Originally written in 2007 under the title “A Short History of God,” this series of essays lay out the foundation of my personal beliefs about religion and spirituality. Much of what I say here will be familiar to readers of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. In truth, I do not claim these ideas to be my own. But I hope that I have given them a fresh and humorous touch. I have lightly edited the original and added two new chapters, but I have left in a few of the profanities.
For a long time, I have thought about writing down my thoughts about religion and God and all of that heavy stuff. But before I get there, I want to say a little bit about the spiritual journey I traveled to get to this point, because I think it gives my ideas some context and, perhaps, some credence.
I would have been about eight or nine when my brother and I were coerced by my mother into attending a Sunday School run by a church that had begun to meet in the auditorium of a local high school in my hometown of Leicester, England. It was an American fundamentalist church, which had inexplicably set up shop in our little middle-class English suburb. No one, not least my mother, ever thought to question who they were, why they were there or what they believed in. Mum, God bless her in her innocence, simply thought this would be (a) a great way to give me and my brother a religious education and (b) a great way to get some peace and quiet for a few hours on a Sunday.
She scored on both counts. Later, when I went to college, I was the only one in my class who understood Milton and Blake because, after many years in this church, I had received a biblical education that was first class.
But it was also my introduction to religion-induced fear and guilt. Oh, these guys were good. My little teenage mind bit into it hook, line and sinker. I was brainwashed, saved, took Jesus as my personal savior and all that crap, because I was scared shitless that the devil was after me. When I left the church, I had nightmares of Satan flying outside my window and chasing me down the street. They were powerful images that had been forced into my subconscious through intimidation and fear.
They lasted for years.
I left when I was 16 because I was human. More exactly, I was an adolescent boy who had discovered sex and rock and roll (though, thankfully, not drugs. Well, not the bad ones anyway). When they explained to me that I couldn’t play guitar in their services, because that was for my glory and not God’s, and when they told me that dancing and rock music were abominations, I split. At the tender age of 16, I understood the hypocrisy inherent in fundamentalism in all of its manifestations. This stuff isn’t evil. In fact, it’s about as normal as a big old teenage hard on. You can say it shouldn’t exist, you can say that people should exercise self-control, but that spontaneous telltale bulge in your pants begs to differ.
For years, I didn’t enter a church of any denomination unless it was for hatches, matches or dispatches. But deep down, I knew that my spiritual journey had not ended. Fortunately, one night watching PBS, I happened to catch Bill Moyers interviewing Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth. Finally, here was someone who understood what this was all about, why we as human beings needed religion and ritual and God and Satan and heaven and hell and good and evil. I immediately went out and bought Hero of a Thousand Faces and The Masks of God. My life changed, and I began to understand how to really understand religion.
And that’s what I want to write about next.