On losing faith
Faith is a strange thing; it’s almost impossible to explain precisely what it is. The various dictionary definitions do not help much. The Oxford English Dictionary has faith defined thus: 1) Complete trust or confidence in someone or something. Or 2) Strong belief in the doctrine of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof:
Neither of which really captures what faith really is; it presupposes an instinctive understanding of the concept because it uses synonyms (trust, confidence, conviction).
I’d say I’ve been a person of faith for a long time, with pockets of total loss of faith. Some might say, Hurrah, she’s finally coming to her senses, but in reality it’s like losing a sense or an ability. Let me explain a little. Other than the workaday modern English I speak and write every day, I’ve studied in some depth another six languages to varying degrees of competency. Of those six, two are modern, living languages. I can’t call myself fluent in either, but I’m intermittently articulate in French (I can read it better than I speak it, and understand better than I speak) and stolidly, unimaginatively practical in German (I can ask the way to the library, order a pint of beer or a cup of coffee, make small talk about whether it will snow). To lose one’s faith is like discovering that one can no longer speak a word of a language one was once fluent in; there’s a sudden, gaping, aching void where the skill used to be. It feels akin to what I imagine certain kinds of brain injury might feel like; a leg, an arm, half your face, no longer at your command. The emotional pain of such a loss is not unsubstantial, and the frustration is vast.
Here are some ways I have lost faith:
I’ve lost faith in myself.
I’ve lost faith in humanity.
I’ve lost faith in the divine.
The loss of faith in myself is complex and painful. If I can use an example from my writing history to explain what I mean, it may help, but it goes beyond writing and enters every area of my existence. I’ve written most of my life and have never felt the desire or the need to “go and do a course.” In honesty, I am far from convinced they are a good idea, but I shall keep my more inflammatory opinions quiet. Whenever I began a book, I had a deep inner certainty that somehow or other, the book would write itself; I just needed to get out of the way and let it flow. I had no doubts that my own unconscious was capable of producing the story and the characters would be close to what Robert Holdstock called “mythagos”, that is archetypal beings that are shaped by both the narrator and the narration. If I had concerns about where the story was going, or how it might end, they seldom lasted; I trusted the process, that the story itself knew where it was going and how to get there. I believed in myself as a writer.
But that belief, that faith, has ebbed away under the sheer weight of confusion brought about by the intense and competitive world of writers jockeying for position. There are thousands of articles, memes, Facebook posts, courses, blogs, and even books, on How to Write, on what good writing is (or isn’t) and so on. I stopped reading them quite a while ago, sometimes giving in and checking out articles because, frankly, FOMO* (* Fear of Missing Out) but the damage is done. The worms are in my head, gnawing away at my self-belief and shitting doubt everywhere. It’s futile to say, Good writing is writing that YOU enjoy, when there’s a million other interpretations and opinions. I’ve always had trouble keeping strong psychic boundaries (most empaths struggle this way) but it’s caused me paralysing self-doubt that no amount of reassurance seems to be able to stem.
Losing faith in humanity is not hard to understand; to have access to a television or to the internet is enough to leave one weeping in despair. I will not list the things that we, as human beings, ought to be hanging our heads in shame for, because they are too many and too depressing. The single fact that a certain troll-like US business man with a terrible wig, has even been considered as a candidate for president, is in itself proof that humanity has not reached adulthood; the British equivalent, the former major of London, proves that this is a world wide thing. I could throttle people who say, “Oh I like Boris, he’s funny and he’s entertaining.” He’s not; he’s a man who veers closer to true (but hidden) evil and laughs in our faces for falling for the buffoon act. History may show quite how mistaken people have been.
Losing faith in the divine is something I ought to be used to by now but I’m not. It feels more like the death of someone close and very dear to me, than a cessation of belief. I’ve never been orthodox in my beliefs, nor yet comfortable with the simplistic set of beliefs that seem to be the norm. I used to find that in silence and in solitude, the sense of Other became clear to me. Now there is just a resounding silence, an echoing void of nothingness. On the odd occasion I attend corporate worship, the sense of void is even greater, and it underlines how alone I feel. For those who dismiss God as “an imaginary friend”, often said with contempt (citing various biased studies that suggest people of faith have lower IQ than atheists) I can only suggest that however imaginary that deity may be to you, it was very real to me. For without that sense of Other, I cannot find a way to live than does not leave me lost, alone and frightened, without purpose or meaning or future.
I do not ask for advice or sympathy here; understanding would be pleasant. I’ve been frustrated by my inability to express the depth of the pain of no longer being able to write; I cannot, as one commenter suggested in a previous post, just write for myself, or move on and leave the whole thing behind, go and do something more fruitful instead. I’ve begun to realise that perhaps, like with the concept of faith, losing faith is not something you can really grasp unless it has happened to you; the metaphors and similes can only reach so far. Experience is the most ruthless of educators, and much as I wish for understanding, I would not wish the experience needed for that onto anyone.