What is Zero

The Art of Unlearning

Life / 03 April 2014 / by Josh Hudnall
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

This post is part 2 of a 2-part series called My Journey. Start at Part 1: Getting to Zero.

What is Zero? What does that mean for me? And how do I get there?

There’s a quote from John Mayer where he talks about people thinking they know you because you’re famous.

That’s the thing about people knowing anything about you before you meet them … you have to work just to get people back to knowing nothing about you.

John Mayer

I love John Mayer, but he has a tendency to come across pretty arrogant, and some would say this quote is an example of that.

However.

He’s not wrong.

When you “know” a famous person, what do you really know? You know what you see in the news. You know what you see on stage. You know what you read on the Internet. And what you know—it could all be wrong. It’s often a public personae, sometimes it’s them at their worst. At best, you can judge their actions. But you don’t know them.

Mayer is saying that if you want to get to know the real him, you need to unlearn everything you thought you knew about him and start fresh.

That is Zero.

I grew up in church. I “knew” God. I prayed and read my bible (sometimes diligently, often not). I went to more church services in 10 years than most attend in their whole life—often several in one day. And many times I engaged. I loved worship and I tried to get whatever I could from the message. Sometimes I even remembered to take notes.

But did I really know God? I don’t think so. I knew all of these stories and views of God. I knew a lot about what the Bible said about God. I knew multiple interpretations—often of the same verse—of how or why or who God is. But it felt like knowing John Mayer. My knowledge wasn’t based on anything first hand. I was living everyone else’s version of God.

So I needed to get back to Zero. I had to come to a place of complete unknowledge about God before I could move forward. I knew that all I wanted was Truth. I didn’t care what Truth was, I just wanted it. And I decided that I would separate myself from spirituality, religion, God, the Bible and all of the things that represented those things in my life. And only once I had fully done that could I journey towards Truth.

I didn’t know it at the time, but moving to Chicago was a pivotal part of that process. I hadn’t even constructed my thoughts on Zero at the time, but I knew I felt constricted in Colorado Springs. Anyone who’s lived there knows it’s a hub for religion. You can’t walk into a Starbucks without seeing two or three bible studies in progress. (For those of you that don’t get out of the 719 very often, it turns out that’s not the case everywhere else.) There are churches on almost every corner and it’s a para-church organization’s paradise.

“Oppressed” is probably the wrong word, but it’s a little how I felt there. I didn’t feel free to distance myself from faith—or even explore faith—while I was there. Even if my friends would have understood, I wasn’t ready to risk it. I knew I wanted to move, and Chicago had long been a dream for me. It’s a city I fell in love with the instant we met several years before. I always had in the back of my mind that I might move there, and now I had a good reason to go. Like I said, I didn’t totally understand why I was going, but I knew I was going.

I lived in downtown Chicago for about four months (far shorter than I had planned or would have liked), but in that time I just lived. I worked. I walked the streets in the rain. I thought a lot about life and spirituality and things far less significant. I even went to church with a friend once or twice, but I felt very out of place. It’s strange feeling out of place somewhere you once felt most at home. But mostly I just lived.

Circumstances soon dictated that I needed to move back to Colorado. I didn’t hesitate to choose Denver.1 It was far enough away from The Springs that I was able to continue my heretical journey unhindered. I learned that I loved—LOVED—not going to church on Sunday mornings. I still do. It is, far and away, one of my favorite things to not do. I missed the community, though I would in time come to develop my own community outside of church—somewhat ironically made up of mostly Christians. If I see any major value in organized church, it is community, but that’s a topic for another post. I understand that many people love going to church. I understand and respect that, but I do not, anymore, love, or even like, attending services of any kind.2

I spent most of the next year just trying to disabuse myself of the long-held beliefs and traditions that so permeated my thinking. And as time passed, I became more aggressive about it. Where I would once think, “I don’t know if I totally believe X,” I would come to say, “I believe X is false.” (I committed to keep an open mind, however, that I could always be wrong.) I began to actively counter any religious notion as a lie. (I’m describing interactions with myself. I’ve never been, nor do I ever intend to be an anti-evangelist.) I would allow no measure of credence to dogma, spirituality or the like. It was cut off in my life. I did not pray. When I desired God, I forced myself to rely on myself.3

I don’t know if you can ever completely reach Zero. You can’t completely unlearn what you have learned. And you can’t prevent yourself from continuing to learn and explore. But I made the best attempt I knew how to make. Eventually I reached a place where I could say that my past no longer directed my life. It may still be there, an artifact of who I was and where I came from, but I was no longer held back by it. 

Somewhere in the last year, I decided I was close enough to Zero—I had reached a point where I could, with intellectual honesty, pursue Truth.

And that pursuit will be a topic of posts to come.


  1. I don’t know that I could adequately describe just how amazing living in Denver was. I expected good times, but I was not prepared for how great food, culture, fashion and life is there. I also had/made some great friends there. I had always thought of it as Colorado Springs, but bigger and norther—I was the wrong-est. 

  2. How’s that sentence for comma overuse? 

  3. There is a reason for this and it’s a topic I’ll cover in another post.