My Subversion Experiment

Jeremy John looks at the type of faith and belief that can arise from experimentation with truth.

I recently decided to cut caffeine from my diet entirely. In the wake of a three-day illness, I realized that I had past the period of physical withdrawal, and decided to experiment.

I started thinking about my attachment to coffee as not only part of what I do, and what I really, really like (I like it so much I get headaches when I don’t drink it), but as part of my identity.

I think that we are far too attached to who we are by the small pains of ritual and habit. We are bound to what we do by what we do. In order to change we must be willing to actively subvert who we are through the little things in our lives.

This is what is so repellent about dogma itself. It discourages the seeker from experimentation with truth in order to come to one’s own conclusions. This, in turn, is what individuals find difficult about faith itself. Faith is the swallowing of dogma, which, to swallow something as large as Christianity all at once, causes the individual to swell unevenly like a python digesting a pig.


There was a reason why Ghandi’s autobiography was entitled, “My Experiments With Truth.”

But there is another kind of faith and belief that arises from the experimentation with truth, the faith that derives from the testing of belief within the crucible of one’s own life.

It is this faith that is born mystic’s path, to rip away the veil that separates God from the person and experience the divine for oneself. This kind of faith is subversive of the self, and of official dogmas, the result of a personal experiment with truth.

For instance, in Jesus’ day, worship of God was centralized in Jerusalem, under the authority of priest(s) (Caiphas) who collaborated directly with the Roman authorities to keep the Jewish populace contained and manageable for Roman authority. Worship apart from the temple was not acceptable. This created a ruling priest class who monetized sacrifice and marginalized monotheists remote from Jerusalem (i.e., the Samaritans).

Part of Jesus’ work was to subvert this centralized authority by encouraging the personal experimentation with direct prayer to God, and his overturning of the money-lenders tables in the temple was designed to make the Judaism accessible to all people regardless of their geographic location.

It is ironic to centralize and formalize such iconoclasm. In doing so, one admits a Trojan horse into one’s citadel of power.

About Jeremy John

Jeremy John is the Food and Faith Network Director at the Quixote Center, where he builds alternative economies in faith institutions for food justice, where he landed after Occupy DC remade his hopes and dreams. Jeremy has been an activist ever since he accidentally ate the red pill instead of the more harmless blue one. He converted to Christianity, to his horror, while serving a six-month prison term for civil disobedience to close the School of the Americas. He blogs about faith and activism and tweets about whatever catches his fancy, usually faith.


  1. Great post, Jeremy. I think I’ve read it before, but it seems to have improved somehow. Anyway, it’s like I’ve always said: there is no such thing as the autonomous self. Pure autonomy is THE dream of evil and (coincidentally?) of the American “middle class”(not to imply that any kind of total identification btw/ the two). In a characteristic paradox, ‘autonomy’ or freedom from addictions and compulsions seems, oftentimes, to be a prerequisite for deeper relationships with other people or with God–a typical ‘loop-de-loop’ that you capture very well here.

  2. I was expecting a much longer article and would like to hear more… What occurred for you in the experiment? How do you connect it back to your spiritual path? It feels unfinished and I’d have liked to seen more words on the matter. Will there be further posts?

  3. As one not ready to give up the caffeine addiction, you got my attention early here, Jeremy. I do think that religion has a lot invested in the status quo, which, by definition, discourages experimentation. I also think, though, that tirual is not all bad. There are rituals of change and focus that can help us to keep on track, or get back on track when we stray from what we intend. But, I imagine you know that.

    Thanks for your piece. Now, I need to get back to my cup of coffee.

  4. Yes, Jesus had confrontations with the religious establishment of His day. Yes, He was angered by the conversion of the Temple into “a den of thieves”. But even He knew better than to confuse institutional religion with faith or dogma. He was a devout Jew who worshipped at the Temple and taught in synagogues. He said He had come, not to destroy Judaism, but to complete and perfect it. (Saint Paul, who might legitimately be considered the co-founder of Christianity, also took pride in stating that he was a devout Jew, taught by one of the greatest rabbis of all time, Gamaliel.)

    It’s crucial to see the Gospels (and the Bible generally) in context, and not to isolate specific verses. That only distorts the story and the message of Scripture.


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