What I believe

There is a type of question on tests in which we are given several samples and we are to choose which one doesn’t belong. For example, which of the following doesn’t belong: horse, mouse, man, mosquito, whale? The answer is mosquito because the rest are mammals. Here is another. Which of the following doesn’t belong: Muslim, Jew, Sikh, Agnostic, Atheist, Christian? Five of these hold a belief about the existence of God. It could be said that an agnostic has a belief but the belief is not in the existence of God but rather that no one knows whether or not God exists. Atheists believe there is no God while the others believe there is a God.
It bothers me that the term agnostic is frequently used similarly to the other terms in the list, usually lumped together with atheists as being nonbelievers (in a god). There can be agnostic Christians, agnostic Sikhs, agnostic Muslims, agnostic Jews and agnostic atheists. That is to say that, linguistically at least; one can hold any belief about a god while acknowledging that what they believe is just that, their belief.
But when someone says their God is the only true God, that their God is the only way to the Promised Land, and that they know this, they are telling everyone who doesn’t hold the same belief that they are wrong. Most of us do not react too well to being told we are wrong. How much better it would be if that someone said something like: “I believe in this wonderful God and through Him I will find my way to the Promised Land. What do you believe?” Then I could respond, “I believe in 24 Gods, two for each sign of the zodiac and they are all trying to sing in harmony and when they do they will hit a note that will transport all of us to the Promised Land.”
Well, hey, there’s a cool belief.
What I truly believe is that the world would be a much better place if we accepted each other’s beliefs as being no less valid than our own.

6 thoughts on “What I believe

  1. I believe that positing the existence of something for which you have no proof is, indeed, less valid than believing in that which has proof.

    In other words, believing in the existence of something which, by definition, cannot be proven to exist merely complicates your ontology. And why would anyone want to use a complex explanation that lacks proof, when science gives us a simple explanation with plenty of proof? Occam’s razor and all.

    Basically, that which can be proven to exist IS more valid than that which cannot. I don’t have a “belief” in evolution and the lack of proof for a God. I KNOW we evolved and there is no proof of God.

    Epistemologists tell us that knowledge equals “verifiable true belief.” Since no one can verify God, there is no knowledge of God, only belief. There is knowledge of the science behind our existence, because it can be verified as true.

    • Ah, the tangle of words; in this case “belief”. The piece is all about belief in God or religious belief in general all of which is, as you point out, belief in that which has no proof. I confused matters by ending with “I truly believe” something that, well, I don’t suppose it can be proven that any action we might take as a species would make the world better, so I am guilty of using the word sloppily. My point, written with “the faithful” in mind, is that they don’t know if there is a God, a heaven or hell, anything outside this life and when they say or think that they know, they are just plain wrong but all they have to do to be right is to come to the understanding that it is what they believe and acknowledge that their belief in something that can’t be known, is simply belief and no more valid than any other religious belief.

  2. part of what I believe is that what you believe shapes mental structures in your mind that I would describe (being a musician) as being like resonant filters. So as a result, you experience a world that is consistent with your beliefs. This means that every adherent to every religion experiences their religion as being ‘true’ because they have experiences that validate it that they’re aware of in their conscious experience, and if they have experiences that don’t validate it, they might not even consciously experience them or if they do, they might not store them as memories.

    The net effect of this is that everyone is right – i.e. you will experience your beliefs as being true – but I’m not at all clear on whether there’s one true ‘reality’ that is the most true or not. The question I’m asking myself lately is what is the best thing to believe to have the best experience without having my beliefs hurt other people (i.e. I don’t want to have a better experience at the cost of you having a worse one, but I do want to have the best experience possible).

    I think that we’re immersed in a datastream that’s so massive that we can’t possibly absorb all of it, and so we have to have some filters to condense it into something we can consciously understand. In addition, while there might (or might not) be a physical world out there, everything we know about it comes from data streams coming off our senses, and those data streams likely go through a number of layers of neural net before they make it to whatever magic is our conscious experience of the world.

    My big problem with most organized religions is that their beliefs tend to put God in entirely too small a box. God is all knowing and all powerful, but transferring a soul from a aborted baby to one who’s going to be born is apparently too much for him. Or, as a recent argument with my parents, humans are special and have souls but dogs – who as far as I can tell are not that much less advanced than we are aside from not being tool users – have no souls. Despite the fact that I’d like to think my eternal experience will involve wearing a dog body at some point!

