A Conflicted Liberal

I consider myself fairly liberal, and I’ve certainly not always been as clean-cut as I am today, but I’m currently finding that my liberal beliefs are in conflict with what’s happening on my doorstep. Not exactly my doorstep, but one a couple of doors away.

I really don’t care what people do in their lives, provided that their activities don’t impact others. An Englishman’s home, and all that. What’s happening right now though is affecting this Englishman’s home.

I have a neighbour who enjoys nature’s goodness. If he was enjoying the bud behind closed doors, I wouldn’t mind, but the constant smell of skunk every time that I open my windows is starting to grate a little. I’m looking forward to being able to open my windows as the weather improves, and would rather not be thinking about having to buy air conditioning instead!

I’ve witnessed cars dropping drugs off, I believe that the local oiks are buying from the property, and have reported my suspicions to the police on a number of occasions, yet the smoking and dealing continues unabated.

The guy lives with his mother, a devout Christian, who (I understand) doesn’t let him smoke in the house. Presumably it makes people too relaxed during their prayer meetings.

What to do? Should I drop a politely-worded anonymous letter through the door? Should I continue to hold my breath, and hope that the police eventually take some action?

Answers on a postcard, please…

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Religion vs What’s Important

Those who know me will be aware that I’m an atheist as a result of a mindset which requires proof over pure faith. I have nothing against religion per se, my girlfriend is Catholic, and I see benefits in the moral codes which those who are members of religions follow. I’ve even been known to go to church on occasion, and not just for weddings and funerals. No, I enjoy a good sing and the lovely toasty feeling that I get in the soles of my feet…

What I don’t like are religious extremists (those who will interpret the teachings of their chosen religious code for their own end) and cults. As is often the case a quick google of “definition of ” brings you straight to Wikipedia, which defines a cult as follows:

The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a new religious movement or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre

This gives rise to a couple of questions. Firstly, why is a “new religious movement” needed to worship someone who lived over two thousand years ago and is well represented by other, more established and more accessible religions? Secondly, and appreciating the the definition allows for a degree of subjectivity, why do cults have “beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre”?

It is further investigation into the culture of cults which identifies why they exist and why they have beliefs and / or practices which may not exist within mainstream religions.

Most religions require the followers to adhere to certain practices and to maintain a required standard of personal conduct. For example, taking communion within Christianity, remaining kosher as a Jew and the avoidance of alcohol and other stimuli within Islam.

These seem to do little to have a detrimental impact upon the members of a religion (apart from bacon withdrawal). Where a cult may differ is in the invasive nature of the practices within a follower’s life. Wikipedia explains these practices as “Mind Control”:

1. People are put in physical or emotionally distressing situations;
2. Their problems are reduced to one simple explanation, which is repeatedly emphasized;
3. They receive what seems to be unconditional love, acceptance, and attention from a charismatic leader or group;
4. They get a new identity based on the group;
5. They are subject to entrapment (isolation from friends, relatives and the mainstream culture) and their access to information is severely controlled.

One point which I personally think has not been included within this list is the financial cost of being a member of a cult. If we look at the better-known cults, the majority have a requirement for a payment to the organisation in order for the members to remain in good standing with the church. This can lead in certain cases to the members being placed in “emotionally distressing situations”, specifically when the payment to the church is required from gross income and does not take the ability of members to take care of themselves financially following that payment. The payment must be made irrespective of whether it means that you’re unable to feed your family.

Cult members often retract socially from their friends and family. They have new “friends” and “family” within the church, people who share their beliefs, people who the church would encourage them to mix with. I’ve mentioned previously that my girlfriend is Catholic, yet her church is happy for us to mix, and places no pressure on me to become a member of the church. Surely acceptance and understanding are the main teachings of any religion?

It’s the “entrapment” which is most concerning however. Again, a quick google will provide any number of results giving us stories of people who describe their “escape” from a cult, how their families have disowned them following their religious separation, how religion seems to be more important than family. Why do cults require that family members become estranged, purely because one member is no longer a member of the cult?

