For 30 years David Hayward worked in Church ministry in his native Canada before giving it all up in 2010. He had already developed a reputation for drawing cartoons that provoked and deconstructed much of the artifice in religion. Since then, as well as finding success as an artist, he has helped many people deconstruct the harmful affects of religion and spiritual abuse. One of the enduring themes in his work is the need for the freedom to ask questions, something that developed into his latest book ‘Questions are the Answer’.
What was your motivation to write Questions are the Answer?
I have been journaling for most of my adult life. Once in a while I would go back and read them. It didn’t take me long to realise that there were two major themes in my story. One is that I’ve gone through some pretty incredible experiences and transformations. The other is that I’m the same person I always have been. So I came to the conclusion that this mysterious paradox is in itself a key to my personal growth.
A lot of my spiritual and theological life was rife with strife. It was always an incredibly intense struggle. I was always searching for the answer. When I finally had a profound dream in May of 2009, it didn’t bring an answer, but instead brought immediate peace of mind. And it hasn’t gone away. This made it clear to me that it isn’t certainty that brings peace of mind, but the embrace of mystery.
I’ve been cartooning about questions and doubt for many years. They’ve always been valuable to me. Curiosity was always considered a positive thing by me. Breaking out of the confines and exploring outside the box was always something I personally embraced and encouraged as a pastor. I have a lot of writing and cartooning on the subject. So when an opportunity came to write another book, this topic of Questions are the Answer was the logical one.
I can speak to this because I was a pastor of churches for about 30 years. I know first hand what I’m talking about. I think there are a few factors:Why are some Churches afraid of asking the really difficult questions?
Theological certainty is a valued commodity in the Church. In fact, I can honestly say I struggled and searched for decades to find it. I never did. But I do believe many churches like to think that they possess this certainty and that it should be a reality for their members.
Another strong impulse of many churches is growing and keeping its membership. So gathering members around a common belief and praxis is key. I’ve come to believe that compatibility isn’t a requirement for unity, but love. But this is too messy. It’s easier to achieve the appearance of unity by circling people around theological certainties.
It really comes down to control. Most institutions and organisations, businesses, etc., are about the control of their people. And the first and last domain of control is in the mind. If the minds of the people can be controlled, everything else follows.
Do you see doubt and uncertainty as an essential part of a faith journey?
Yes! Even though I’m reluctant to use the word “faith” in reference to spirituality because of the baggage around it, I will use it here. But in fact, isn’t this what “faith” means? It’s not a part of the faith journey. It is the journey! Not seeing. Not knowing. Not understanding. Doesn’t faith mean walking forward in a kind of rich darkness, growing in a deep soil, moving along a densely covered path where the next step is uncertain? I think so. And like I said, the peace of mind that came to me from a simple dream on May 9 of 2009 did not arrive with certainty, but with a profound embrace of mystery. So now I’m unwilling to view doubt and uncertainty as necessary steps along the way, but in fact as the destination. Even though I have peace of mind, doubt and uncertainty are now beautiful, easy companions.
As a former pastor, have you come across many people asking similar questions?
There are lots of people asking questions. Perhaps not so many loudly or externally, but certainly internally. This is what I’ve discovered through the many years of writing and cartooning at nakedpastor.com. There are so many people asking questions, plagued by doubt, uncertainty, and fear. Fear because religion has taught them that doubt and uncertainty are a lack of faith punishable, sometimes, by Hell. Oh my, the fear so many people live under! I’ve been doing this for so many years that it is now second nature to me. I am completely unafraid to ask questions, especially now that I am self-employed and am a kind of freelancer. But there are so many people who private message me or email me to inform me that they loved my cartoon or post but wouldn’t dare say anything or even “like” it on Facebook because of their fear of the ramifications that would ensue from their family, friends, and churches. I believe millions of believers are asking questions. But they are trapped inside their head. So I provide places online for people to feel free to ask them out loud.
You also run an online community, The Lasting Supper. What is the aim of this?
The Lasting Supper was launched in 2012 to help people deconstruct their beliefs and change so that they could achieve their own spiritual health, freedom, and independence. There are different kinds of people that join TLS, which now has over 400 members. A quarter are women who are looking for a non-patriarchal setting in which to be spiritually independent. Another quarter marginalised people, like from the LGBTQ community who want a place where they are accepted without judgment. A third quarter would be those who have suffered spiritual abuse in the Church and desire fellowship and support in a protected and facilitated group. The final quarter would be rebels… people who are turned off by the control and manipulation they experience in the Church and the world and who want to be a part of a group in which they are free to be themselves without judgment. The common thread in this diversity of people is a strong desire for a closed forum where people can be open – with open questions, open minds, open hearts – a place to privately be themselves to better publicly face their world. You can read ourrights and responsibilitiesas well as our values and principles. We also have our own Manifesto that gives a good summary of what we’re about.
Are the any beliefs that you would see as essential to retain in order to call a belief system ‘Christian’?
I have a couple of thoughts about this.
The first one is that, as a result of the dream I had, I started contemplating, developing, and writing about what I call the Z-Theory. You can read about it in the book. I do realise this is only provisional, and that it has helped me incredibly. So it is my personal paradigm that I hope might help others. Essentially it describes Reality as trinitarian in structure that can be articulated through Christian theology and language.
On the other hand, what this did for me was that I suddenly realised we are all One, deeply united at a fundamental level, and that the only thing that seems to separate us are ideas and words. That is, we are all experiencing the same trinitarian structure of Reality, but we each perceive it through our own paradigms or world views, then we each attempt to articulate our experience through our own language.
What do you hope people will take away from Questions are the Answer?
The book is basically a telling of my story through this lens, and the cartoons are sometimes serious, sometimes silly, illustrations of this journey. So I would be very happy if more people found their personal courage to take risks and raise their questions, embrace doubt and uncertainty as friends, and come to their own healthy place of spiritual independence. As often happens when new members come into The Lasting Supper, I hope my readers will realise they are not strange or weird, but entirely normal, and that their journeys are completely valid. Further, I would hope from this that we would see more people walking away from limiting and oppressive systems, and that more systems would change to make room for doubt, uncertainty, and questions as a part of a healthy ethos.
By Ian Matthews
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