0022 – Reckoning With The Fundamentalist Within Me

Me with my bible, circa 2007

They hated me and I understand why. I arrived in Australia with a burning hatred for religion, as much as a thirteen year old could burn. I felt a deep sense of injustice in Malaysia at the intermixing of religion and politics – it’s always intermixed I realized later on in life. I felt that religion was the root of all of Malaysia’s problems and I was personally offended when they banned Richard Dawkin’s ‘The God Delusion’ from the bookstores in Malaysia. I looked at freedom of speech in politics as the same as in all domains, I think this should still hold true to a large degree.

They hated me in Australia and I understand why. I came with the heaviest of sledgehammers and took it to slam it on anyone I could see in my radius without consideration for their background or feelings. I was so ultimately convinced that I was right and anyone else was just unenlightened. I remember savouring the feeling of holding my copy of ‘The God Delusion’ and proudly parading it around our dorm. It was not enough that I was right, they had to be wrong. There were obvious and unassailable reasons why I was right and so anyone who disagreed just hadn’t seen the light. I brandished that thing like a bible. I remembered setting it up on my nightstand facing up, like a middle finger. It was no surprise that later that afternoon it was gone. I found it somewhere else in the dorm but looking back, they had every right to burn it. 

I failed to empathise that the benign form of christianity practiced by my friends was helpful in many ways. It formed structure upon which community could be built. It was a framework to express the best of humanity with not much of the worst included. I found it a bit stupid that we had to use a scaffold and I dragged my voice through the songs at chapel. I was so antagonistic that instead of taking the time to read the bible and learning anything I could from it, I saw it as a dirty rag passed through time and something that was forced upon me. Technically it was because I needed to maintain my grades and one of the classes was religion.

In typical ‘Tim fashion’, I looked through the workbook and wrote for every answer that ‘Jesus loves us’. Everything could be answered by that I reckoned. The priest took me to the side one day and asked me to explain myself. I calmly asked him if ‘Jesus loved us’ again and again like a possessed child from a B-movie. He let me pass.

I see this pattern repeating again and again in my adult life. I hate to admit but I’m a stubborn asshole sometimes. I come up with certain ideas, most likely from a valid place but I spin into this web around myself that prevents me from empathizing with anyone whose had a different experience. It is not enough for me to be right, they have to be wrong. It is not enough for my experiences to be valid, theirs have to be invalid. 

People have been kind with me and for some reason I still have friends. I hate to think that when I go off on a tirade about something that people don’t roll their eyes. I don’t really know how I got to this point. More accurately, I don’t know why I can’t get away from this way of being. I tend to build up a philosophy about the world and an idea of ‘goodness’ that cannot be questioned and is shaky in it’s existence. 

The thing is, no one seems to disagree with me. Yes, religion should be split from politics and many other conclusions that we can all come to collectively. The thing is, I disagree with them on how they get to the same conclusions. They have to agree with me (I think to myself). 

At a certain distance, I don’t really care. There are a lot of people who believe different things – or they don’t even believe different things, they just had different ways to get the same belief. I’m open minded and calm about these differences but I’m starting to notice when people get closer and closer, I start to wild out like a monkey in a lab chair. I need someone to be exactly like me, I think. It’s a safety thing maybe. The foreign is scary but it’s the exact reason why we move forward, we move into the foreign. 

I appreciate my friends for both their ability to listen to me go round and round the same problems but I also appreciate them for setting up boundaries and blockers that encourage my growth. I need challenges. I don’t want to be enabled. I need that pushback to say: “Hey Tim, now you have to step it up”. I wish I wasn’t like this but it’s all a journey, isn’t it?

I think about Australia a lot and I kind of regret being such a little shit. I should have been able to shut my mouth and let people sing whatever they wanted in what was, admittedly, quite a beautiful chapel. Maybe if I knew better, I would try to explain my anger and the origin of my viewpoint about religion, how it affected my country and the frustration of seeing it play out in a central way to a life I didn’t sign up for. Maybe they would have understood and I would be able to feel understood. 

It’s funny when someone sends you an old photo that triggers memories that trigger reflections of the present. I see that kid in the photograph, looking disdainfully down and I want to say “it’s ok”, there’s no reason to be scared, no one is against you, but they will be if you start off as the enemy. Look at the other person. Look into their eyes and know that you don’t know them and the way they treat you comes from the bottom of their hearts, why forsake it?

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