I only tend to blog about things that concern me, things which cause real distress; this blog is no exception. I have a friend who has become a member of a cult, yes we make light of the situation, we have banter about his new religion, but I’m left questioning how healthy their relationship with their religion is.

I value the comfort, loyalty, friendship and love of my personal relationships over everything else in my life, and like to think that if those who I’m close to need me, they know that I’m there for them. It’s distressing to me that what should be the most important day in someone’s life is the day on which their religion will exclude the majority of their family and friends from celebrating with them.

It’s fairly public knowledge that the last couple of years have been rough for me, something that I blame myself for in getting married too quickly after meeting someone. Going from the start of a relationship to marriage is not something to be rushed, especially when there’s a likelihood that children will be involved.

This blog has been written in one hit, between meetings. Some of the grammar may be wrong, there may be spelling mistakes, but those are nothing in comparison to the mistakes which I’m encouraging someone else to avoid. I may hurt some feelings by posting this, but it’s meant with good intent.

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Closing The Box

2010 hasn’t by any stretch of the imagination been a good year.  My marriage ended, I became divorced, have lacked the contact with my children that drives and defines me, but more than anything, I’ve been in a dark place, and have hurt people who were unwittingly caught up in this unfortunate phase of my life.

Looking back at my marriage, I’m pretty much convinced that it existed solely for the purpose of having children.  The first question that I was asked by my ex-wife on our wedding night was “Can I have a baby?”.  Although we didn’t start trying for a family straight away, and suffered the pain of a miscarriage along the way, that question is still fresh in my mind.  Our intimate relationship was all but over from the time that we found that my ex-wife was pregnant.  In fact, between our first and second child, my ex-wife and I had sex three times, and that was only when she wanted another baby.  Following the birth of our second child, sex was definitely off the cards.

My ex-wife’s family are wealthy, and she therefore has no financial need for anything from me.  This hasn’t stopped her from attempting to claim spousal maintenance from me, although she’s failing to declare at least one income, and although she’s not on paper, in reality she’s far better off financially than I am.

This makes me sound materialistic.  I’m not, and I’m aware that there are people who are in far less fortuitous positions than I am financially, and I’d never wish for my children to be without, but they need to have everything that they need whether they are with my ex-wife or I.  Part of giving them what they need is a home which is more suitable to the upbringing of small children than a rented two-bedroomed apartment without any outside space for them to enjoy.  Essentially, something which is on a par with the home that they enjoy for the twelve days a fortnight that they aren’t with me – not necessarily the same size or a similar area, but somewhere that they can think of as a home from home.

I live for my children, and for three years I was defined as a father more than anything else.  I have a rewarding and challenging career, but that’s always been more of a facilitator than a defining feature.  My life over the last year however has changed dramatically.  I’m now only a father for two days of every fortnight.  That’s not intentional on my part, but on the occasions that I’ve attempted to contact my children when they aren’t with me, I’ve not been successful.  The most recent case of this was on my eldest’s fourth birthday, when I couldn’t speak to her all day.

On to the purpose of this blog: this has been a bad year.  As the title says, I’m closing the box.  Not just on 2010, but (with the sole exception of my children) everything that tethers me to the past.  There are people in my life who I would do anything for, not only family, but friends.  The people who you choose to share your life with, rather than merely by sharing a genetic bond.  Closing the box will be removing those tethers from my life.  I’m finding that the new relationships that I’m forging and those which I’m rediscovering from years past are rewarding.  People – close relationships, family members – will be placed in the box, as I believe in loyalty in relationships, and maintaining a relationship with my ex-wife and I at the same time just doesn’t sit comfortably with me.  I’ve said to each of those people before now that I would reach a point where I would make a choice, and have already made that choice in a number of cases, that decision is being made now, on New Year’s Eve and the cusp of my future.

I’ve said before that I’ve hurt people over the last year.  None of those were intentional, and was merely due to people being unfortunate enough to get close to me at the wrong time.  There will be more hurt over the coming days, weeks and possibly months, as I put the past into a box and firmly seal the lid.  I sincerely apologise to each and every one of you, and hope that you can understand and forgive.

To those of you who are still with me, I raise a glass.  Happy future!

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