Self Will vs God’s Will

At my 12 Steps meeting last night, we each shared our thoughts about Step 3.

Step 3 of the 12 Steps states:

We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

It was really interesting to hear other people’s interpretations of what this step means.

For a lot of people, the use of the word “God” is problematic. I agree – for me it’s a significant intellectual hurdle.

As I progress on my 12 Steps journey, I’m constantly trying to walk a fine line of incorporating 12 Steps ideas into my set of beliefs, but without selling out or fooling myself into accepting ideas which, in my heart, I know I can’t accept.

Here are a couple of interpretations of Step 3 which I liked (I’m paraphrasing):

  1. It’s about learning to do the right thing, as opposed to indulging our impulses.
  2. It’s about learning to think of others, being self-less, rather than always thinking about ourselves and our own interests.

Both of those interpretations remind me of Dr. Jordan Peterson’s Rule 7:

Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

In other words, do the right thing, rather than merely what’s fun, easy, interesting, or in your own self-interest.

That reminds me, I wrote a post about “doing the right thing” a few weeks ago.

12 Steps Without God

In previous blog posts, I’ve explored different ideas about what God might be (according to my own personal understanding).

Most recently I settled on a definition of God that’s something like this:

“God is something like the combination of 2 things:
1) The divine spark which resides in each of us – our potential for greatness;
2) The power of the community of people at 12 Steps meetings.

Bollinger, R. (2019)

… Buuuuut… I have to admit, in the last week I’ve really been losing faith.

I’m now finding it hard to believe in any kind of God at all, even one as loosely and generously defined as above.

It’s not God that got me where I am today, it’s me.

Does that make me arrogant? Does that make me full of self-will? These questions genuinely trouble me.

Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t think I’ve got everything figured out. Not by a long shot. Every single day I learn something new in my 12 Steps journey.

I’m trying hard to always be open-minded and humble. I want to always be ready to admit I may have been wrong about something. I want to learn from everyone I talk to.

But that doesn’t mean I have to believe in any form of God, does it? He just seems superfluous.

I believe in me… my ability to learn and change and grow.

I really hope that doesn’t make me arrogant. Personally, I find it empowering.

It reminds me that I’m not a useless, broken, unworthy soul. It reminds me that I am capable of greatness… if I put in the hard work.


The Unexpectedly Comforting Thing My Psychiatrist Told Me

I saw a psychiatrist for the first time in my life last week. I have depression and problems with substance abuse.

She was lovely. She listened attentively to my experiences and genuinely seemed to want the best for me. Her insight was razor-sharp, but she delivered her advice with kindness and compassion. That combination is rare and takes real skill!

[Caveat: She wasn’t perfect… some of her advice seemed… a little misjudged.]

Embarrassing

In mid-August 2019, I experienced a Spiritual Awakening… AKA drug-induced psychosis, depending on your preferred way of looking at the world.

Last week, I explained to the psychiatrist with some embarrassment that I often felt as though God was with me. I didn’t mean purely metaphorically either… In the last couple of months I’ve often experienced physical sensations which I interpreted as God being alive and present.

I felt a kind of echo in my breathing, which I interpreted as me being filled with the Holy Spirit, or the Breath of God. And I felt a wonderful sense of joy in my chest, which I interpreted as God’s love inhabiting my heart.

I still get those sensations at times now, over 2 months later. They’re pleasant and calming. They give me a sense of peace.

More rational and scientific thinkers may dismiss those sensations as merely symptoms of psychosis caused by drug abuse. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t feel real to me, or diminish the spiritual significance I derived from them.

Maybe it’s all just the placebo effect. But again, don’t dismiss placebo effects as meaningless or worthless. They can be extremely powerful.

Missing

Anyway, I explained to the psychiatrist that I felt these sensations far less often now, compared to during the peak of the psychosis. I admitted that I missed those feelings because they let me know that God was with me.

But God is always with us, isn’t He, whether we feel Him or not.” she gently explained, her voice full of kindness and wisdom.

I was stunned… I had not expected that!

I thought that as a highly qualified medical professional, she would probably be atheist or agnostic. What a dangerous assumption for me to make!

Peace

What a wonderful thought… God is always with us. How reassuring!

Even if you’re not religious, I hope you can see that such a belief can provide great comfort to people…

… And not just in an infantile “comfort blanket” kind of way…

Believing in God and feeling His love can be the difference between life and death to some people. It can be the deciding factor which makes someone decide not to commit suicide.

What a tremendous difference a belief in God can make to the way we feel! How much lighter our burden becomes!

