One fine day, the leaf became conscious and started to ask questions about itself and the meaning of life. It enjoyed the experience of being alive.
But here’s something you probably didn’t know about leaves – they can only see the colour green. So the leaf couldn’t see the branch it was attached to, or the main trunk of the tree. It thought it was just floating in the air, independent and free.
After a while, the novelty of being a leaf wore off and the leaf, who was on a lower branch of the tree, looked up and saw there were leaves that were higher up in the air, where they got more sunlight and had a better view of the world.
“I want to be where those leaves are”, the leaf thought to itself. It spoke to some other young leaves who told it that if it just wanted it badly enough, and was prepared to work for it, a leaf could move anywhere it wanted to. After all, those leaves somehow got up there, so why not us? We are just as deserving.
So the young leaf decided to work hard to improve its circumstances. It would focus all of its energy on moving higher up in the air. Now, sometimes, when it focused hard, the leaf could feel itself moving and thought it was succeeding. It didn’t understand that the movement was the result of the wind blowing. But other times when it focused hard, the wind didn’t blow, and the leaf was frustrated with its lack of progress. After a while, the leaf got depressed.
“Life’s not fair,” it would think. “I suck at being a leaf. I’m a bad, stupid, unworthy leaf. I don’t believe in myself enough. Nobody will ever love me.”
One day, it got talking to another, older, wiser leaf.
“You seem happy,” said the young leaf to the wise, old leaf. “What is your secret?”
“The secret, young leaf, is to know that you are connected to all other leaves by a tree,” said the wise leaf. “In fact, you ARE the tree.”
“What is this tree you speak of?” Asked the young leaf.
“It’s the invisible framework that connects us all and gives us life” said the wise leaf.
“But how do I get to be one of those higher leaves?” asked the young leaf.
“You are ALL of the leaves,” replied the wise leaf. “You are the entire tree. You are just one node of consciousness in the entire tree of life.”
“I understand that you are probably right in theory,” said the young leaf, “but how does that help me? How can I be happy?”
“Accept that you are the tree and enjoy the experience of also being a leaf,” said the wise leaf. “It won’t last forever.”
“But I can think fro myself,” said the young leaf. “Surely that means I am free to do whatever I choose.”
“Thinking and choosing are just chemical events generated by the tree,” said the wise leaf. “Like photosynthesis. Do you think you are free to photosynthesize?”
“No, but I’m not aware of the photosynthesis,” said the young leaf. “It just happens.”
“Exactly,” said the wise leaf. “You are aware of your thinking, so you think you are in control of it. But it’s really the same process as the photosynthesis. Both are just chemical events happening to the tree. Accept you are the tree, and everything will become clear and life will be simple, free from stress and anxiety.”
But the young leaf couldn’t see the tree, so it refused to accept what the wise leaf said. Leafs, like people, can only hear when they are ready to hear.
“If I accept what you’re saying, I would be miserable,” said the young leaf. “That would mean I’m stuck being a lower leaf. It seems like a defeatist, fatalist philosophy.”
“On the contrary,” replied the wise leaf. “Acceptance of the reality of things is the only path to permanent happiness and peace. Fighting against reality is a certain path to misery.”
But the young leaf was too caught up in its desire to be special, so instead of accepting the truth of the tree, it tried to escape its misery by drinking and binging Netflix, took up obsessively going to the gym, read a lot of books about having a positive mental attitude, eventually becoming angry at itself and bitter at the world, until it finally withered away and died and was replaced with a new leaf.
The tree smiled as the new leaf became conscious and started to ask questions of the other leaves.
The savage sun, the busy ant. Stupendous oak, a young green plant. Gargantuan El Capitan A ghost of smoke, a baby’s hand. Fossilised tooth from ancient shark. Trilobite from Cambrian spark. Laptop keyboard on which I type. Sweet aroma of mangoes ripe. These things are all of atoms made. Obey the laws of physics played Out at small scales we cannot see. Atoms are you, atoms are me. Atoms are love, atoms are death. Atoms write songs. Atoms are breath. Only they are reality. All else is mere plurality. Story created by the brain. Its primitive way to explain Why things happen and who we are. A convenient story arc That tells us we are in control. And thrusts us down into a hole Of ego, identity, soul. The cause of all our pain and grief. Preventing permanent relief. Atoms are ocean, wind and sand And the baby’s head in my hand. You and me and everybody Are nothing more, nothing to see. There is no magic that controls Our thoughts, decisions and impulse To laugh and cry, and dance and sing To love and hate, or work or bring To life a play or write a verse. Atoms wrote this and much, much worse. So when life throws you for a curve Teach your brain to simply observe That atoms are what’s happening And everything else that you see Faces and names and pain and grief Are like characters on TV Who seem so real to you and me Yet understand that all they are Is dots on a screen, from afar. Our brain sees patterns and it tries To make them things we recognise. Do we lose sleep when someone dies On TV? Or do we know That TV people are just glow- Ing lights that are not really real? So too it is with you and me. Don’t believe the image we see. Remember what is at the core. And don’t ask me what it is for. Atoms emerged from the Big Bang. Elemental forces that sang Out when the universe was young. And ever since then, they have sung The song of all that is to be. The song of you, the song of me. That’s what they do – they sing their song. And all of us just sing along. We are the atoms that do sing The song of simply everything.
