I believe in something. I had a bit of a spiritual awakening recently. And that’s only partly a joke. It sounds like cultural appropriation but I think I’m a bit of Daoist. I believe there’s a lot of dualities in things and that there are so many ambiguities in any sort of behaviour. So for me Daoism, although I haven’t read into it properly, is something that I feel comfortable being.
But you have to realise that this comes after years of describing myself as atheist and still describing myself as agnostic. I believe in a sort of ‘benevolent myth’ – a term I found on Wikipedia!
When I was studying International Relations they kept talking about Human Rights and Natural Law and I was always like “but I’m an atheist; how can you prove these things?” And I didn’t find any proofs. But I still wanted a kind of conviction. So I adopted the myth. Because I really think that it helps. So then you take that leap of faith almost.
I think I found myself trying to explain away events that I heard about in the media or saw happening around me. I always saw them as very unjust. Things like war and also more personal things like death in the family. And I asked myself how they could happen. And I’d have this deeply nihilist approach which made me feel super unhappy. And eventually I needed a way of explaining some of these bad things. And I think the duality of Daoism is nice. It just says life is complicated: there are bad things and good things.
And I really want to believe. I’m not sure if it’s true. But that’s faith. It doesn’t have to be logically sound. As long as the intentions you have in engaging in a religious practice are good then I’m all for it. For myself I have to believe in the values that are enunciated by the religion. And Daoism is the easiest one for me to align with. It’s a very Western way to look at it because I’m probably projecting my liberal values onto Daoism.
Moving to South Korea when I was a kid was possibly significant for me. But then not really. In the South Korean flag they have the Daoist logo and at one point I was like [feigning naivete] “oh no, but the symbols and signs were there all along!” And I used to read a bit of stuff about I Ching and random Chinese divination practices. I find these things really cool. I’ve always had a fascination with religion and I still now sometimes go to churches when I’m travelling. It’s such a nice experience. I don’t feel religious necessarily but I do feel this kind of omnipresent idea of people getting together to celebrate something and I think that is very valuable actually. But there wasn’t a single event for me. I put the little pieces of my life together to try to explain.
But what I know is I have a sort of conviction now. Trying to do things right. Not always but trying.
I still have trouble calling Daoism a religion. I sometimes have problems with organised religion as such. I called myself an atheist for the longest time. And I was biased. I’d read Christopher Hitchens saying “oh Mother Theresa was a real bitch” [laughing] just to confirm what I wanted to be true.
I think I chose Daoism because it’s an inherent contradiction. I haven’t even read Laozi. I just call it something. The need to make sense of things. And I don’t think it’s necessarily really true. But I like it.