Even if you’re staunchly atheistic, I believe it’s worth believing in God just for the benefits such a belief provides.

Perhaps God is the ultimate placebo… but as studies have shown, placebos can be effective even when the patient knows they’re taking a placebo!

I’m certainly going to continue believing God is with me, whether I can feel Him physically or not.


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Do I Believe in God?

Interesting question.

My good friend Life Coach Tim Brownson told me he was surprised that I seem to have gone from being atheist, to agnostic, to Christian, all within the space of a few weeks.

I can understand why Tim thinks that, especially as he won’t have had time to read every single blog post I’ve made over the last few weeks, averaging several per day.

But the weird thing is, he’s only partly right.


Jordan Peterson has famously been quite evasive when he’s been asked about his religious beliefs.

“Well, that depends on what you mean by ‘believe’ and what you mean by ‘God’…”

– Jordan Peterson (I’m paraphrasing)

The more cynical amongst you might see that as him just dodging the question. But I really don’t think he is. If there’s one thing Jordan Peterson is, it’s honest.

“… But I act as though He exists.”

– Also Jordan Peterson

This might seem like a strange distinction for Jordan to make. But actually, I think I understand where he’s coming from.


Previously, I’ve blogged here, here and here about what I now believe. If you’ve been following my blog closely, then you’ll already have a good idea of my religious views.

But for everyone else, here’s the deal…

The Big Reveal

As I alluded to here, I have a highly flexible belief system which incorporates ideas from Atheism (Science), Spirituality, and Christianity. I amend my beliefs according to the context. My aim is to choose whatever belief seems to have the most utility (benefit) at any given moment.

Bollinger, R. (2019)

This way of thinking might seem utterly preposterous to most people. How can I believe one thing, then 10 seconds later believe the opposite?! Many of my beliefs appear to be paradoxical or mutually exclusive.


As I discussed here, I don’t believe human beings evolved primarily to perceive the world accurately. Sometimes we do, sometimes we really don’t.

Rather, we evolved to perceive the world in ways which are beneficial for our survival. Sometimes that aligns with objective reality, other times it doesn’t.

In other words, sometimes us humans delude ourselves because it’s beneficial for our survival.

That may sound like heresy, but I really do think it’s true. If you’re a truth-seeking philosopher, this concept can be a difficult one to grapple with. However, I’m now fully comfortable with it.

I also aim to be humble and open-minded. If new evidence comes along which disproves my current beliefs, either wholly or in part, then I will reject my former beliefs and go where the evidence leads. This is the essence of the scientific method and being a good scientist.

What do you think? Does all the above make sense?

Is there anyone else out there who has reached similar conclusions to me?!

Will I get kicked out of the churches of Atheism, Spirituality or Christianity for holding such paradoxical and heretical beliefs?

Time will tell.


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Science vs Religion vs Spirituality

Do you consider yourself to be a scientific thinker?

Or are the foundations of your beliefs rooted in one of the larger religions such as Christianity or Judaism?

… Or, do you consider yourself to be a Spiritual person?


Is it possible to be all three?


One of the curious aspects of Christianity is the sheer plethora of different churches, all with slightly different beliefs. Each one believes it is the One and Only True Faith, and all others are heretics, who often must be put to death.

Why is it so common for people of Faith A to totally reject other churches & faiths, even if 90%+ of their beliefs are the same?

Why do humans so often focus on what’s different, rather than what we have in common?

My gut feeling is that this has something to do with tribalism. Humans innately separate other people into us vs them.

We only have to look at the supporters of rival sports teams to see how powerful tribalism can be in our culture.

But it seems to me that tribalism often causes more harm than good.

They are not like us. Heathens! We must separate ourselves from them. And if they (appear to) threaten us, we will destroy them utterly.


But… what if, instead of:

Science Vs Religion Vs Spirituality

We chose to look at:

Science ∩  Religion ∩  Spirituality

(The ∩  symbol means “intersection”. It’s a concept from set theory.)

Intersection (set theory). The red portion is the intersection between the 3 smaller circles.

If we were to look for and analyse commonalities between Science, Religion and Spirituality, what common themes or principles would we find?

Assuming we find some of these common themes… does the fact they appear in all 3 belief systems indicate something about how true the idea may be, at a fundamental level?

Could there be a root-level belief system that’s even deeper than science, religion or spirituality; which contains elements from all three? Are there deeper truths? If so, what are they?

I find this question fascinating, so I’m going to explore it in detail in future blog posts. Watch this space.

I’m sure I can’t be the first person in history to ponder this question. I’ll have to do some research to check out the findings of other thinkers.