doubt. I am just not sure if my doubt is strong enough to see me through this.

Previously I have always had my doubt to fall back on – when times were good, or bad. My doubt has been not just deep, but wide-ranging – doubt in God, the world, doubt in myself and my fellow man. And of course in the past all of these things have let me down; my doubt has never really been tested up until now.

My current situation is different from any I have previously faced however. It is not just that I seem to be surrounded by the faithful, the steadfast, even the devout (which quite frankly freaks me out by the way), it is not just about other people. Things are going really well in my own life too. I have never been fitter. I have managed to maintain, for over 9 months now, a healthy work/life balance with the emphasis on life, had loads of great time to spend with my family, lost a bit of weight, stopped smoking and drinking coffee, cut out chocolate and wheat, and felt realy good for it. This is the sort of thing that can eat away at your doubt.

I know that everybody has at least some faith - many people that I love and respect, even members of my immediate family have loads of faith - but I have been pretty much immune to it up until now. I have always seen faith as metaphorical petrol. If religion is a car or a motor bike, and I mean really nice ones like a porsche or a triumph bonneville or something ( maybe the CofE is a triumph bonnie: you can assign vehicles to other faiths yourself); anyway I can appreciate those machines as a non-driver, for the excellence of their design, the harmony of form and function, the poetry of the thing. But faith, faith is the petrol – people with petrol, i.e. people with faith are having a completely different experience of those things from me, they are actually driving them about, going places fast, taking risks, making nuisances of themselves, careering all over the road, shouting at pedestrians, and I am not sure if I envy them or not. But I can’t just buy petrol – the analogy starts to come apart a bit at this point. Maybe faith is like money rather than petrol, I’m not sure, I will have to think about it.

Maybe I am over-dramatising, I mean there is no danger of me rushing up to an altar or anything. For a start, I am not really a joiner and faith seems to be a team game, although strangely each team seems to have their own version of the rules. Anyhow, up until now my doubt has functioned a bit like a note from my mum excusing me from PE. I have been able to watch safely from the sidelines, while everyone else gets all red in the face, bumping into each other. It all looks terrifying and I can’t afford to lose my doubt now, I am too old and stiff to start dashing about the metaphorical pitch getting upset about liturgy or arguments about atonement, whatever that is.

It is ultimately, like so many things, a question of identity – who you are, who you want to be, who you want to be seen to be, the conflicts between those things. Which is exhausting enough in itself without trying to figure out how and why the universe was built and all that. Sometimes I just get tired, and I think that is when I weaken, and become susceptible to the temptations of faith.

Occasionally it all comes together in my mind, in a sudden blinding insight, usually when I am half-way up a mountain or something but I had one the other day when I was in the gym, on the cross-trainer. I view the world from an artistic standpoint in general, and it occurred to me that the whole artistic project, i.e. responding to the experiences of being alive by taking that raw material and transforming it with imagination into art that helps us understand the world and ourselves in relation to it, that that project is exactly the same as religion – that religion is just another version of the same thing. In fact for a large part of the past two millennia, they have been identical – the cistine chapel, the pieta, all those renaissance madonnas, were all just tiny bits of the artistic project that was Christendom. Like many of these insights it just seems like stating the obvious now, but at that moment, in the gym, the thought struck me with such force that my heart-rate, which was clearly displayed in red numerals before me, shot up from one fifty-something to over one hundred and seventy. So that must mean something.

It’ll all come out in the wash I suppose. Like all turning points, it is not exactly clear what direction I am going to end up facing, and I am feeling a bit dizzy and sick, but I will get over that. I just need to have a little doubt.


John H said...

Doubt is important. My advice would be to hang on to some doubt, no matter how much you dabble with faith.

I am rather taken with your metaphor of the CofE as a Triumph Bonnie. Slow, unreliable, tendency to leak oil, loved mainly by people who see it as an artifact of a semi-mythical lost Golden Age? Or perhaps as something with a lot of interesting parts that you can rebuild in various ways? I think I'd better stop there...

meretrician said...

That's the problem with metaphors, they can run away with you and before you know you are flying down the road, up the kerb, through some bushes, over a field and find yourself dangling over a cliff-edge, clinging onto a branch which is being nibbled through by a white mouse and a black mouse.
Triumph Bonneville definitely a Britis bike for the CofE. Hillman Hunter or Morris Traveller for the Methodists.

Stephen said...

Mark -

I have read this 3 times over in the past 5 minutes.

I have fixed on words, phrases and metaphors. Each time I stopped I hoped I could find a way of phrasing my feelings about the particular point. But I couldn't;

The best I could muster was "Don't turn to the darkside..."!

The car analogy is the one that gets my spider-sense tingling.

People with faith are having a different experience of the world than you are - but is it a better one?

Cling on to the doubt.

If you can't, maybe you'll fall towards the opinion that we are were not created with a purpose; that our place in the universe is minute. And stand in awe as we try to understand our existence, our Artistic Project, with hard evidence.

meretrician said...

Don't worry young Stephen, my doubt is really very strong, for it has been forged in the sectarian fires of Belfast in the Seventies. My position has always been pretty much the same, my perspective, however...well, that shifts. My arse is aching on this fence.

Stephen said...

....the fence is probably aching from your arse, too!

Anonymous said...

Well, you're mind was working really well on Thursday. I think I know what you mean and ponder similar themes on a regular basis. I could never express them so articulately because I am just not as intelligent as you. It could all be just down to endorphins/serotonin, you're body is producing more than ever before and this is unfamiliar-so you being the questioning type look for a reason outside yourself.
I find growing vegetables and Super Furry Animals help everything and your photos also give a lift, as do darling hubseses. Anyway I think you are magic!
love suzy
Keepin it real with the new photo..wicked