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Losing My Religion--A Rock and Roll Epistle

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Losing My Religion (A Rock and Roll Epistle)

By Richard Girard

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"Every whisper, of every waking hour,
I'm choosing my confessions;
Trying to keep an eye on you,
like a hurt lost and blinded fool, fool;
Oh, Oh no I've said too much, I've set it up,
Consider this, consider this the hint of the century,
Consider this, the slip that brought me to my knees failed,
What if all these fantasies come flailing around,
Now I've said too much;
I thought that I heard you laughing,
I thought that I heard you sing,
I think I thought I saw you try."

Losing My Religion
R.E.M., 1991

What happens when you lose your faith, your deeply held belief in the goodness and rightness of some important aspect of your life, on which you have invested a great deal of your emotional capital?

It does not have to be about your religious beliefs. It can be about sports (the Black Sox scandal). It can be about the government (Watergate). It can be about some aspect of a religious institution (the Catholic Church's pedophilia scandal). It can even be about yourself (this often leads to depression). It is invariably about our making an emotional investment in a person or thing (including a false part of ourselves) that is not worthy of that investment. This is sometimes referred to as being a fan (short for fanatic) or idolizing that person or thing. The technical term is idolatry.

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I was told twenty-five years ago that I would discover that life is an endless cycle of faith, doubt, and reaffirmation of faith, and that if I have never doubted, then my faith was untested, and would certainly fail if it was ever truly tested.

I discovered that the old gentleman who told me that simple truth in the Boulder Unity bookstore--where I had gone looking for a book on meditation to help deal with my recent (if at the time incomplete) diagnosis of unipolar depression--had given me a profound insight into the world as it exists.

He also explained that with each cycle of faith-doubt-reaffirmation, I would change my perception of what it was I had faith in: sometimes a little, and sometimes profoundly. For this reason he suggested I should always engage in a period of self-examination afterwards, to reground myself in the world.

I think this is why most people prefer a simple, unexamined faith, without any doubts or questions, only strident, dogmatic declarations: I believe this, end of statement. The biggest problem with that frame of mind is it permits no real examination or testing of whatever the basis is for your faith, making it a castle built on sand, needing only a high tide to wash it away.

Now if your faith is in something that is' in the long term broadly speaking, insignificant (say the Black Sox of 1919, or Pete Rose), it makes little if any difference to the rest of the world. But if your faith is in something important, such as your government, then you--and everyone else--have problems. ( I am going to pass on matters of religious and spiritual belief for the moment.)

As I have stated before: all power is phantasm, even if its ramifications are very real. This is especially true of a government's power. A government's power is only as great as the bleliefs of those whom it governs. Eliminate that belief, and poof! there is no more government. If you don't believe me, take a look at what happened to the East German Government after the Berlin Wall fell.

Socrates pointed out twenty-five centuries ago that only the examined life is truly worth living. I would go further and say that the only with an attempt at the examined life are human beings actually living to their fullest potential. Yet the examined life is the most difficult undertaking a human being can attempt, simply because a continuous, honest, and thorough attempt to live such a life is very nearly impossible.

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Humankind's ability to deceive itself is enormous. As President Kennedy observed in his commencement address at Yale in 1962, "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie--deliberate, contrived and dishonest--but the myth--persistent, persuasive and unrealistic." This is especially true when we deal with the myth of ourselves in both the singular and the collective.

When we speak of our nation and patriotism, this ability at self-deception is surpassed only by our personal ability to deceive ourselves about ourselves as individuals.

The positivist, who declares, "My country, right or wrong: because it is never wrong;" is equaled only by the cynic who is certain that our country, and its government, can never do anything right. Both are as much declarations of faith as any proclamation ever made by a saint or martyr of the Church.

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Richard Girard is an increasingly radical representative of the disabled and disenfranchised members of America's downtrodden, who suffers from bipolar disorder (type II or type III, the professionals do not agree). He has put together a team to (more...)

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