(Here’s that other “V” PBP post I missed earlier.)
I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about our spiritual lives. We agree on a lot of things, but we feel at home with different pantheons. It makes for some good contrast and compare type of discussions. We hang out online with similar people, and have a lot of mutual friends. Occasionally the people we meet seem, well, a little unstable. Coming from us, that’s really saying something because we’re pretty out there to begin with. (Relax, I don’t mean you! 😉 )
So she was wondering, how do we know if our beliefs are valid? Objectively, we’re not really any better than anyone else on that front. There is no way to explain ourselves in polite company without it sounding completely delusional. Maybe we’re the crazy ones too.
Proof is something we don’t have and probably never will have. How can we make judgements about our own beliefs or those of others when our best guess is “We’ll see what happens when we die.” Right or wrong, I’m not even sure that death will settle the issue. I have a few pet theories, but the afterlife is still a huge question mark to me.
I explained to her that since simple fact or fiction discussions are essentially meaningless, we have to judge by other standards. We have to measure by indirect means.
(Note: I am offering this as an exercise in self-reflection, not as ammunition to use against others! Only you know what’s really going on in your own mind. Don’t make assumptions about what’s going on in someone else’s head! It’s not really any of your business anyway. And yes, that is slightly hypocritical considering how the discussion got started in the first place. I admit to being human, but there is a difference between being human and being a jerk. I try to stay away from that second one as much as possible.)
My first argument was about consistency. We’ve both been with our respective paths for a number of years. The story hasn’t changed. We’ve made new discoveries and gone into more depth in our studies, but we haven’t been flitting from one new thing to another. That measure says more about whether or not those beliefs are an appropriate fit for the individual than about any objective measure of validity. If the story is always changing, we will probably assume that the previous story wasn’t fitting as well as they first thought.
If you make the consistency check, then great! I’m glad you found something that works for you! If not, that doesn’t mean you’re hopeless. It just means that you probably haven’t found what you’re looking for yet. Life is a constant work in progress. Maybe try looking back at your various stages and try to tease out what brought you into each one. Are there any common threads? Maybe you need to customize something that will fit more securely than something you pick up off the shelf. Maybe you’re an explorer at heart.
The second measure is verification. Reconstructionists rely heavily on this one. When you study your path in historical sources, do the references, symbols, and metaphors make sense in the context of what you’re trying to do? Do you ever come across that one line in a book that smacks you between the eyes and makes you scream, “Yes! That!” I’m not much of a recon, but I have had that happen a number of times. My mind apparently is bendy enough to think in Kemetic terms. I thank eastern philosophy for some of that flexibility, but draw that down into a more pragmatic realm and there you go, Kemetic.
But what if your path is not well documented or perhaps original and new? Then you will have to draw inspiration from wherever you find it. Be observant of real life and how things work together. I’ve borrowed concepts from electronics and music theory to fill in a few gaps in my understanding. Gaps will always happen. Even the most researched subject will have obvious holes. Verification helps, but it isn’t everything.
The third measure is personal development. Is all of this really helping? I’ve had enough years at this that I can look back to various times when I was very spiritually involved, and other times when I tried to hide from all of it. I’m better off with it than without it. The times when I tried to be “serious” and “rational” were also times of depression and lack of direction. If I gave it all up, I would not be better off.
This is really the one that drives me the most crazy. Occasionally you’ll meet someone, and it appears that their beliefs are doing them and others around them harm. Some go the dogmatic route and drive people away by insisting that their truth is more important than someone else’s. I don’t care how “right” the belief may be. When it’s used as a weapon, it’s no longer right in my book. Sometimes people use their beliefs to punish themselves or make themselves smaller. Sometimes the belief seems to wrap them up in a web that makes it harder for them to move when it comes to daily life.
This last one is really subjective though. How does an outsider judge between a temporary withdrawal for the sake of rest and healing, and disconnecting from the world? How do you distinguish between harmful behavior and shadow work? Is it disdainful rejection, or a cleansing purge? Is it hope for a better future, or desperate delusion? For most outsiders, it’s really not our call unless it enters the realm of law enforcement, or unless you have to live with the person and the situation is no longer bearable. Otherwise, it’s not really anyone’s business.
Validity, your own, not someone else’s, is a tricky subject. It’s even more tricky because you have to be your own judge. Is it valid to you? Do you feel it in your heart, or are you still uncertain? Uncertainty is not a bad thing as long as you admit it and keep searching. What does your faith mean to you? What are your priorities and goals? Find out what those are before you judge yourself by the wrong standard. If it isn’t broken, don’t try to overhaul it. If it isn’t right, keep tweaking. Your definition of validity might be yours alone, based on your own ideals and priorities, but if you try your best to live up to it, that’s all anyone can reasonably ask.