I’ve been having these weird thoughts lately… Like, is any of this for real… or not?
When I was asked to write a piece for Normal Happenings’ epic collaboration The Games that Define Us, I knew it had to be Kingdom Hearts. That is the game, the franchise, that has been the most formative and defining to me, without a doubt. When I was thinking about why that’s the case, though, I realised that there might actually be even more things than I’d thought in the totality of ‘what this series has meant to me and my life’. The one that I was the most surprised to become aware of, though, was that Kingdom Hearts was helpful to me when I was going through an odd time in life, a time of trying to work out what I did and didn’t believe and whether it was OK to be questioning those things.
There were a few pieces in The Games that Define Us which talked about how the game in question had been part of the author’s spiritual or religious experience, but (as far as I know) these were all to do with finding faith, or experiencing a security in faith. I think I’m the only one who spoke about a movement in the other direction – away from faith – but I think it’s very, very cool that despite the differences between myself and other people from other cultures and other parts of the world, we have in common this love of gaming and the experience of being profoundly affected by games.
At the time, Kingdom Hearts was a source of comfort to me primarily on account of being simply that: comforting. It was something I knew and loved, and the optimism of the main characters and the strength they find in each other felt like something I could appreciate while I was wondering where to find strength if not from faith. But… now that I think about it, I think there’s more to the story and themes of the Kingdom Hearts franchise that spoke to me when I was considering what I ought to value, to believe. I’m not going to claim that this is deliberate or explicit on the part of the franchise’s creators, and I’m not sure anyone else has picked up on it (perhaps for good reason…?), but I do think there’s something there that just made sense to me, and because this is my blog and nobody can stop me, I’m going to talk about it. So there.
I should give a quick personal history here, I guess, since it’s relevant. I’m surprised to realise that I’ve not talked about my beliefs much on here, and I don’t intend to talk too much about them at the risk of becoming inadvertently evangelical, but… hey, maybe someone’s interested, so I’ll try to give the notes on where I’ve come from and where I am now without it turning into too hefty of a monologue. That said, I think this is as good a time as any to explain a bit about who I am and what my worldview looks like, so it’ll inevitably not be the shortest of sections. (If anyone would like to discuss further, I am always happy to talk about… well, anything, really, but this is an area of particular interest for me.)
I don’t intend for this to be offensive to anyone; I am not going to argue for or against any belief, just describe my own. I’m not in the business of telling people what they should or shouldn’t believe. However, I imagine there’s a chance that for some people this may be a sensitive topic, so… please don’t feel warned off, but know that you can stop reading now if you’d prefer to. Or you can scroll down until I finally get around to talking about games again!
On Things I Used To Believe
Thinking of you, wherever you are. We pray for our sorrows to end, and hope that our hearts will blend. Now I will step forward to realize this wish. And who knows: Starting a new journey may not be so hard, or maybe it has already begun. There are many worlds, but they share the same sky—one sky, one destiny.
Throughout most of my life I was… I suppose a sort of inactive Christian. I went to schools which had prayers, I sometimes went to church, and I suppose that if asked I’d say I believed in God and Jesus. Then, going to a church-affiliated high school from 11 onwards, I think I would say that I decided that I was indeed a Christian, so I prayed and read the Bible and just generally believed and thought it was all rather good. Towards the end of school at 16, I became much more actively involved in religion because I had friends who invited me to go to church with them or to these sort of young-people-get-together-and-praise events. I became part of a community at the church down my road, felt that I belonged, began actively trying to spread the word of God, all that sort of thing, and was looking into having my confirmation so that I could be a fully-fledged member of the church.
On Those Beliefs Changing
All my life, I’ve been protecting others… But now, there’s no one left to protect. Maybe… it’s time I shaped my own story.
And then, one day, I really don’t know why – I think I was beginning to get interested in philosophy and learning about its methodology, perhaps, as well as taking an interest in the scientific method – I just asked myself ‘why do I believe this?’ and… well, it occurred to me that I didn’t have a good enough answer. I looked at other religions to see whether I could identify either something to believe in there or a reason that they were obviously wrong and Christianity was obviously right, but found neither. I asked questions at church; they always wanted people to ask sincere questions, but I felt uncomfortable probing too hard. In the end, I simply thought about my own beliefs and feelings and realised that, whether I’d tried to make it happen or not, I simply did not believe in God. Maybe I never really did – a lot of Christians have tried to make that argument to me, saying that I must not have been a ‘true’ Christian – or maybe I truly believed it and simply re-evaluated. Maybe there were just too many things that I couldn’t agree with, or that I was unable to suspend disbelief about. I’m not sure.
