Tof is a writer and scholar who lives with zir wife, toddler, and geriatric cat in Florida, USA.
1. What are your spiritual beliefs?
I believe in a lot of things, none of them absolutely. It might be easier to start with what I don’t believe in. I have no faith or trust in certainty, in purity, in ultimate ends (teleology), or in the value of coercive power.
I am a skeptic, but the deepest and most powerful part of my skepticism is auto-skepticism: I am skeptical of my own skepticism and try never to let it get in the way of investing things with meaning.
I am a practicing occultist, but do not ascribe to any particular school of occult philosophy. Any model can be used to create meaning – but no model is “true.” What matters is what a model, theory, or principle can be used for, what assumptions, implications, and general baggage it brings with it, and how it interconnects with other things one values.
I believe in meaning, and in my belief, meaning and magic are functionally interchangeable. Magic is the creation (alteration, et al.) of meaning, and anything that creates or alters meaning can be understood through a magical lens: these things are all attempts to change what the world is because they change how we understand it.
I do not, however, believe that the world or existence is a secondary product of what we believe about it. My beliefs about the world are closer to Taoist than anything else in particular: existence is monstrous, overflowing, excessive, and can never be fully comprehended or captured by any model. (Monstrous, overflowing, and excessive also describes my experience of my “self” and my queer body.)
I believe that everything changes, and that absolute order, eternal “sameness,” perfect understanding, is the most absolute form of death. I don’t think such a terrible thing can exist, but I know that a final resolution, an apocalypse, has an absolutely real existence as a belief, as a fiction, because fictions aren’t “false” or “nonexistent” – they’re just pure meaning, and meaning changes the world.
Desire for perfection and order can lead to death, just as the slogan “better dead than red” was a fiction, a meme, with the inherent baggage of tending toward the nuclear annihilation of human kind.
Meanings are (generally) created by people, but that doesn’t mean that we can (completely) control them. Far better to consider what the magics you invoke might do once out in the world, what the meanings you feed might get up to once they don’t need you any more.
If saying that fictions aren’t “real” but that they function independent of human will to re-shape reality seems circular and contradictory, that’s intentional, the closest I can get to expressing my beliefs in “clear” terms. The contradiction, the gap, the thing that escapes from any system of thought, any configuration or conjuration of words, is the closest thing to an absolute truth that I believe in.
The only belief I think I can express simply is my belief in love: I have no particular confidence that love is true, real, beneficial or eternal, but I don’t care. Love is something I want to believe in, so I do.
2. How sure are you that those beliefs are true?
Not at all. Never, I hope.
My deep faith in uncertainty and my habit of auto-skepticism requires me to admit that I believe that I could come to believe in something absolutely. I don’t hope to, but that’s me now speaking – much as me in High School hoped never to leave the Christian faith.
Even that’s insufficient. As I understand it, me in High School still hopes never to lose his faith, and that self and hope are still present and valid, even as “present” me hopes never to possess certainty.
3. How did you come to have these beliefs?
It’s been a long, convoluted process. I was raised Christian and clung to that creed for a long time. I still find deep meaning in some bits of it, mostly the bits about love and not judging.
It helped that I have religious experiences. I still do. I had an overactive imagination as a kid, and that spilled over into beautifully intense experiences of Jesus, as well as certainty that people lived on the other side of the mirror, vivid imaginary friends, and deja vu so intense I spent years certain that I’d lived my life before and, at some point, it would loop and start over again.
When I discovered H. P. Lovecraft, unspeakable imprecise posthuman creatures looped themselves through my perceptions, and they are still there, glorious and alien… and occasionally cuddly. Much later, Jewish theology and mysticism would help me differentiate YHWH from the tyrannical figure that Christian theology made of “God the Father.”
It’s hard for me to say when my depression manifested, but I think I can say that I always had a melancholy personality that concealed itself behind a very real love of the world and of people.
If anyone reading this is inclined to mysticism and depression and afraid of seeking treatment, my advice is simple: don’t be afraid, seek help. The unspeakable meanings and strange glories of the world will still be there for you when you’re treating your depression (and there are a lot of treatment options). The only thing that changes is that you are more likely to be there to experience them.
In case you’re wondering, I still get along with Jesus. I don’t really care if the Jesus I know/imagine has any presence outside my head or any connection to what other people call Jesus. These days, he’s got a lot of company. Gods that I made up, or that revealed themselves to me – same difference. It’s a bit of a boarding house up there, and some of them have never been seen by anyone else and will probably never have another worshipper.
That’s alright by me – I like small gods.
4. What do you wish you could believe (but don’t)?
I miss believing in an afterlife sometimes. I don’t specifically disbelieve in an afterlife, I just think it’s profoundly irrelevant to the life we live, and that using faith in an afterlife to make decisions about how to relate to other people, especially those who do not share that belief, is a terrible thing. It imposes a false meta-priority, in which it is possible to think that tending to what you think is someone else’s soul and eternal destiny becomes (infinitely) more important than caring about the person in front of you.
The closest I get to believing in an afterlife is believing that nothing is ever lost. Of course, that means that all the horrors of the world are also preserved. I don’t strictly believe in process theology (that we are God discovering itself), but the idea that the uncontainable and endless totality of everything that happens is divine, like the endlessly-giving Tao, like blind idiot Azathoth, like YHWH as the entirety of everything from the undefined Ein Sof to the grains of sand on the beach, makes sense to me.
I wish I could believe that it’s all going to be alright. It’s not, not for all of us. Pretending that it will sometimes strengthens individuals, but it necessarily makes them blind to the pointless and unnecessary suffering of others. I believe that it all matters, that it’s all meaningful, all worth paying attention to, though a lot of that meaning is tragic, wasteful, and stupid.
5. What do you think it means to believe in something?
To believe in something is to invest it with meaning. To find something meaningful is (to me), to believe in it. I think a lot of people believe in things without reflection or even awareness that that is what they are doing (brand loyalty is one such form of faith). I think that’s unfortunate: they are giving away or being conned out of their ability to shape meaning.
This definition of belief is pretty all-encompassing. I have immense respect for people whose beliefs are all grounded evidentially, but from my perspective, that is still belief, though not religion.
People who have the clarity and focus to be atheists, and those with the dedication to simultaneously criticize and hold deep faith in a religious tradition are different from I: they surely know things I don’t, and I am sure that we can benefit from each other’s existence.
6. Does this stuff matter to you? Do you think about it much?
It’s incredibly important to me, because belief, doubt, and disbelief, gods and visions are where I live. I am profoundly affected by these matters everyday. They are as immediate and real to me as the earth and sky.