Question with Boldness: Thoughts on Belief
“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.”
— Thomas Jefferson
What do I believe? I find it a bit odd when people say that atheists believe in nothing. To be human is to hold beliefs, for better or worse. I am giving some thought to the things that I believe. I can’t say that I know that all of these things are true, or that I can prove them to be true, but they seem true to me.
- I believe that people are basically good. That when they are freed from fear, want, and desperation people will usually do the right thing.
- I believe that the natural word provides enough mystery and wonder to make the notion of supernatural miracles just seem silly and wrong.
- I believe that the best guides to the truth are science and philosophy working in cooperation with one another. Science provides the facts, and philosophy makes the facts meaningful.
- I believe that the best guide to morality is reason guided by empathy.
- I believe that all gods in all religions were invented by human minds, and that the supernatural claims of all religions are false.
When I was a Christian teenager, when my doubts about the religious tenants that I had been taught would rise to the surface, I would try to beat them down again by declaring my belief (even if only to myself) and insisting that I really did believe. The problem with that is clear to me now. I had been told that there were certain things that I must believe, no matter what, or my soul was in danger of eternal damnation. Or even worse, that if I disbelieved in the story of Christianity my remaining years on earth would become empty and meaningless. To tell the truth, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that this last statement was a complete and utter lie. Life actually becomes more meaningful when you are not trying to force yourself to believe in things that don’t quite make sense.
Actually, I’d say it’s not so much that I didn’t believe the doctrines, but rather that I didn’t know that not believing them was a viable option. It’s hard enough to question your beliefs even without the threat of punishment if you should change your mind. This is the difference between this enumeration of beliefs that I am doing now and what I did as a Christian teenager. Now I am actually pondering my own mind and behavior and trying to pull to the surface what I really believe, rather than making a declaration of the things I think I ought to believe.
Everyone has beliefs. In fact it would be impossible to function as human beings without beliefs, because we are always acting in the face of incomplete knowledge. I find myself in a bit of a dilemma when trying to enumerate the things that I believe because I have the strong suspicion that a large number of things I believe are lurking below the surface of my consciousness…the assumptions that I hold without knowing that I am holding them until the truth comes up and slaps me in the face.
This is a point of humility for this atheist. Sure, you can make a lot of the fact that I boldly questioned the religious beliefs of my upbringing and found them to be utterly unsupported. It is a big deal. I had a lot of help–such as a friend who questioned me and asked “how do you know?” and books and professors that teachers who showed me that there are other ways to look at the world. The sort of beliefs that worry me the most now are those that are so engrained in our culture that we may rarely if ever be exposed to other points of view. What other irrational and unsupported beliefs might I be holding now?
The red flag that I might be holding one of these false beliefs is if I get angry or offended at someone else’s words. Why would someone else’s expressed opinions ever have that effect on me? The key is to keep learning and keep searching and keep questioning. Any opportunity to adjust my belief to be more in tune with reality is an opportunity that should not be missed.
So go ahead, offend me.