I’m about to do something unexpected.
Let’s consider dancers. A ballerina moves in ways that you can somewhat predict. Even if you don’t know anything about dance, you can be certain that her next move will be fluid, precise, and classical. You will not expect her to start stamping with flat feet, move her hips sensually or roll over the floor in dramatic expression.
How contradictory it may sound, her movements are restricted and static.
This is not a critique, but an observation. The ballerina has chosen her path exactly because her dance will be characterised by these limitations. It’s what distinguishes her from a modern dancer, or a Latin dancer.
This little trick can be applied in almost any field us humans have created. Genre conventions in film and literature, branding of products and companies, even in courses offered at the universities- there are rules and restrictions grouping elements together. It’s necessary to understand things, to unify, create order and clarity. But just as categories unify, they also separate. To see an engineer from an architect, red from blue, and good from bad.
Ah- I have just built a sneaky bridge. We are entering the fragile sphere of beliefs and ideas, where categorising human elements can have disastrous effects. Religious wars, genocides, totalitarian regimes, all sorts of fun stuff.
Now I know this is nothing new, and this series I’ll be writing is not going to delve into the topic of the wrong or rightness of categorising. What I _will _do is challenge my own (lack of) movements.
I was born with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This means that my brain is different from _neurotypicals_, in the sense that my prefrontal cortex is underdeveloped and I have a lack of some neurotransmitters. Translation: the region responsible for planning and emotional regulation is somewhat small, and I have less serotonin and norepinephrine and my dopamine gets removed too quickly. Dopamine impacts movement, mood, motivation and attention.What this means in normal people talk is that I’m funky. It means that, combined with hyperactivity, I seek novelty and stimulation by default. And because my prefrontal cortex is asleep most of the time, I have trouble regulating this innate desire for me to-
Yeah, I cannot sit still, mentally. It’s why I travel, why I am impulsive, why I get bored easily and procrastinate yet somehow forget to eat all day absorbed in a drawing or a story. Why I explore ideas and change my mind because I cannot be static, I need to question, and I embrace being openminded.
But am I really? Am I as fluid as I claim to be? Some ideas of mine are fixed. Killing is bad, rape is bad, nuclear bombs certainly bad. Stealing flexible, lying depends on context, and honesty is sometimes terrible. Religion is…
I halt. Start shifting. It’s becoming uncomfortable. I used to be static when I got to this topic, knowing my response can kill me in some parts of the world or can make me seem ignorant or self-righteous.
Movement part I: religion, we’re getting to the point I promise.
||Cognitive biases: social- proof tendency, confirmation bias, belief bias, bias blind spot ||
I grew up in a secular society, in a capital known for its tolerance and open-mindedness. My father is a loose Muslim, my mother a looser Catholic. In school I was taught that evolution was true, and in history books I read that enlightenment caused us to distance ourselves more and more from religion. This was called progress. And I believed that the way forward was away from religious influence over society. None of my friends were religious and the one experience I had in church was bad, because I wasn’t allowed to listen to any other music than gospel (and I loved drum and bass).
Meanwhile I read philosophy, believed in the divine through Bazin’s ‘Ontology of the Photographic Image,’ and had a laissez faire attitude towards those with faith. I neither condemned nor embraced, and thought myself to be logical and kind. I could rationalise my disbelief and did not reject the notion of a god existing somewhere.
But of course, everything changed when I moved to Sierra Leone. A religious society where for the first time I befriended people who practiced their faith. They accepted me, I accepted them, and I witnessed their rituals and dealing with the challenging context they often found themselves in.
During Ramadan I started envying those with faith- I missed my own family. Those going to Church connected with their tribe, sharing something beyond themselves- I missed my friends. Something inside me stirred; it’s not that I wanted to be religious, it’s that I wanted to have faith. To be moved by something that isn’t my own hyperactive brain to engage in something beyond myself.
Then, after listening a to philosophy podcast titled ‘Reason and the Gods,’ a lady made a point uncomfortable for loose spiritualists like me. “You cannot pick and choose from a religion. You have to experience it as a whole. That’s when you get the benefits.”
A mirror, right in my face.
I claim to be fluid, but I’m actually static. I have never really done religion properly. I haven’t read the Bible, went to church and prayed consistently. Nor did I read the Quran and held Ramadan. Yet I think that I do not fit in these structures, even though I see people around me find so much joy and fulfilment. What am I holding on to? Is it my Western arrogant thinking? My belief that rationality and faith cannot co-exist?
It’s stirring. I’m going to learn a new choreography. Get some unused muscles stretched and supple. I am going to move with religion. Learn the beats, break a sweat. After a month of real commitment I can at least support my opinions with empiricism.
My ADHD brain is rejoicing. My peers will not be surprised by yet another of my wild movements. One month of dedication, it’s a game really.
How does it work? I will do three religions: Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. But I might choose to expand to others if I see it fit. I will start with Christianity, because that one is the easiest for me.
Let’s get moving.
TO BE CONTINUED.
*To avoid confusion: this form of experimentation is very much limited to this specific topic. Having an aversion to violence is not something one needs to test though beating someone up. Also, my aim is not to find a religion, or to compare and give judgment. It’s a pure experiential and personal endeavour to avoid being rusted into a belief.