‘The Sound of my Voice’: Faith, Belief and Rationality
Recently, following the recommendation of a friend, I watched the movie, ‘The Sound of my Voice’. The low budget (only $135,000) movie was a hit at the Sundance Independent Film Festival in 2011.
The movie is the story of two wanna-be investigative reporters, a couple in their twenties, who infiltrate a cult in los Angeles, with a view to exposing the leader – an attractive, blond women, dressed in flowing white robes, memorably described in one review of the movie as looking like “the Pilates instructor on the Starship Enterprise”. She claims to be from the future, specifically the year 2054. She says she has returned to the present to warn people of the impending civil war and disasters that are due to happen, and prepare people for this.
As the movie unfolds, we start to see the tensions between and the complexities of the motivations of the two people investigating the cult. Furthermore, as they become more involved with the cult, their role as detached investigators, looking for the truth in order to expose it, becomes more problematic.
The movie ends leaving the viewer in doubt about the central question of the film. Could this woman really be from the future? Or is she a charismatic fraud, using new-age language and dubious therapeutic techniques to emotionally manipulate her followers?
The movie is very cleverly constructed to suggest the possibility of multiple interpretations of what might be going on – not just in relation to the central question in the paragraph above but in many other scenes too. In an interview with Wired magazine, Brit Marling, the actress who plays the cult leader, and who also co-wrote the script says:
“I think that we tried to — and I hope this worked — we tried to have everything offer or inspire multiple interpretations. We tried to craft it so that each seed could be interpreted multiple ways and that you’re constantly, as the audience, with Peter, sort of pushed back and forth between whether or not she is or isn’t extraordinary.”
I found the movie eerie and unsettling. Beyond the central question as to whether the cult leader really is from the future or not, the movie confronts us with what do we believe in and why? And, if what we believe in is just an effect of our family and cultural conditioning, what, if anything, might lie beyond this? Like other films, which play with this theme, such as ‘The Matrix’, ‘The Trueman Show’, ‘Trance’, ‘Dark City’, the result can be disturbing, though potentially liberating.
On a related theme, I read recently that a number of high-tech billionaires from Silicon Valley, convinced we are living in a computer simulation of reality are now secretly funding research to help break us out of it.
There is a very good article here from BBC Earth with leading cosmologists, physicists and technology entrepreneurs arguing for this possibility.
In a profoundly more powerful way than watching a movie, our experiences with La Madre Ayahuasca also call into question our beliefs and conditioning and blow apart the limited rationality that our culture generally uses to settle questions of belief. The veil is lifted. But what do we make of beyond the veil? Or what credence do we give to the visions and experiences brought to us by the Madre?
This is important in a culture, like ours, where most of us grow up and are educated into having empirical, sense-based evidence for what we hold to be true. Once Madre Ayahuasca throws that out of the window, especially in a culture whose rationalist, materialist worldview now seems exhausted, there is a huge vacuum for all kinds of half-baked fantasies to rush in. Just look, for example, at some of the ayahuasca sites on Facebook. Returning to the theme of the film, this is fertile breeding ground for cults.
This is particularly pertinent to me at the moment. Madre Ayahuasca can show us many worlds. I have experienced alien worlds and reptilian beings, which stretch my imagination (in the best sense of the word) to the upmost and (afterwards) can activate my skepticism – did I see all those reptiles in that ceremony because I had been reading David Icke the day before?
Furthermore, over the seven years I have been drinking ayahuasca, I have had three profound visions connected more to my personal life than the possibility of other worlds co-existing with ours. At the time, these visions seemed more real than real and were completely compelling and convincing.
I have responded differently to each of these visions. The first, I pursued doggedly for two years before giving up. The second I chose to not act upon and the third, most recent one, is still an open book. So were these visions ‘true’, given that, so far, none have come to pass? Recently, a friend told me that during a number of ceremonies, she had seen visions of herself being raped and stabbed in the neighborhood where she lives, which is potentially threatening and dangerous. Should she give credence to these visions and move?
One way it makes sense to me to think about this is to see the visions as possible realities that may or may not be enacted – rather like ideas of parallel universes in quantum theory or many roads less travelled. Even if we do everything we can to enact them, as I did in the example of the first vision I experienced (and maybe like first love, our first vision is always going to be special) there is no guarantee they will happen.
All this brings me to the question of faith. If everything is relative, as certain versions of post-modern philosophy argue, and capable of multiple interpretations as the movie shows, and there is no absolute truth, where do we find our ground? What do we believe and have faith in, at a time where all our cultural and political institutions seem bankrupt?
Faith, as is said, can move mountains. It can also organize crusades and slaughter thousands.
I am reading a delightful book at the moment called ‘Sastun’, by Rosita Arvigo, about her apprenticeship to Don Elijio, a Mayan healer in Belize in the 1980’s. At one point in the book, Don Elijio says that whilst it is clearly important to have knowledge of the plants, what is most important to use them well is to have faith in them. He indicates that this might be something that a person has as a gift, not something that can be taught.
So it could be that we can connect faith to a sense of inner destiny, to discover our inner calling, what it is that we are in service to. Being in service to just our individual self, as our current economic system emphasizes, is ultimately empty.