I had not realized how many verbal tics I have until I listened to my interview. Taylor was a wonderful interviewer, asking poignant questions and finding new questions from my answers. Perhaps I should hand my job over to her!
Introducing my own interview–and putting block quotes from myself–seems a little odd, so I’m going ahead and writing it. Please let me know what you think! Also I think I’m going to post a poll as to whether or not people want the sound recordings of the interviews. Transcribing allows for editing and deleting my colloquialisms (some, I did try to keep it honest), but for long interviews such as my own, perhaps a sound version would be more appropriate? As an accompaniment, exclusively. So when I figure out how to post a poll, please do let me know your thoughts.
Interview 5: Me
“Standing over humans, gods, and demons, subsuming Caretakers and Tunnel builders, there is an intelligence that antedates the universe.” –Carl Sagan
Taylor: Well, thanks for allowing for allowing me to interview you, Lillie.
Me: Thanks for interviewing me! I really appreciate it.
Taylor: I’m excited about it, because when you were interviewing me, I wanted to ask you questions. Now here we are!
Me: Now you can!
Taylor: First, if you’d explain your religious background, history, exposure, etcetera.
Me: Yeah! So…when I was little, I went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, and all the same stuff that everybody goes to when you’re Christian. It was at my preschool, which was a Methodist church. When you’re little you kinda just accept everything that’s told to you, so I was just like, “God is a person. Jonah was swallowed by a whale. This is fact, and this is what they have told me.” And then I got a little bit older and my mom told me that my dad didn’t believe in God and I couldn’t tell anyone.
Me: (laughs) At first I was kinda like, “What do you mean he doesn’t believe in God?” I thought that God was just like, a thing. I mean I pictured him as this cleanly shaven old man who hung out in the clouds and just looked at us. Everyone always said he had a beard and I was like, “In my mind he’s very cleanly shaven.” He looked kind of like Mr. Rogers, in my head. Just so you know. (laughs) So that was my first exposure to understanding that people could believe different things. I just assumed that everybody was taught the same stuff. And then…I don’t really know at what point I understood that there were different religions, but there came a point in elementary school when I was like, “I don’t believe in God either.” I think I was nine or ten. And I had been reading Time magazine and listening to NPR for quite some time, at this point in my life. So I thought I knew everything. I stopped saying “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, because I was like, “There needs to be separation of church and state. This is important.” Of course nobody notices the ten year old who just stops saying the Pledge of Allegiance halfway through and then just resumes it!
Taylor: But you were proving a point.
Me: I was standing up for what I believed in…quietly. And I mean, after that…I called myself agnostic for…a lot of years. Middle school, that was the cool thing to do, and I got so mad, I was like, “All these posers are calling themselves atheists and they just want to be cool”… And then high school, I mean, same thing. I went to a Christian school, I took Old Testament my freshman year, so I have a pretty good understanding of what goes on in the Bible. I took Spanish Bible my senior year, so that was in Spanish…but it was the New Testament. I mean…I have a very good understanding of what goes on in the stories and I really appreciate that, because it’s so important to our society. Where we live…if I didn’t understand what people thought, I don’t think I’d be able to relate to them as much. Around the time I started college, I sort of started realizing that…I felt like there was something more than….nothing. When you’re an agnostic you kind of sit there and you’re like, “Well there’s nothing…but there could be something.” And I thought, “Actually, I don’t just think that there could be something. I feel something.” When you look at something really beautiful or you hear a really beautiful piece of music…there’s just something beyond what I think can be explained to me as chemistry, like body chemistry. So that was when I decided, I do believe in a higher power. So that’s how I define it today. I believe in a higher power, but I don’t feel that I have the capacity to understand it or explain it or put a name to it. Because it is so far beyond me that there’s just no way. I mean, I love religion because I love learning about what people think and how they think, and I think that there’s a really good place for it because it teaches people morality, but I just don’t ascribe to any one in particular. I just like them.
Taylor: You said it helps you relate to people. Do you think that’s because we’re in the Bible belt, and there’s a lot of Southern Christians? Can you explain to me what you meant by that?
Me: I’ve always felt that if I don’t understand why someone says something, I can’t argue with them. If I don’t understand the full…spectrum, then what do I know, really. I do live in the Bible belt, a lot of my friends are Christian, and it’s something that I respect about them. That’s why I’m glad that I understand the Bible, because I can understand where they get the strength from it. I can understand why the stories can help them. When people are talking about the Bible, I like that I can keep up with the conversation. That’s really what I meant by that, I think.
