by Rev Shelley Griffiths
AKA Pastor Shells
23rd April 2023
As a child I briefly believed I would become a nun when I grew up. Until boys became more interesting, that is. I read my Bible from front to back and asked a lot of questions. A lot. My questions weren't particularly welcome. They were especially unwelcome at the Alpha course run by the local evangelists when I was in my thirties. They were not welcome at Bible class when I questioned the teacher on her words as they did not match her actions. Questions around interpretation of truth are rarely welcomed by those preaching in absolutes.
My personal beliefs on spirituality are just that; personal. I do not feel the need to have you believe the same thing as me, and nor should you expect me to believe the same things as you do. What I believed when I was a child is not the same as what I believe now. Or even the same as what I believed yesterday. In the quest for truth, our beliefs should be constantly evolving and the only constant we should be claiming is that we must change.
I find that irrespective of one’s personal belief or non-belief in anything that is beyond ourselves that many of the depictions in the bible serve as useful allegories, so we should not cast away the wisdom held within because we do not share that particular faith.
Just as we look for the moral of the story in Aesop’s fables, so too must we be prepared to find the truth in whatever form it is presented to us. One is unlikely to say that the moral of the story in the ‘Hare and Tortoise’ is irrelevant because everyone knows that neither hares or tortoises can speak, yet we can dismiss entire religions and any wisdom that they may have to offer because we don't believe in their deity/ies. With fables and folklore we are more willing to suspend disbelief to learn the important lesson held within, and so too must we extend that willingness to the lessons within all religions, fables, stories, books, films, comics and even articles like this.
I am well read in matters of theology, have been an active member of many churches that offered fellowship and have a special interest in psychology where I qualified as a psychotherapeutic counsellor some years ago. I understand the need to believe more than anyone, but I now also understand the psychology behind latching onto a belief and allowing it to define you.
The problem with allowing a belief to define you is that when someone challenges that belief, all too often your ego will not allow anything to undermine a core being that is dependent on those beliefs.
For those that are clinging onto their belief system as a method of survival, they have to dismiss contradictory opinions because it triggers a debilitating cognitive dissonance that makes the truth too uncomfortable to face. Certainty, even if it’s an illusion, is preferred.
What is often overlooked when dismissing the opportunities held within experiencing the void of uncertainty is the chance to look at one’s choices and behaviours and experience regret, guilt or shame. It’s these darker emotions and the readiness to face them, own them and leave them behind that propels us to change. It’s way overdue we identify toxic behaviours and poor choices so we can do better, be better, yet as a species we seem to be in deep denial of the disaster we are hurtling towards.
It’s time to look at the dark side of our choices. This is the shadow work that most people shy away from while they chase ‘good vibes only’. It’s understandable to want to transcend this earth for another that feels nicer than the dystopian nightmare we find our modern society has become, but it’s not sustainable. Discovering the peace that comes with meditating doesn’t mean you have arrived and there is no more work to do. On the contrary.
Facing the darkness, whether it is the pain of regret or the shame of recognising when you were unkind are important steps to enlightenment. None of this ‘brush it under the carpet’ - go sit in the woods until the debt collectors give up - bygones - refusal to be held accountable stuff will help you evolve. Sometimes you have to face it and feel it to heal it; anything else is just false positivity.
Those that refuse to feel pain will not be alerted to what is hurting them.
Those that are open to allow words to convey their true meaning on a soul level are very different to those who blindly believe something without question or enquiry. It doesn’t take long to identify which type someone is, as the moment you question what someone believes, they will reveal themselves.
One of the things I have discovered over and over again is that those that claim to be enlightened, visionary, or have that ‘follow me’ vibe going on is that they are generally ego-led and not prepared to have their narrative challenged. Like a radio tuned in to only one channel they are unable to receive any other frequency but the one they have attached themselves to.
