What I Believe (Martyn)

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Martyn is a writer from Australia.

1. What are your spiritual beliefs?

If you take ‘spiritual’ to mean something other than here, other than now, other than flesh? I don’t have any at all. I believe we are amazingly complicated meat machines. (Emphasis on the ‘amazing’.) No souls except for the unique interactions generated by our brains and bodies. No afterlife except for whatever ripples we leave behind us on earth.

A friend of mine – an atheist – was attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He couldn’t face the idea of giving himself over to a ‘higher power’, but someone there pointed out a loophole: ‘GOD’ could stand for ‘Group Of Drunks’. That’s as close as I come, too. Whatever else is out there, it’s formed by the connections between us, all the ways we overlap. Relationships, stories, art, whatever.

If there’s no grand, carved-in-stone meaning, then all that’s left is to do things that make you happy while causing as little damage as possible. That’s about it.

2. How sure are you that those beliefs are true?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less and less sure of everything – but no closer to believing anything but the above. I don’t begrudge anyone else their faith. I don’t care what you believe as long as it makes you a better person: more kind, more compassionate. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to think you are absolutely right and others are absolutely wrong about the meaning of life without it warping your personality in unpleasant ways.

3. How did you come to have these beliefs?

My family are very devout Christians, and that’s how I was raised. As a child, I thought something was terribly wrong with me because I didn’t feel anything at all when ‘Jesus came into my heart’. One day, something clicked in my head: it was all made up. Like the complicated rules of Dungeons and Dragons or something. Though we politely avoid the subject, my parents now think I’m going to hell. That must be so horrible for them. I can’t even really understand what it would be to live with that, every day.

4. What do you wish you could believe (but don’t)?

If I could force myself to believe in a divine purpose, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Who wouldn’t? I can only imagine what it’s like to believe, honestly believe, that everything happens for a reason. I became very interested in conspiracy theories for a while, as they offer a mirror of the same kind of comfort. There’s a plan! Yes, it might be a plan to discredit or enslave or destroy you… but at least it’s a plan.

Even ideas like karma feel too good to be true to me. But if you can convince yourself these are the rules the universe plays by, that’s great. I know that sounds patronising, but I mean it. I don’t think brutal, unflinching honesty is the best way to live. I don’t think pain always makes you stronger. We all tell ourselves stories to get through the day, consciously or unconsciously, about us or the world around us. Whatever helps helps.

5. What do you think it means to believe in something?

I know ‘believe in something’ is ideological and philosophical as much as spiritual – if you can even pry those definitions apart – but being raised as Christian carved deep grooves into my brain. My ideas about belief often default to ‘worship of a monotheistic god’, no matter how much I fight it. It makes me suspect of many kinds of spirituality that probably don’t deserve it.

6. Does this stuff matter to you? Do you think about it much?

Yeah, I think about it a lot. Like Laurie Anderson said, the Bible introduces you to a special form of surrealism at an early age! My creative work often ends up embodying themes that come from a childhood in Christianity: messiah stories, other worlds beyond our own, bizarre ideas treated like commonplace logic, et cetera.

Lately, depression has given all these questions extra weight and urgency. Not having an answer for ‘what does it mean to believe?’ is one thing; not having an answer for ‘what makes life worth living?’ is another. So this is only a series of moments, stitched together, until you die? Then if you can’t find pleasure or meaning in the moments, you’re lost. I just try to believe in what Graham Greene called “ordinary corrupt human love”.

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