Saturday, February 25th. The fourth day of Lent.

Rules for Living #29: Never Scoff at a True Believer

A true believer is culturally unconscious. They are completely at peace with Mother Culture because they are unaware of her existence. They live in her womb, being nurtured by her, participating fully in her stories, and contributing to her propagation by default.

True believers exist in all cultures, the larger cultures of nations and people-groups as well as the smaller, more transitory cultures of inner cities, rural regions, universities, office buildings, etc. The birthright of all humans is the packaged worldview of their culture. Everything you need is given to you:

  1. Your central myth.
  2. Your values and mores.
  3. Your behavioral norms.
  4. Your customs and traditions.
  5. Your celebrations and holidays.
  6. A protective layer of xenophobia to keep you faithful and in the fold.

If you break faith with mother culture, there is no going back. You can never return to that state of innocence. For those who have broken the spell, eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and taken to the highway in search of truth, I offer a few thoughts as a seasoned travelor of that road.

1. Do not underestimate the power of Mother Culture. Whereas you must create your own worldview, hers was crafted over time in a process similar to the creation of myths and species. All of her answers to questions will be correct because they exist within the closed community of culture. You really can’t go wrong if you trust Mother Culture. Remember that she defines right and wrong within her closed system.

2. You are not sufficient to create your own myth. Once you strike out on your own into the wide world, you are at a great disadvantage. Your myths will be hollow and cheap. Even if to you they seem deep and beautiful, they will be short-sighted. A human myth cannot be built in a decade or two in your spare bedroom.

3. You will make many wrong turns and do some harm. Your answers to the great questions of life may make logical sense to you, but they will cause unexpected problems down the line and will have to be adjusted over and over. This phenomenon is similar to what happens when humans try to repair a perceived “problem” in nature, only to cause worse problems a few years later.

4. You will find happiness to be elusive and transitory. Having exchanged your innocence for the fruit of the tree of knowledge, you will hunger and strive and struggle to earn your keep by the sweat of your brow. It will not be an easy journey, nor will your newfound ideas often equate with happiness.

5. Do not scoff at true believers. Always respect true believers when you meet them in life, even if you think they are shallow and misguided. The truth is, human history flows through true believers. Our archetypes and myths rely on their evangelism. While you may have left the flock of the faithful, be gentle with true believers. And if you find one struggling to leave the womb, be a gentle and gracious midwife, if asked. And never denigrate the traditions that gave birth to us.

If you have left the myth of your culture and are walking the roads of humanity as a pilgrim in search of truth, I would walk with you. And if you asked me if the journey has been worth it, I would say that is has been. What I gained was freedom. And I would not trade freedom for innocence, even if I could.

But I have learned along the way that I am a very small creature with a shockingly short lifespan. I will not find many answers, and I would not lay the burden of freedom on any soul. But I will gladly walk alongside the pilgrims I meet as we search for whatever it is that we seek.

Gordon Atkinson

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