by Nic Olson
I recently received this in an email from a friend in India:
Do you still remember my youngest sister Nenem, you may take her to be your wife if you have any interest. But it would depend upon your choice only though I say anything. Actually young girls needs a trustworthy, abled man for husband and they should be loyal. A lot of marriages are broken causing a lot of problems consquencly.
Directly after receiving this email, I booked a flight, moved to India, and took Nenem as my first wife. She is currently cooking rice and tending to our Kama-Sutra-conceived children while I sit in a mango tree, my feet being massaged by jewelled monkeys, my scalp being pampered by one hundred barbershop gurus.
And just now, as the basement furnace powers up and blows cold air at my feet, I am transported back to my cobwebbed corner in my hole in the frozen ground—left only to the gurus of daddy-long-legs and head lice that pamper my once routinely- and professionally-kneaded head.
Sweet India. Land of many faiths, land where I lost my own.
The last time I returned from India a new man. It wasn’t I-lived-in-an-ashram changed, nor I-tried-forty-kinds-of-marijuana changed, or even I-was-almost-raped-three-times changed. I came back with a newly-filled gap in my mind. I came back with no interest in the functioning church in which I grew up, and which I partially went to support. I lost complete interest in proselytization or evangelism. I lost my faith and replaced it with a set of values. I became so fed up with the culture of organized belief, the culture of changing people’s beliefs, and the language of faith that inhibits people to speak in the realm of reality—reality, where suffering occurs but where nothing is done because of often blinding visions of a possibly non-existant afterlife utopia—that I handed it in and haven’t really looked back. My friend, Nenem’s brother, was unable to speak of anything but the Glory of Our Lord and the financial support he required to live and to preach. I didn’t write a list of for and against. It wasn’t an immediate disbelief in the resurrection that made me never return to church. It was part of a constant evolution of the mind that peaked while travelling alone, as it tends to do.
It is a mysterious thing, the loss of faith—as mysterious as faith itself. Like faith, it is ultimately not rooted in logic; it is a change in the climate of the mind.
-Orwell, A Clergyman’s Daughter, p249
Propagandhi’s Supporting Caste coincidentally came out during my last trip in India, and I somehow managed a minor miracle to download the album off of Indian iTunes. It was my only friend while travelling. One night, after calling home on my prepaid Indian cellphone, sitting on the beaches of Cochin at night, after four months of solo-travel, I finally realized that the greatest moments in life are better when shared. I have been able to enjoy things alone, but having the ability to acknowledge the greatest things with someone else, is the creation of joy. Joy isn’t a seasonal shopping opportunity at the Victoria Square Mall. Joy isn’t a faith-only feeling. I realized this again over the last few nights when watching my favourite band of all time. I enjoyed parts of the set alone, but the moments I was most elated were those when I sang aloud in the arms of good friends. Imagine the everlasting joy I would have if I actually just took part in arranged marriage to a conservative Christian girl in a village in India. Never-ending, tantric, yogic, conservative joy.
My faith was replaced with something else. Something no less powerful. It was replaced with some sort of logical desire for decency and equality in the real and tangible world, both rooted in my Christian upbringing and my love for socially-conscious punk rock. Not that values didn’t exist in my life beforehand, they just sat at the back on my brain, washed out by uncertainty and contentedness. And as much as it pains my father to hear it, my faith was partially replaced with many of the tenets of a Winnipeg punk band. Neither the band nor the church would quickly agree that (what I would identify as) their basic doctrines line up—absolute equality, that the “unifying principle of this universe is love” (Propagandhi, Duplicate Keys Icaro). I connected my early life in the church basements in which I had grown up, to the realities of poverty, inequality, and hypocrisy that I had seen while travelling, and filled that gap with a set of discernible values that I seemed to lack previously. A serious respect still exists in the utmost for people who adhere to systems of faith, as it is another means to the end I am constantly seeking, and it helped mould my values to what they are now.
The smell of glue was the answer to her prayer. She did not know this. She did not reflect, consciously, that the solution to her difficulty lay in accepting the fact that there was no solution; that if one gets on with the job that lies to hand, the ultimate purpose of the job fades into insignificance; that faith and no faith are very much the same provided that one is doing what is customary, useful, and acceptable.
-Orwell, A Clergyman’s Daughter, p295
A man of faith is the same as a man of no faith, as long as both are acting positively in regard to humanity. Both are inevitably flawed. One puts hope in the unknown, one puts hope in something else—science, humans, another form of the unknown. Perhaps I put my hope in myself, not in a self-righteous, superiority-complex kind of way, but in the way that I am the only thing that I know can make an absolute change in, and hope things can move on from there.
This is no where near the first time I’ve been proposed to, or propositioned, by someone in India, but it has been some time. Though I am flattered, though I wish I could get fifty-cent haircuts in India once a week, and though I think it could potentially work out better than a love-marriage, I will not take him up on the offer. This man, Nenem’s brother, is still a friend. And though many of his thought-processes irritate me as anti-productive or misdirected, I do not see my new vague set of values as greater than his faith. Mine will waver and transform as does anything philosophical. I merely lost my faith a while back, replaced it with something new. If he forgets his ultimate purpose, and I realize that I don’t have an ultimate purpose, and we work together to help those we know need it, then we can be mutually productive. The fact that he offered me his sister without her even knowing it, or likely even speaking English, is another issue that we’ll have to sort out after the marriage. Curry feast to follow.