Dear E & V,
When people find out that I used to attend church regularly, or that I once wanted to join the priesthood, they have one of two reactions depending on their own beliefs and how much they know about me: they either chuckle or they ask to know more about my faith.
I always avoided the latter discussions because my faith tends not to align with what most people believe and I didn’t want friendships to dissolve or people to think less of me because we have disagreements about the nature of God, god(s), and the universe. It’s the same reason I don’t like talking politics — I don’t believe strongly enough in any of that stuff to risk rifts in the social bonds that I care about. I don’t see any benefit in discussing what I believe with people who are already certain in their beliefs, or who want to convince me that their way of thinking is the correct way of thinking. I spent several years studying philosophy because I never found that way of thinking to give me any answers that I was satisfied with, and I had enough of a struggle with my previous Catholicism that any attempts at proselytizing immediately left me wanting to leave the conversation. It’s not that I necessarily think they’re wrong, I just don’t believe their answers to the Question of Life is right for me.
So if you’re reading this and are already confident in your beliefs about the universe, then I don’t know that you’ll get much out of the rest of this letter (though I welcome you to continue reading). However there is one group I do think will benefit from a discussion of my faith and I’m confident that when you’re old enough to read this that you’ll be among them. They go by many names — agnostics, agnostic atheists, spiritual but not religious — or no name at all, but all share a certain doubt that current organized religions and philosophies hold the answers for them. If you find yourself in one of those groups, then pay attention to the following:
- I haven’t yet experienced sufficient experience for a higher power, so I live as if there isn’t one. If there is a higher power I think it is mature enough to be okay with this “lack” of belief (with no apologies to Blaise Pascal).
- The fact that we exist is amazing, and while it may be attributed to a higher power I am not epistemologically comfortable assuming that there is one. I simply don’t know why or how we exist and I am comfortable with that.
- I don’t believe in pure good or pure evil. I think there are just actions and humans assign attributes to them that don’t exist outside of our minds.
- Even though I think good and evil exist only in our minds, I strive to be good and I dislike people when they act bad. That’s just who I was conditioned to be by my social environment.
- Human belief is inherently contradictory, and that’s okay.
- I don’t think it is important to know who or what created the universe, as it doesn’t have any impact over how I behave right now.
- I don’t think there is an afterlife. I certainly don’t believe in a hell, as I don’t think any higher power would be that petty or vindictive.
- I think we as humans have become divorced from our world because of our over-reliance on consciousness to interpret our reality. I think we are happier when we experience reality as it is with just our bare senses.
- You can’t force belief. I can’t believe in God anymore than you can believe in Dracula.
- I think every religion and philosophy has a little bit of truth and helpfulness in them, some more than others. It’s much like the parable of the blind men and the elephant — several blind men feel different parts of the elephant (the foot, the trunk, the tail, etc.) and each claim they know exactly what makes an elephant an elephant when in truth they each only grasp part of what makes an elephant.
- I don’t think there is a given or inherent purpose to life, and that’s the best “gift” the universe could give us. Because that means we get to make our own.
That’s it. That’s my faith. I think you’ll find it short and simple because — as I mentioned earlier — I just don’t think I have the tools to make definitive statements. I don’t think consciousness is able to grasp the complexity of our universe so I personally think it’s hubris speaking when people attempt to tell me they know what Truth is, or that I will be able to find Truth myself. I’m much more comfortable with the ambiguity that entails than with making a statement that I ultimately can’t back up.
You will be exposed to many beliefs throughout your lifetime, some will be beneficial to you, some will have no impact, and some will be harmful. I turned away from Catholicism because it turned me into an inflexible zealot. Most world religions have had a neutral impact on me, while the writings of Nietzsche have helped me greatly in being comfortable with the chaotic nature of reality. For some people the opposite is true, and that’s okay. What belief works for one person won’t necessarily mesh for another. What’s important is that you find what works for you and don’t necissarily believe something simply because that’s what you were raised to believe.
One of my goals in sharing my own faith with you is to help you to be able to parse through all the beliefs out there and help you find which ones work best for you. I can’t give you all the answers because I don’t have all of them, but I can tell you what has and hasn’t worked for ME. But that’s one of the wonderful things about life: YOU get to figure it out. YOU get to explore your world with yourself and/or others and see what beliefs mesh with your experiences. YOU get to discover truths and falsehoods and have a lot of fun doing so.
How do you discover these things?
You experience life. You say yes to things that sound fascinating, even if they scare you a little bit or make you a little uncomfortable. You read and you meet new people — billions of people have already made the journey through life and they share their experiences and insights into what they think makes the world tick. You meditate. You sit and reflect on what you learned. You write — you try to explain your ideas and what you’ve learned to others. That will help you refine your ideas.
And perhaps most importantly, you ask questions. Of both what you believe and what others believe:
- What is to be gained by this belief?
- What are the consequences of this belief?
- What are the assumptions underlying this belief?
- Is this belief masking any insecurities or justifying an emotion?
- Are these beliefs empowering or limiting?
Those are by no means the limits to the questions you should or can ask of beliefs. But you should at least keep those ones in mind everytime you find yourself reflecting on one of your beliefs or a “truth” that someone else is claiming. And be careful when ever anyone tells you that faith or belief is limited to religion — even atheists have faith. It might not be faith in an omnipotent God, but they have a faith that the scientific method is the best way to explore reality or that democracy is the best form of government.
Because in the end faith is just a belief in the certainty of an assumption grounded in human experience — the assumption that the world as we know it is knowable and judgeable.
And whether or not it is or is not doesn’t change the human urge to explore our world and frame our beliefs around what we find. Embrace the exploration and just remember to continually question your own conclusions and the conclusions of others.
I am a Father, Husband, Cowboy Philosopher, Volunteer Firefighter, and Professional Dilettante. I am nothing and I am everything. But when it comes to our relationship: I only wish you wonder and happiness.