I am the black sheep in my family. Surprisingly.
My dad has 13 siblings, my mom has 7. A quite massive family. My grandparents aren’t related to bunnies, but they sure do fuck like them. From the entirety of the family, not many diverge from the norm, well minus me that is. The majority live in Lebanon, a few in Brazil and Africa, but even they grew up in Lebanon for most of their lives. Maybe that’s why.
They live in a tight echo chamber of Shia Muslims who all share the same values. Lebanon is also a collectivistic society which results in a tight following of social norms. Their society is one of conformity making it less likely anyone would deviate too far from cultural norms, unlike our western individualistic society, where the mentality is “you do you as long as it doesn’t effect me”. Given their lack of exposure to other cultures, it’s easy to see how it’s harder for anyone to deviate from the norm. If they all lived here in Toronto, it seems likely that there’d be a lot more variation.
What really piqued my curiosity though is why I’m an outlier within my family. I have 2 younger brothers, 21 and 19, yet both of them are still religious and fairly normal within the context of my family. Although, they’d be a little different relative to our extended family since they grew up in Toronto.
My best guess is reading. I began reading around 17-18 and it slowly became an inextricable part of my life. Books have shown me a variety of perspectives, which taught me to think critically and look beneath the surface. It definitely didn’t help that I naturally question everything until I make sense of it. This led down an existential rabbit hole, which I still haven’t gotten out of and probably never will. I mean who can ever truly answer what life is about with any degree of certainty.
Reading began me on a journey towards truth. Which meant deconstructing the beliefs that surrounded me both cultural and societal. As I learned more I began to see patterns throughout history. Humans have been dealing with the same problems since humans started to contemplate life. Wise humans converged on similar ideas, which are at the core of many philosophies and religions around the world.
Some commonalities are love, self restriction(no drugs, no masturbation, etc.), god(s), devil(s), the soul, virtue, prayer, heaven, hell, and karma (actions have consequences). Buddhists and Hindus don’t view heaven, hell, and the afterlife in the same way the Abrahamic religions do, but the concepts of reincarnation, dukkha(suffering), and enlightenment fulfill the same anthropocentric functions. There is another life after death, we can achieve peace or we can continue to suffer. Heaven promises enlightenment, whereas hell eternal suffering. In Buddhism and Hinduism, hell and heaven are potential states of the present moment.
Why are these the ever-present similarities? It’s simply due to our biological wiring. One emergent property of evolution is consciousness. Consciousness is what some humans call the soul. The part unadulterated, beyond the material world, pure in and of itself.
The soul/consciousness can be experienced through certain practices like meditation or substances. Through them it’s possible to achieve a state greater than yourself, our true nature as the concept of the soul supposes, everything dissolving about what you thought was ‘you’, as your consciousness expands to consume the totality.
Another aspect of human nature is the monkey mind. The incessant thoughts that delude our sense of self, distorting reality through the programming of our environment, resulting in the false belief of an ‘I’, behind our eyes. ‘Good’ thoughts are seen as our ‘higher’ self, the part connected to god that leads to good things, whereas ‘bad’ thoughts are seen as the devil or demons leading you astray. My dad was once talking about how sometimes when he’s praying ‘the devil’ distracts him, and the devil is ‘smart’ because he knows if he made my dad think of drugs it wouldn’t distract him, so he made my dad think of work, which takes his mind off praying to god. The devil wins.
Love, and not the usual love we claim to have for people/objects, but the mystical kind experienced by some, usually through meditative practices or substances, is supposedly eternal and all encompassing. Swallowing the entirety of the multiverse. This is what holy people preach, God/The Universe/ Nature whatever you want to call it, love is unconditional and always present in all.
These are some of the ‘truths’ present in our world. They connect the core of people, cultures, religions, philosophies worldwide and throughout history. When I began to see the patterns, it reinforced in me the inadequacy of ideologies. Why hold any when you can find the truths that connect them all while shedding the bullshit?
Many religions due to their evolution and as a system for the masses have certain rules that are dumb, tribal, and outdated. For the masses, it’s best to tell them drugs are bad because most people would struggle to use them in moderation.
The tribal nature of religions is used to expand and conquer, like the genes within us. They strive for survival and reproduction. As an ex-Shia Muslim, I learned if your kids are atheists the parents are going to hell. Why? Well looking at it through a tribal lens, it’s to keep members indoctrinated. It puts pressure on the parents to make sure their children are religious, it also puts pressure on the kids to not want to send their parents to hell. Thus making it harder for people to leave the tribe.
Seeing these universal patterns has further increased my motivation to pursue them. I’m not satisfied with how things appear to be on the surface, I want to unravel and peel back the layers to find what lies at the center because complexity increases as you move away from the core and the truth is diluted, like a game of telephone where the initial message gets warped and distorted as it’s passed down.
Reading helped me to see through a lot of my past programming and then it helped me rebuild the infrastructure of my beliefs and the lenses I see life through. The changing of the frameworks that I use to look out into the world and process information with has dramatically shifted who I was and who I am now.
I no longer share the same illusions as my family. I’m deluded by other narratives now. Our outlook on reality differs dramatically. Yet, that’s more of an issue for them than me. Which is due to the nature of ideologues. They are against other perspectives and beliefs, despite claiming to be accepting (which is just compensating for the lack of acceptance). For ideologues it’s more important to reinforce and defend their beliefs than to find truth.
I refuse to accept what I’m told without good reason and many of the common societal and cultural beliefs don’t make sense. They are only in place to shape people into predictable machines that won’t disturb the system. The nature of society is conformity, to think for yourself is to not conform. Think for yourself, even if it means you’ll be an outsider.