I have noticed that in many of these religious and non-religious groups that are led by charismatic teachers that their followers tend to reward each other for all believing the same thing. Like sheep following a shepherd, there’s a general ethos that blindly following a version of the truth that resonates with them is the path to enlightenment and to not question it. To question it is to be seen to doubt; vibrating lower. Or even being labeled a troll.
Many of these leaders say they welcome scrutiny and may even preach that you should question everything, but having offered my observations to a fair few of these people in positions of influence, I discover that what they really mean is that you should question everything other than them. Should you dare to ever question their motives or scratch the surface to see what form of trauma is driving these sycophantic groomers you will be stonewalled faster than a disgruntled teenager slamming their bedroom door when asked to talk about their feelings.
Try asking a charismatic speaker preaching about happiness to tell you their darkest thoughts and share something very real about their own suffering and they will shrug you off as if you are a heckler to be ignored or ceremoniously escorted from the building; both are avoidance tactics. Some are clever enough to have a ready answer to any form of criticism so they can shut the challenger down and make them look unstable or even insane for asking. My questions have been the preceding motivation for many a ‘drop the mic and flounce off’ scenarios where honest open questioning is greeted with hostility and derision from individuals that weren’t up for discussing what is really driving them.
There is no room for someone to be both an optimist and a nihilist in this toxic-positive era of the self. But we do exist and recognising and valuing authenticity over glib charm ironically makes us far more joyful on a much deeper level than our crystal loving good vibe hedonistic counterparts could ever pretend to be. We experience joy. We just don’t need to constantly instagram/tweet about it. This is not to say that sharing happy times isn’t a good thing to do; it’s great. It’s my preference to balance it out with reporting the not so great moments too so you can keep it real. Dare to be real. Otherwise you are just a glossy magazine with photoshopped pouts. Depth is what is required now. Shameless transparency without applying filters.
A narrative that suits where you are now and prevents change is a form of slavery but sadly many are happy to stick with the cards they are dealt and enjoy the fruits of what comes with not challenging the system. Whether that’s having the latest iPhone or fashions and binge drinking their wages away at the weekend or doing as little as possible on benefits with no motivation to change either themselves or their situation, the rewards are strangely addictive. But of course they are also shallow and ultimately unfulfilling, however with lives so filled with distraction, the majority may never come to question it. They’re too busy dieting to fit into an outfit for a holiday they have spent six months paying for whilst wondering if they will get a new tattoo.
Illusions based on family ties and tradition bind people into tribes that then unite in their hatred of other tribes. The ruling elite only need stoke these fires once in a while, and the task grows ever easier with AI algorithms designed to keep us apart and hating each other. I see the widening the chasm of our disconnect. My attempts to alert people to what is happening by speaking the truth, often pushes them further away. A hint of outrage here, an offended carnist there and a few red-top paper headlines to keep the majority at war with each other so we are too busy fighting to rise up and throw out the sociopaths in charge.
Groups of people on Facebook and other social media platforms have formed tribes where questioning the narrative that connects them is not seen as a chance to practice advocacy and explain why they might believe something thus opening up discussions that need to be had when spreading the truth, but rather as an attack.
People who base their core being on a rigid internal belief system will not welcome any form of critical reasoning or questioning if it contradicts their understanding. And they certainly do not take kindly to being told there is peer reviewed scientific evidence that proves their belief is false. To them, you might as well be saying they themselves are false and that their entire life is a lie. Which of course you are, but let’s face it, not everyone is ready for enlightenment on a Tuesday lunchtime in the work canteen. Rita really doesn’t want to know she is probably eating pigs lips and testicles in the luncheon meat sandwich that is not only carcinogenic but by buying it she is supporting an industry that is massively contributing to the destruction of our planet. Ignorance is bliss after all. Keep it real is a tagline people don't really want at all it seems.
When you come from a place of realness, questions are not threatening.
