Well, it’s been almost a month since my last update. It’s hard to believe that time has gone by that fast. I’ve been busy with stuff here and there, but I like the pace things are at right now – not too quick that it drains me, but just quick enough to keep time going by.
At any rate, I have a few scattered thoughts, none of which are all that significant, but hey, when is anything I say significant anyway? You people that read my blog should be well used to that by now.
Anyway, the first thing I want to say is that I think I’ve figured out my political views. I’ve spent the last couple months reading, essentially, about the history of socialism/communism. I found a list on Wikipedia of countries that have constitutional references to socialism, and have literally gone through that list and read up about the history of the country – what the conditions were that brought about the “revolution”, how it affected the country for better or worse, and what led to the demise of the socialist state (if it’s no longer one, which is the case for most of them). Now, I understand that reading about a country’s history on Wikipedia is not exactly a comprehensive review of socialism, but I figured it would give me a pretty nice overview that would give me a general feel for things. And I think it’s done so.
Essentially, most of the countries that have turned to socialism have a) been ravaged by war, natural disaster, or political corruption beforehand, and b) have followed the Soviet Union model of Stalinist Marxism pretty closely. It seems like a lot of the countries had immense pressure put on them from the USSR to follow their lead, including pushing for collectivized farming even if it may not have been the best solution for their individual country. That made it a little hard to disentangle things, because instead of reading about different flavours of socialism, I was reading about just one in particular, rehashed over and over again. So, it said little about whether socialism of any kind was a viable option. As well, along with this pressure from the USSR came a pressure to only deal with other socialist/communist countries. Instead of trading with other countries like the US or England, France, etc., they would trade with the USSR, China, and other Eastern Bloc countries. That severely limited their economic growth potential. Not to mention that the US would essentially shun all the countries that even hinted at turning to socialism, so it’s a little hard to get a handle on how much of a failure was due to socialism and how much was due to declining relationships with other countries.
Anyway, I say all that to essentially say that I don’t think socialism, at least in it’s Marxist-Leninist flavour, is a viable option. I think that centrally planned economies (where the state controls industry, essentially) have some inherent weaknesses that really tend to amplify product surpluses and shortfalls. The market has a way of self-correcting in a way that even the most efficient government bureaucracy cannot. So I think I remain firmly in favour of using the market. However, I do still like the idea of worker cooperatives – the idea that the workers themselves own the business they run (and not just in a stupid corporate stock option sort of way). It provides them with a closer connection to what they do, and gives them more control over the business that obviously has an effect on them. I also am tending to lean towards more liberal political policies, in a sort of “socialist” sense of “sharing the wealth”, so to speak. In one of my previous posts, I noted the inherent ability of the capitalist economy to reassert its unequal distribution of wealth. But as I thought about it a little more, I realized that, while handing money from the rich to the poor still ends up with the money back in the pockets of the rich, taking money and spending it on education, health care, etc. provides an investment that doesn’t revert back. I mean, the money likely still eventually ends up in the pockets of the rich, but in the process it has improved the lives of the lower class in a tangible, more permanent way.
So after this whole process, I’ve come up with the conclusion that I am in favour of “democratic free market syndicalist socialism”. I know that’s a very complicated position, but essentially it means that I support a mixed economy (like most developed nations have in some form or another) that utilizes worker cooperatives and gets away from the corporate ownership structure, and that attempts to redistribute opportunity equally and improve quality of life in tangible ways. That, of course, may change, but it’s where I’m at right now.
To switch gears entirely, I wanted to talk about my night tonight. (I also wanted to talk about existentialism, which I’m taking a course in right now, but I’ll save that for another time.) Tonight I went back to “The Bridge” for the first time in a couple years. The Bridge is an event put on by a Catholic campus organization that is similar to things like Campus for Christ or Navigators, but, well, Catholic. When I was in Ottawa two years ago for another one of my co-ops, I was invited by one of my friends to go to this, and seeing as it gave me some semblance of a social life in a city where I knew very few people, I went. This time around, things are obviously very different, because now I’m no longer even a Christian, but I decided I’d go see some of the friends that I hadn’t seen in two years, and just try it out and see if I was okay with going.
Overall, I’m really not sure what to say about the night, though. I guess I enjoyed myself, but things were a little awkward. The speaker had us break off into small groups to talk about some questions, and that made me a little uncomfortable. I realized that I was likely going to have to lie about my thoughts on the matter at hand. Even though I don’t enjoy lying, to be honest, it was an attempt not to derail the entire discussion onto a matter of “well, let me try to convince you that God exists.” So I tried my best to remember what I would have said if I were doing it back a couple years ago, and things went alright. But it put a little bit of a damper on things for me.
