Are we hardwired for God? Is a belief in a greater power or something larger than ourselves slotted into our programming? I found out the other day that apparently there's now a name for the study of religious experience – neurotheology. There’s a name for everything nowadays.
When we’re young we easily believe in the mystical. I knew there were fairies that lived in the wall; I equally knew there was something Very Bad at the very end of the garden. Bad things stalked me in my sleep – and nothing much stopped them. Bad things lurked under my bed but these I kept at bay by pulling the sheet tight over my head, leaving only the tiniest of airways. Funny, isn’t it, how such vicious monsters are so easily deterred by a thin piece of fabric?
I used to say a series of prayers every night, fervent prayers. It was a ritual. I believed that if I missed anyone out of my ‘God bless’ prayer, they would die. Now I come to think of it, that was pretty megalomaniac. Did I really think God would punish the poor sap for my lapse in concentration? Or maybe I quietly believed in myself as God?
When I was seventeen or eighteen, I took acid by mistake. A spiked drink at a bad party. I walked home alone, upset, my mind moiling. And then my vision warped. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t judge distance. I needed to cross a road and yet, when I looked down, it felt like I was on the top of a cliff and the road was several miles below me. When I got home my grandmother greeted me and her face kept changing – but was mainly pretty lizard-like. I think I’ve told you this before but never mind. You've probably forgotten. Our minds can create anything. It was a shame it happened that way – other people report feelings of oneness, of togetherness, of love – of experiencing the unity of the entire planet, universe, all that is.
But then I’ve had those experiences too – without drugs. Through combinations of fasting, meditation, sensory deprivation and sometimes just pure serendipity. It’s nothing new – people have been crawling into caves or hanging out in deserts for millennia in attempts to see ‘for real’.
And the neurotheologists think there’s a reason for that. They think that we need God. Or rather, we need some kind of spiritual belief – to keep us balanced. To stop us falling into total despond. To stop us giving up out of sheer bloody pointlessness. We like to think there is meaning. It comforts us. And you have to wonder. Without the God urge, do we become biological beings only? Our purpose purely to grow to maturity, mate and hang around long enough to set our offspring on their feet? And, if so, well... so what?
I guess you might argue though that atheists could be an aberration. They could have a vital bit missing. Or, here’s a thought, maybe they’re the evolution. But then you have to wonder why? What use does lack of belief have for the species as a whole? Maybe it’s because religion is divisive, so corrosive? The psychologist Susan Blackmore said, ‘I am not just an atheist; I believe that belief in God is both wrong and directly harmful.’ And yet…she goes on to say this. ‘On the other hand, I am convinced that experience with the mystical can be positive, valuable, and provide insight. There are mystical states in which you see the world as a whole and experience yourself as a fully integrated part of everything that is. It can be a very positive experience that leads to less selfish behaviour and greater personal satisfaction. I wish more people were capable of experiencing that sort of experience without thereby encouraging traditional religion.’
But then isn’t she just redefining the meaning of God?
Anyhow. Where was I? Where am I going? Not a clue. There'a whole load more but I'll spare you. It's just that lately, more than usual, I’ve been wondering about all this meaning I put on things. All the synchronicity, the magic, the serendipity, the out of the blueness…isn’t it all just…wishful thinking? Isn’t it really all just random…meaningless…just my mind putting some kind of gloss on it to make living less painful?
So the SP and I went for a walk…up the hill, into the woods and then down by the river. And the birds were singing and the wild garlic was starting to push up through the dark brown earth. And I thought, hell, what does it really matter? Nobody can know. Not really. All we can do, really, is just be, here and now, in each moment as it unfolds into the next. So what if there’s no meaning. And I put my headphones on and clicked ‘Shuffle’ and my iPod giggled and played…
And the universe giggled back. J