I got home last night to find one of the walls of our house covered in paper hearts. At first I thought Fox had done it. Awwww. Then I inspected more closely. Nope. Not Fox. Not Chrissy. Instead it was some unknown Mormon ladies – and the hearts were intended for Chrissy. She dropped out of the church 20+ years ago, but, like the mafia or Hotel California, you can check out of the Mormon church any time you like, but you can never leave. They recently found out where she lives (we’re still not sure how). A couple of months ago, pre-covid, a couple of middle-aged white men knocked at our front door one afternoon. I opened it and they asked if Christine lived here. Now just imagine that for a second. A couple of unknown men knock on your door and ask for your wife by name. What’s your immediate conclusion? I asked where they were from and quickly established they weren’t from the CIA (whew), but from the LDS. At that time, Chrissy asked them respectfully to please not contact her again as she has no intention of re-joining the church. But then, last night, some of their fellow church members decided to walk onto our property, while we were not at home, and plaster messages over our wall. If it was up to me, I’d march down to their local church and ask to speak to the women who did it. Then I’d ask them how they would like it if I snuck into their yard and posted stickers all over their house saying “Joseph Smith was a polygamist who had sex with a 14 year old girl because God told him to!” Or “Rent Marketing The Messiah Today For Only $4.99 (USD) – marketingthemessiah.com/watch“. Chrissy is much nicer than me, though, so that probably won’t happen. Don’t get me wrong – I love the Mormons. I think they are fascinating. I’d love to make a documentary about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and their 14 year old wives. But I have to wonder what they hope to achieve by sneaking into people’s yards and pulling these kinds of… stunts. It’s wrong on many levels and I’m sure they wouldn’t like the “favour” returned. So take a note from Jesus’ book and DO UNTO OTHERS. Or, as I always put it on our podcasts – Don’t Be A… Stunt.
My first documentary film, Marketing The Messiah, will be screening in selected cinemas in Australia and the USA in March 2020.
It’s a secular history film about early Christianity. I interviewed twelve scholars and asked them to explain how a fringe Jewish sect from the backwaters of Judaea ended up taking over the Roman Empire.
Who wrote the New Testament?
When was it written?
In what order?
How did the message of the New Testament change over the course of the writing of it?
And how did the early Christians convince Romans to worship a dead Jew?
It might seem strange to make a film about this because most Christians probably think they already know the answers – and most atheists don’t give a shit.
But what I’ve found over the years is that most Christians are actually incredibly ignorant about the foundations of their religion. Moreover, most of them don’t want to know. There’s an attitude many of them have that suggests history doesn’t matter – only faith. Which is fine, I guess, but strikes me as rather silly. You’d think that anyone who decides to devote a chunk of their life to a philosophy would want to understand where it came from.
The atheists, on the other hand, tend to dismiss Christian history because they aren’t interested in religion. But I need to point out that Christian history is the history of Western Civilizations from around 400 CE onwards. As I often say – Julius Caesar and Alexander The Great were both worshipped as gods and you’re interested in their history – how is this any different?
The film, however, isn’t an attack on faith or a theological debate. I’m not interested in those topics (for now). This is just about the history of the early church. And to make sure it isn’t biased, I made sure that half of the scholars are Christians and half are atheists. As you’ll see when you watch the film, they all agree on the fundamental questions posed above about the writing, authorship and timing of the New Testament. That’s mainstream scholarship – even though most Christians will probably be shocked by what they hear.
You can find screening information here and learn more about how to set up your own screening here. You can watch the trailer here and more clips from the film here. Yes it will eventually be available for streaming, but not until later in the year.