Taylor: When you’re thinking about a future partner, does what they believe impact if you’re going to choose them?
Me: It does. You know, because I grew up in a mixed-religion, mixed-ethnicity household, I really don’t care what someone believes, as long as they don’t believe something hurtful. Like I don’t want to marry someone who believes that I’m going to hell because of my beliefs. First of all because I think they would have a hard time with that, and…to a certain extent I’d even be willing to go to church and all of that, but there’d have to be an understanding that I don’t ascribe to the same particular beliefs. But like I said, I respect Christians and anyone, really—I say Christians because that’s the majority of who I know—but anyone who is firm in their belief and uses it to inform their life, I respect that, and I think it’s great. Sometimes I think maybe even it’d be better for me to marry someone Christian, because a lot of times I meet guys who are Christian and they are just really decent people. I mean it’s not 100%–there’s horrible Christian guys and there’s really great atheist guys, but there’s also a lot of atheist guys who are pedantic about it? And that’s not someone I want either. I want someone who has their beliefs, and they live with them and are happy with them.
Taylor: Right, it’s not an ignorant choice what they’re following.
Taylor: Who do you feel has had the largest impact on your current spiritual beliefs?
Me: Oh, that’s a good question. I hadn’t thought about anything like that. It’s tough to say, because, you know, my mom did send us to church and everything, and my dad doesn’t believe in any sort of anything, really. But I kind of…even though to some people my beliefs may align more with my dad’s, I actually feel like they align more with my mom’s, but the difference is she labels herself a Christian and I don’t. When I was younger, it was definitely my dad. My dad and I would sit there, and we would listen to stories about Christians ostracizing people or there being some kind of something, and we just like “Ugh, these people and their religion! The opiate of the masses!” (laughs) But that was when I was an angsty teenager and I hated everyone, whether or not they believed in God. I hated myself the most out of all of them. I think really coming to terms with my own beliefs…that was something that was somewhat affected by my mom, because she is so open. But I also didn’t realize how our beliefs aligned until I interviewed her. [pauses] It’s tough to say. I gotta say, somewhat, also, Carl Sagan? That’s a little weird, but he wrote a book about God and the universe [editor’s note: it’s actually a collection of his lectures] and you know, the universe is just so insanely large and beautiful and…crazy. It’s hard to be like, there’s no divine spark here. It’s just beyond comprehension. There’s got to be something greater, to me.
Taylor: What most aligns with your mom? Is it moral beliefs or the way you view the world?
Me: We both believe that Christianity and Jesus have something to teach people. My mom says that our difference is that she believes in Jesus and I don’t, but for me it’s more of…I believe Jesus was a person, I just don’t know if he was any more the Son of God than anyone else. I just think he had really good ideas and people listened to him. That’s sort of where the dividing line is, but we both really like the moral lessons. And we like that Christianity can be a reason for people to do good and be good, and that’s really what we think the takeaway is. Both of us believe that Christianity teaches you that you should give back. Especially—the Old Testament is a lot like, “aah, kill all the people”—but the New Testament was kinda like, “Actually, we can stop doing that now, Jesus has died so that we can stop doing the Old Testament stuff and start doing all the ‘love each other’ stuff”. I mean Jesus was the one who said there needed to be separation of church and state, which is part of the reason that I like him so much. He was a really decent dude. [laughs] So yeah, I think that’s where we are on that. I’m much more scientific about it—I think math is beautiful. I mean, I’m not great at math. But just the way that math can explain so much—and biology, the way all of the cells in our body work together—to me, that says something divine. Because how would it work out that perfectly? If it was just random…it wouldn’t be that way, to me.
Taylor: It didn’t just fall together.
Me: Right. So…if that makes any sense.
Taylor: Is your mom’s more emotional, as opposed to scientific, you think?
Me: I think so. For her—she prays, and I don’t. Faith has been a relief for her, a respite. It’s somewhere she can go to when she needs some peace or some guidance. For me, I’m more of a deist—I’m more like, God doesn’t really care what I do with my life, but if I want to live it the best way, that’s what he would hope. Of course—for me, I don’t have a name for God—that’s an example—anyways….[laughs] Honestly, I think she is saddest about the way I believe because I can’t take that peace from it. It’s not like I haven’t tried to believe. It just doesn’t work for me. I’m not wired that way. I can’t make myself, you know? I think that makes her a little bit sadder, that I can’t do that. But I can find the beautiful things, things that are so beautiful they’re tinged with sadness, that’s when I’m more at peace, I guess.