    Now, based on the thesis that everyone experiences what they believe as being true, the Christians get to experience the kind of God they believe in. I just think they’re missing out, because I think the spiritual reality one can experience with somewhat different beliefs is a much better place to live in. I enjoyed your essay (Satan wrote the bible) enormously and felt like I was reading the words of a fellow traveler and like mind.

  3. Yes, I think we are kindred spirits. I greatly enjoyed: “Despite the fact that I’d like to think my eternal experience will involve wearing a dog body at some point!” Oh, my, the joys of having a mind free to explore possible beliefs that might improve one’s journey in this life.
    You might enjoy the notion of the eternal that I like best at the moment. Having asked many faith-full their notion of the heaven they are aspiring to and finding them vague at best, I put my mind to what it might be and decided that it would be very like this life with one exception, everyone would love everyone; then pictured it like a party and I added a game we could play, the game being another go at life. Before stepping into the phone booth to be “born” we could program ourselves for the game—as a person in another era, another place, another ethnicity or as an animal, say a dog, or even a plant, say a redwood tree so you could have a very long life (might relieve the boredom in case eternity is boring). I’m kind of partial to coming back as an insect as they don’t seem to do much other than eat and fuck and it’s a short life so not much lost if it turns out to be a poor choice.
    I like your term “eternal experience”.

    • Well, based on some conversations with a friend, I’ve started thinking about my life as something that spans longer than the 70 years we see here, and also thinking that very likely whoever is running the show has better technology than we have here on earth, so things like moving memories in and out of scope, restoring them from backups, etc are things they can do.

      As far as the life of a insect, it’s probably very hard to know how long that time feels to a insect. In my experience subjective time sense is a highly variable thing anyway – for example I just spent a day at a amusement park that felt like it only lasted a hour.

      I do think it’s likely that there is something outside the experience we’re having on earth – and, based on my experience, I think it’s possible that *we* might have built earth. A few arguments in favor of this

      1) DNA is very similar for everything living on earth – or at least, a high percentage of it is. This sounds suspiciously like linked library code, and very possibly the output of a compiler!

      2) We know humans can build worlds, because humans *have* built worlds – World of Warcraft, GTA V, take your pick, we’ve seen people write immersive games that are pretty complete worlds in their own right, and we can only imagine what would happen if we outfitted these guys with the best in software and hardware that could ever exist.

      I don’t know if Earth is intended as a world for people who *want* some problems (and I can see where if you have eternity to fill, you might occasionally want to run through a sub-optimal experience and tilt at some windmills

      The truth is, while we can’t really know what’s outside our experience on Earth while we’re here, we can make a few guesses based on what we see here.

      Another fun mind-bender for you. The computer you’re using, which can generate a somewhat credible 3D reality, has somewhere between 5 and 20 million transistors. Our minds have 100 billion neurons, and a neuron is more like a op amp than a transistor. In addition because of the way our minds work it’s less the individual neurons than the connections between them that control the amount of processing power we have. [Disclaimer: I am not a neurologist]. But, it seems very likely that the three dimensional experience we’re having here could be happening entirely within our heads. Now, I’m not a solophist. I believe there are people here besides me, and that I communicate with them regularly. But I don’t know that we all experience the world the same way, and I *sure* don’t know that I can’t make my experience better by changing the way my mind is configured.

      • Time is an interesting notion if one takes it out of this game we are in and plays with it in eternity. When I was young I recall being bored at times; rocking back and forth on my bicycle with a friend wondering what to do. The older I get the faster time seems to go by which, at first, I thought was just a function of aging; but then I became curious and started exploring young people to see if they were bored at times or if they felt time was flying. My very informal research found that the slow time of my youth seems to be gone for everyone which led to the notion that the game clock has been sped up—each second is shorter than it used to be.
        In this game we can compare insect time and redwood tree time to human time but we can’t even know what sort of time the insect and the redwood are experiencing and, of course, outside the game we don’t know if there is a time dimension at all.
        As for there being “something outside the experience we’re having on earth” it is difficult for me to get away from that notion and I see no reason to as long as the notion doesn’t adversely influence this experience.
        “…if Earth is intended as a world for people who *want* some problems” Intention coming from outside this life, the intention of the game creator(s), is really not important. It is important for me, inside the game, to play it well. I think of life as a gift and I am doing my best to use the gift well. Regarding wanting problems, there is no game I can think of that doesn’t have “problems” whether it be Shoots and Ladders, Packman or your opponent in chess. Take away the “problems” from any game and I think you will find an extremely boring game; you know, it would be like the notion many people have of heaven.

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