C. Luke Mula is the author of The Way to Actuality blog, which was “founded to foster the discussion and discovery of Purpose wherever it can be found, regardless of religious or secular context”. In this essay, Luke shares his experience of a liberating loss of belief and discusses the role that spiritual practice continues to play in his life.
“When thinking leads to the unthinkable, it’s time to return to the simple life. What thinking cannot solve, life does.”
– C.G. Jung, The Red Book
Growing up, I believed a lot of things.
As a faithful member of the Assemblies of God, I believed with varying levels of intensity all of the 16 Fundamental Truths espoused by my denomination. The Resurrection. Speaking in tongues. Second coming of Christ. You name it, I pretty much believed it. And even where I disagreed with the General Council, it was a disagreement based solely on my beliefs and disbeliefs.
My beliefs eventually brought me to a point where, in the middle of a ministerial internship, I had a crisis of religion. I had begun to study the history of Christianity as secular historians saw it, and this more than anything else changed what I thought I knew about God. And it was fucking terrifying. Here I was, being trained to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, and I was seriously questioning whether or not God even existed. Even worse, I was afraid that my doubting would be found out, and that I would be kicked out of the internship completely. At one point things got so bad that all I could do was cry out in frustration, “Who the fuck are you!?” to God during a time of prayer.
So eventually I let go of my belief in God, but I knew that there were some real things about my experiences of God, and I didn’t want to let go of those experiences. I realized that the mass majority of those experiences gathered around a concept which I called “Purpose,” and that it was by interacting with this greater process in which I was a part that my life seemed to take on meaning. Then, even though I no longer believed in God, I believed very strongly in Purpose, and I could explain my reasons why I believed in it. Purpose was the one thing I held onto in life, and it gave me direction.
One day, however, I sensed strongly that I needed to stop believing even in Purpose. And that scared the shit out of me.
Up until then, I’d stopped believing in a lot of things, but I always felt that I had to believe in Purpose. I mean, if I didn’t, my life was sure to spiral out of control. After all, if I didn’t have that direction, what did I have? The end of this process only seemed like hopelessness to me, and I hated every bit of it. When I sensed that I needed to stop believing in Purpose, tears of fear began to pour out of my eyes. Purpose was the one thing I had left to hold onto, and I was terrified of losing it.
And then a funny thing happened. I did let go. And you know what? It was liberating.
I’ve written in the past that belief is a tool, but oh how far I was from really acting on that idea. Now I can truly say that I don’t believe in anything, and only now can I truly say that I’m free.
Let me make clear what I am not claiming when I say that I don’t believe in anything: I do not mean that I disbelieve everything, nor do I mean that I believe in nothing. When I say that I don’t believe in anything, it simply means that I’m not attached to nor repulsed by any idea. It simply means that I can pick up and let go of any idea, any belief, at will, that I don’t have to believe anything. It means that I’m not even attached to the basic beliefs posed by Hume’s problem of induction: I am equally okay with the world being a creation only of my own mind as I am with it being a reality whose ground is completely external to me. Belief, now more than ever to me, really is a tool.
So in looking back at my past experiences of God and Purpose, I see some things more clearly. My initial, emotional reactions when I’ve let go of God and Purpose have been to drop all practices associated with them. Recently, for about a week, I stopped practicing the devotionals I had discussed with John after his “Spiritual Discipline” post. After all, at the time I started those devotionals, I was doing them to slow down my life and connect with Purpose. Now that I didn’t even believe in Purpose, what good were they?
As soon as I stopped the devotionals, however, I realized something about them: when I practiced them, my life was infinitely better. Without these decidedly mystical practices of meditation, contemplation, and prayer in my life, my life felt extremely hectic, and I was at a loss for making any level of decision with confidence. My base level of well being was so much lower than when these practices were in place, which was noticeable in less than a week after stopping them.
And that’s the thing about all of my experiences of God and Purpose: my beliefs, ideas, and theories about the experiences rarely helped me pursue the experiences to the fullest. In fact, they mostly served to hamper and distort my experiences. It has only been in dropping all beliefs that I have seen how truly valuable my pursuit of God and my relationship with Purpose have been in my life. It is only now that I am truly able to pursue the experiences for their own sake, to truly be honest about what is best for me, not based on any belief or theory, but because only now can I truly come to know myself.
I have been led to the unthinkable, and I have returned to the simple life. What thinking could not solve, life has.