However, the speaker was talking about goals and about God’s plans for our lives. (Can anyone say cliche?) As she was speaking, I sort of had this little realization of how differently my thought processes have become. She gave everyone a sheet with some questions, and some of them were as follows: What are areas in your life that you are feeling heavy burdened? Do you believe God desires greatness for your life? What areas of your life do you believe you have failed God? These are just a sample, of course. But when I looked at these, I realized that, well, I don’t really have any sort of “heavy burden”. I still have things I face in life, of course, but heck, I’m doing pretty good. And the idea of failing God was always a big thing on my mind as a Christian – every time I did something wrong, I’d have to go to the creator of the universe and ask for forgiveness again. That was a terrible feeling.
I’ve realized this before, but it hit me again tonight: Christianity is at the same time a source of guilt and a source of relief from that same guilt. In many ways, it creates the problem that it solves. It’s like the vacuum cleaner salesman that throws dirt on your carpet just so he can show you that the vacuum cleans it all up. And I realized that I don’t have that guilt anymore. I mean, I still have guilt when I do things that are wrong. When I say something hurtful to someone, I feel terrible about it. And the best way to resolve it is to mend the relationship with that person. But religion adds in this whole new dimension – not only do you have to worry about offending others, now you also have to worry about offending the almighty ruler of the cosmos. And he sees everything – you can’t get one by the guy. He sees what you do when you’re all alone. And he knows what you’re thinking, too. To me, that’s honestly a frightening thought. And so religion tries to convince you that those things that you did – your little lie you told that person, your lack of sympathy when your enemy faced misfortune, the mischievous thought you had when someone made you angry – it tries to convince you that these are eternal, terrible offences against the ruler of the universe that must be punished by death. And then it goes on to tell you, “Are you tired of sinning and letting God down? Then you need…forgiveness!” like some cheesy infomercial trying to sell you a product. It’s creating a need in you that didn’t exist in the first place (not nearly to the same extent, anyway) – that’s a classic advertising tactic. It’s Marketing Gimmicks 101.
I don’t have that guilt. I don’t have to hold myself to the ridiculous standard of “be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect”. And that is a big relief. I’m not saying that anyone should reject religion to get away from guilt. Far from it. But I’m saying that reaching the conclusion that religion is false, that God doesn’t exist, ends up with this amazing after-effect. To be honest, that meeting was depressing. The speaker said something to the effect of, “You will continue to fail over and over again without God.” And I realized that yes, that’s true. You will also, however, continue to fail over and over again with God. I know that for a fact, because I’ve been in that camp as well. But you know what? I’m okay with failing now. I don’t have to constantly be on my knees begging for strength to succeed, because I realize that I am not intended to be perfect, and I don’t need to find that supernatural strength that is always promised but never quite given. I can just be…me. I can be human again. And it feels great. Because even though I know that I will fail time and time again, I can pick myself up and keep on truckin’. And, well, failure feels bad no matter what side of the fence you’re on. But success tastes much sweeter when you know that you did it on your own strength. You were the one that cleared that hurdle. You had the strength within you all along, and you don’t need, and never needed, some supernatural power to just get you to the level of a decent human being. And that feels goooood.
There are plenty of Christians who say that atheism is depressing. And that’s fine. But I don’t find it depressing at all. I find Christian beliefs depressing – the idea that we can’t seem to even cross the street successfully without Daddy watching out for us. And I suppose it’s a matter of perspective. I can also see the joyful parts of Christianity, where you surrender yourself to a larger purpose and story. For some people, I guess they need that, and I won’t deny that to them. But I really just find the water much better over here. Here I’m free to make my own story, and invent my own destiny that is exactly what I want it to be. Here I don’t have to constantly be guarding myself against letting my Father down over and over again, always afraid that I’ll do the wrong thing (or miss an opportunity to do the right thing). I don’t have to feel shame when I don’t go over to the person over there and share the gospel. In fact, I don’t have to feel shame when I don’t go talk to random strangers at all. But if I do so, it’s on my terms, and because it’s what I chose to do – not because I feel some vague feeling “leading me” to go talk to someone. So it’s all a matter of perspective. But regardless, my perspective is that hearing people tell me about how much of a failure I am is not how I like to spend my time. I am a success – not at all times in all areas, of course, but hey, I just figured out my political leanings. That’s pretty awesome. And I did it by myself, with my own power. I don’t need Daddy to help me across the street anymore.
In fact, it feels a lot like growing up.