Either way, coming out of that was… odd. Overnight I no longer had that community at church, and I no longer had ready-made ‘easy’ answers to Big Questions like why we’re here, what it’s all about, what’s right and wrong, and what happens to people after they die. (This… isn’t necessarily part of the story, but feels relevant: I didn’t ever get to meet my grandparents on my dad’s side because they died before I was born, and my maternal grandparents both died before I was really old enough to have got to know them properly. I regret that.) So, although I felt in some ways more comfortable for having done what felt like the right thing and relieved myself of beliefs I couldn’t support, becoming more able to understand that ‘I don’t know’ is sometimes the only intellectually authentic answer and that that’s OK, I mostly just felt like it had been a loss overall.
On Things I Believe Now
– Winnie the Pooh
My beliefs and worldview have changed a lot in the intervening years. I think that atheist is often not a particularly useful word because it seems to carry connotations of more than it strictly means: some will think that an atheist must necessarily be an empiricist or a moral relativist, or that an atheist by definition thinks there cannot be an afterlife, but none of this is true. All that my being an atheist means is that I do not believe in any gods, and says nothing about anything else I might think about the world. There are ontological idealist atheists, moral naturalist atheists, atheists who believe in life after death in some form, atheists who believe in magic and ghosts. Most Buddhists are atheists; in fact, almost everyone is to some degree selectively atheistic. Islam is atheistic about Jesus Christ; Christianity is atheistic about Zeus; Judaism is atheistic about Ganesh. All of which is to say that I am in this way quite similar to most believers except that I don’t believe in any, rather than disbelieving in all except a select one or pantheon.
The phrasing of ‘don’t believe’ or ‘disbelief’ is also a bit misleading sometimes. Not all atheists express a positive assertion of non-existence: for (I hesitate to claim, but in my experience) most atheists, the position is ‘I do not believe in any gods’ or ‘I do not think there is sufficient evidence for any gods’, rather than ‘I assert that there are definitely no gods’. Both types of nonbeliever do exist, but again the word atheist doesn’t tell you which a person is.
If it’s beginning to sound as if being an atheist isn’t particularly important to my self-definition or my view of the world, that’s because it isn’t. More important to me than my lack of belief, and more relevant to my day-to-day life, are the other positions I hold about what’s important, what’s right and wrong, my values and attitudes – and all of these may be informed by my non-believing status but they’re certainly not defined by it.
A lot of the things I believe fall under the umbrella of what’s called humanism, which is not a religion or belief system as such but a term describing a philosophical and ethical stance. (It’s not prescriptive, it’s descriptive: in other words, it doesn’t tell a humanist what they ought to think but simply describes what a humanist does think.) I believe that people are rational agents and therefore have the power and the right to come to their own decisions; I believe that the use of critical thinking and logic is a better way to come to a decision or form a belief than to accept something one’s told; I believe that all people deserve to be treated fairly and with respect; and I believe that there is no objective ‘meaning of life’ and that it is not depressing but beautiful that people have the power to define their own meaning for themselves. There are also a whole bunch of things that I don’t necessarily believe or disbelieve because I either haven’t thought about them enough or don’t think I have enough evidence or knowledge to form a valid opinion about.
There are so many more things I could go into detail about my stance on, but I think that’s quite enough context and personal story-time.
If you’re interested in finding out more about humanism, Humanists UK has a pretty good written introduction and summarising video here – and, as I say, I am always more than happy to privately or openly discuss my beliefs, your beliefs, anyone’s beliefs, and I promise to do it with sincere curiosity and respect.
Because it’ll be relevant in a bit, let me quickly set out a few points made by Humanists UK on what humanism is (although the definition can be huge and wide, here are some of the key things).
Roughly speaking, the word humanist has come to mean someone who:
- trusts to the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (and is therefore an atheist or agnostic)
- makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals
- believes that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same.
And some more snippets of things that have been said about humanism (again all sourced from that Humanists UK page) which I think are important to capture before we finally get to the topic I promised was at hand:
…a commitment to the perspective, interests and centrality of human persons; a belief in reason and autonomy as foundational aspects of human existence … a belief that the foundations for ethics and society are to be found in autonomy and moral equality…
– Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy
An appeal to reason in contrast to revelation or religious authority as a means of finding out about the natural world and destiny of man, and also giving a grounding for morality … Humanist ethics is also distinguished by placing the end of moral action in the welfare of humanity rather than in fulfilling the will of God.
– Oxford Companion to Philosophy
That man should show respect to man, irrespective of class, race or creed is fundamental to the humanist attitude to life. Among the fundamental moral principles, he would count those of freedom, justice, tolerance and happiness…the attitude that people can live an honest, meaningful life without following a formal religious creed.
– Pears Cyclopaedia, 87th edition, 1978
Well, then. With all that said…
Let’s talk about Kingdom Hearts, shall we?
(This piece has been split into three parts for readability due to its length. Click here for Part Two.)