Taylor: When do you feel most at peace and most whole?
Me: Like I said earlier, the times that I feel this higher power are when I’m listening to a really beautiful piece of music or I’m standing over scenery—you know, I could just be standing in my backyard and looking at how big the trees are. It’s something that moves through you. It’s stirring. To me that’s just beyond words. It’s just a feeling. When people tell me that they feel God, that’s the only feeling I can relate to that, I think. I mean, I don’t know. It’s just so beyond you, so greater…that’s when I feel the most at peace. It’s just mind-blowing. It’s elation…it’s so much emotion at once. But it’s peaceful.
Taylor: Is there any part of your identity as a person that comes from your spiritual identity?
Me: Absolutely. I’m a really logical person and all of that—but I really do think that my spirituality informs a lot of who I am. Just hanging out with people and feeling that connection with them—that’s part of my spirituality too. It’s like, this is good, this is right. That feeling you just get. It feels spiritual to me, if that makes sense.
Taylor: It does! It does make sense. I think your spiritual beliefs journey is just what you make of it, so any answer can be right. Um…what is a soul to you? Classic question.
Me: For me, to answer that question, I kind of have to answer the heaven and hell question—
Taylor: We’re going to get there anyways.
Me: Well I’ll go ahead and do it! So for me, I don’t believe in heaven and hell so much, because the fact that I don’t believe in God or any religion at all sort of—I would have a hard time believing that I could be made and not be able to [believe] and still be sent to hell. I could be a decent person my whole life but [my beliefs] are just not something I can control. For me, a soul is what connects with other people. That feeling you have when you have that beauty—that’s your soul that’s feeling that, I think it’s beyond just your brain. So for me, when you meet someone and you affect someone in a positive way, you’re kind of tying a bit of your soul to them. Even if you never see them again. But if you have affected people positively in your life, you tie a bit of soul to them, and you create this net. It just gets bigger and bigger the more people you affect. So when you fall, you have this net to catch you. If you are living your life in a decent way and you’re helping people and you’re going through and being a positive person—you’ll have a big net to catch you. And I don’t even mean that all the people will come catch you—it’s just that you have done so much, that there will be kind of karma there, to help you get back up. I have experienced depression my entire life. But I always found that I felt the best when I gave back, like one time I donated all my savings to the Katrina fund, in ninth grade. And I walked away, and I was always so nervous walking around, and so scared, but I felt so confident, I was like, I have done something good, and I belong here, and it’s okay. A soul is what is affected by doing good, and you do good to help your soul. If that makes sense at all.
Taylor: Yeah, it does. So when people die, you think the soul continues on or dies as well?
Me: I have a hard time with that because I don’t really know. That’s where I start saying “I have no idea.” But to me your soul carries on because of the people you’ve affected. Not just their memories of you, but through the good that you’ve done. You leave a print everywhere. A soul-print. And so that’s the way you linger on, in my opinion.
Taylor: So your soul-prints will linger on the earth, but your actual soul may be gone, when you die.
Me: Yeah. I don’t really believe in rebirth or anything, so I kind of think—when you die, your mind and all of that is gone, but the soul-prints are still there.
Taylor: What made you want to do these interviews?
Me: I’ve always been really interested in what people believe. Partially because I grew up with my parents and they believe different things, and I went to a Christian school where I had a lot of really open discussions with people about what they believed. Even if we disagreed, it was nice to have that open forum. It was easier because it was a Christian school. Then I went to Georgia Tech and—you can’t just go up to someone and be like, “So what do you think about God?” [laughs] Especially at an engineering school because they’re all thinking about math. And I missed that. I really missed that open discourse. Because I want to know. I want to know what people think. It’s so fascinating. Everybody thinks something a little different. Even if they’re the exact same type of Christian, the way that they’ve grown up and the way it has affected them is completely unique. So it’s just amazing. I want to share that with people. Plus now I have an excuse to ask people these questions.
Taylor: Right, in a safe environment.
Me: Exactly. If people don’t want their opinions put on the internet, I’m not going to force them to. But I really feel like a lot of the problems that we have today, that stem from religious people disagreeing, would be better if people would just be more open to other beliefs and other faiths. I mean, we don’t have to agree and we don’t even have to think that each other is going to heaven or hell—you know, two faiths could think that the other faith is going to hell—but as long as you’re open with each other and you see the value in each other’s faith, I mean, every faith really brings people to good, in my opinion. If you follow what you are supposed to instead of taking it to an extreme—extremism in all forms is bad. But when you take the texts or the lessons, and you use it to do good, I don’t see why we can’t all get along, and say, “I respect our differences. Let’s work together on this project to build something.” So I kind of hope that by putting out interviews about other people’s faiths, we can all learn a little more about everybody else. At the least, I’ll learn.