Often, when presented with the truth; especially when it proves that a belief is entirely untrue, believers will still choose to believe in what or who they are following and refuse to see any contradictory evidence. The cognitive dissonance that prevails amongst carnists, evangelists, extremists (of any kind) and including some who think they are visionaries, prophets and gurus who have found nirvana is so strong that they do not want anyone with any contradictory thoughts or negative vibes to ruin their peace and shatter their illusion. The positive vibe crew are amongst the most insidious of the emotional survivalists because they are so, well, shiny. It’s hard to see their vibrant positivity as toxic when it sounds so inviting and what they are offering so wanted. Needed. Yearned for.
We all yearn for connection, even the most introverted and uncharming of us need someone or something that makes us feel valued and part of something (by the way for those that think they need nothing or no-one, please know that this is a trauma response and by stopping where you are and not reaching out and not trying to find out why you might think this way, you are missing out on finding your purpose in life).
We are all connected in some way, even if what connects us is a bizarre codependent reward system of narcissist validation where everyone bigs each other up and never reflects on their faults. Trying to make these connections healthier requires looking at what is not working, only the problem is that so many of these good vibration people only want to focus on the positive. Doing this constantly will gradually remove their empathy for those that are suffering to the point where they can no longer relate and no longer help. It’s all very well achieving over 850 on the consciousness chart but if you are neglecting your obligations to be a decent human-being to achieve ‘bliss’, you are no better than a hedonistic narcissist wearing a peace and love tee-shirt.
Regardless of whether you believe in anything beyond our known realm, I find many of the depictions in the bible to be excellent allegories for everyone including non-believers with very useful imagery that is not far removed from comic book fantasy, yet still offer wildly accurate ways to make anything that isn’t the truth stand out like an alarm bell.
I will try to use language that conveys the truth as best as I can given my own human bias but if I described a character to you of someone who radiated light and told you that you too can shine like him and all you have to do ignore God and follow him, do his bidding and exalt him as a visionary, you might think I was describing Lucifer. Satan. The fallen angel. Right? Yet so many people are idolising narcissists who are shiny happy people offering enlightenment, happiness, 7 figure salaries, transcendence and a neat, handy way to avoid the actual truth which often includes their deeply narcissistic need for your adoration. Quite often what they preach is a good message, so a small tweak away from the truth is barely perceptible. It’s often very plausible.
Those good-vibe-only gurus that tell you to worship the light seem to have forgotten that the light is what you shine on the truth to highlight it and is not the truth itself. To shine a light into the darkness is what highlights the ugly aspects of our humanness so that we can deal with it. By worshipping the light there is a danger that you stop seeking truth because you only want the beautiful not the ugly. Good vibrations with no shame or guilt sounds great until you unpick it. If you were to forget your kid’s sport’s day, guilt becomes a useful tool that reminds you never to forget it again. I experienced deep shame when I realised how many animals died for my tastebuds - thousands of lives unnecessarily taken over the years I ate meat and dairy; it’s this shadow that keeps me from ever straying from making every meal an act of kindness. It could be said that the deeper the shame, the more effective and lasting the change will be. Of course, by saying this I am not in anyway advocating an extreme form of self flagellation to redeem your sins, just a willingness to be held accountable and make better choices please!
If you think you have ‘arrived’, you are no better than a spiritual version of a vegetarian who has given up meat but is refusing to see the barbaric truth of the dairy or egg industry. Truth is, if you think you have ‘arrived’ with your first glimpse of enlightenment then there’s a good chance you are living out trauma based survival tactics to avoid facing your own glib disingenuousness, because real enlightenment is to see the full picture in all its chaos. It’s not fluffy.
If anything I have said here has made you angry, don’t compartmentalise it and shrug me off with a ‘we all have our own beliefs’ or “I respect your opinion so you should respect mine’ flippancy. Own that rage because it’s trying to tell you something. If your soul gets a proper peak in the mirror I am holding up, don’t turn away from the ugly. It might well be what got you here but hear me when I say maybe it is no longer serving you well.
Question it. See it. Own it. Understand it. Learn from it.
Rev Shelley Griffiths
AKA Pastor Shells
Encouraging non-religious fellowship and critical thinking to connect us.