Taylor: I can tell as you talk you see a lot of value in putting yourself in other people’s shoes, and seeing life from other people’s perspectives instead of discounting it. Do you think that view has birthed from your spiritual experiences, or is that just a life view that has affected your spiritual experiences?
Me: Oh, that’s good. [pauses] That’s tough. It’s hard to say. I think to an extent, it’s kind of both. I mean when I was younger, I was terrible at putting myself in other people’s shoes. But my parents made sure that I was very informed about what was going on in the world—I mean, I remember when I was little and they were talking on the radio about the war in Kosovo, and I was like, “There’s still war?” I thought that war was over forever. I just thought that was done. It really makes you think about what people go through, when you know [what’s going on]. Knowing that there’s a conflict somewhere—you can’t help but think about what is happening to those people. Especially if you see pictures of them, like if you look through magazines, and they show you—becoming more aware of what was going on the world made me want to get into people’s shoes. And I guess from there it stemmed into a spirituality or a view of how to be spiritual. Because that’s a way of connecting with people even if you don’t see them, feeling their pain. It’s not empathy, it’s sympathy, but it’s still there. That’s a way of connecting.
Taylor: Has doing these interviews affected your perspectives at all?
Me: Yeah—you know, I haven’t done a lot yet, but just getting to see what other people believe, and getting people’s perspectives has been really interesting to me. First of all, some of the stuff my parents said—I had no idea they believed that. With your interview, I got to see a part of you I wouldn’t really otherwise be able to see. It’s not like I go to church with you—and even when you go to church, you don’t necessarily talk about it as much. Just being able to sit down and ask, “What goes on in your head?” That’s just something that’s special, and has really allowed me to understand my friends who I’ve interviewed.
Taylor: I think you said earlier—you think the higher power is distant. So there’s no, “why good things happen to bad people”—is that a question that you have to wrestle with or is it like he or it is not involved?
Me: For me it’s definitely the latter. For me, the higher power created all this beauty and created us with the ability to accept all this beauty. But the reason I said deist—I mean, deism states that God is a clock-maker. He created the clock and he left it to tick. Kind of like a science experiment. I think he created us—“he”, I’m using the generic term—but he created us with the ability to handle whatever is thrown at us. I mean a lot of times life really sucks. It happens. And there are things about the world that are really scary. But I don’t think that God is there to push things in one direction or another. I think it’s up to us.
Taylor: Ok, I have one closing questions. I definitely understand much more about where you come from. When you look at your life—the rest of your life—your views have evolved and changed, do you think they’re going to continue evolving?
Me: That’s hard to say. Looking at my journey—a lot of times in my life, when I’ve been down or battling depression, I haven’t been able to find that “beautiful” feeling. And I’ve fought depression since I was like seven or eight. These days—I feel the beauty way more often. But I don’t know if I’ll have more moments when I’ll be down and I’ll feel like “Maybe there isn’t anything at all.” I’m not very old, so I’m not very wise, so it’s hard to say. I hope that they keep evolving, I really do. There’s so little that I understand about this world, and I hope that I keep growing to understand more. But I think the more I understand, the more I’ll understand that I don’t understand anything. I hope they change, but I have no idea. I really don’t.
Taylor: Well it’s been a dynamic relationship up until this point, I don’t think it’s just going to become static. Okay, I thought of another question. As you’ve been doing these interviews, people have said things about heaven and hell. As an interviewer, as a person, as a friend, how do you feel when someone strongly believes in heaven hell, and says that maybe…
Me: I think I know where you’re going with this. I know I have friends that think that, because of my beliefs, I’m going to hell. And some people might be offended by that? But…I’m asking the question. I’m asking to be told. I know not to take it personally. It’s not personal. I don’t think that people who think that think I’m a bad person. It’s just—for them, heaven is exclusively for people who go through Jesus. And I’m not one of those people. It’s a little bit tough, because also I feel like people are afraid to answer it directly, and then I feel bad. But I want people to feel comfortable with their answer and comfortable with me. But it’s okay with me. We have our separate beliefs and I respect everybody else’s beliefs, and that’s why I feel like I can interview people.