Confessions of a Post-Spiritual Maverick .... a sort of memoir

 


BELIEF

 

Don’t let a little thing like god come between us.’    
Anonymous

People have questioned the veracity of my assertion that I do not believe in anything. To some, such a perspective cannot be a true reflection of how I operate in the world. Everyone has to believe in something, right? Even if it is a belief about indisputable things like the world is round or the earth revolves around the sun, not vice-versa. In addition, given I often make references to god and conventional religions such as Judaism and Christianity, how can I claim to not have beliefs of some sort? After all, isn’t claiming to not have a belief in anything a belief itself? And why would I even bother to refer to god and beliefs if the two words have such irrelevance in my life?
        Till now, I have not directly addressed these issues, because I have not wanted to bore people with customary definitions and dreary philosophical and theological pontificating. Book-shops and libraries abound with writings of these sorts and I have no desire to add to their stocks. I find such literary undertakings of little interest, for if they do not demonstrate their convictions in real life, then, at best, they only represent partial truths. They are also predictable and immensely boring.
        Having said all that, I acknowledge that the humorous style I exercise in my vignettes may not be clearly imparting the subtleties that underlie matters as heady as beliefs and god. I have, thus, decided here to use the more formal approach of an essay. It is worth saying from the outset, however, that intellectual comprehension unaccompanied by related experience is wholly insufficient. Words alone cannot suffice as harbingers of truths – they can only point to what is trying to be communicated. ‘Understanding’ requires a very different level of cognisance.[1]
        To begin, I ask the reader to close his/her eyes for a few seconds, then think about another person or some object……. Do you feel separate from that person or object? Generally, do you feel separate from all other sentient beings and from the universe of objects and things outside of your perceived self? Or, put another way, do you notice a difference between you and all that appears to not be you?[2]
        If your answer to the above questions is ‘yes’, then notice further that this feeling of separation induces fear, the fear that your survival is threatened by others and/or by the universe itself.[3] I contend that in order to allay the fear of obliteration by a universe that, in reality, has no regard for the survival of anyone or any thing, the god of religious belief (be it Judeo-Christian, Muslim, Eastern-centred faiths, and a myriad of other belief systems) was created.[4] This ‘god of separation’ makes rules and demands that must be followed in order for the believer to enter some heavenly realm after death. Not following or believing in this deity, leads to all manner of distasteful outcomes, ranging in severity from a holding pattern in purgatory to the eternal torture of hell. It is always fear (and a desire to control) that drives people to believe something, especially fear of the unknown and fear of one’s mortality.
        Now, let us examine more closely the context in which I use the words ‘belief’ and ‘god’.
        As a starting point, I refer to the following definitions of the word ‘belief’ that are consistent with how I use the word:

        1. The subjective assessment of uncertainty.[5]
        2. Assent to a proposition or affirmation, or the acceptance of a fact, opinion or assertion as real or true, without immediate personal knowledge; partial or full assurance without positive knowledge or absolute certainty.[6]
        3. Mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something.[7]

        The key elements of the word ‘belief’, as I use them in my writings,[8] are they arise from the conceptual mind and they represent doubting that can never be completely dispelled. Belief in anything is always accompanied by its opposite, and it always coincides with an internal battle to have one side win over the other. Thus, for example, a person claiming to believe in god must, simultaneously, be struggling with the sense that god does not exist (even if only noticed sporadically). Belief is always housed in a dilemma that is never totally resolved.[9]  Good vs bad, right vs wrong, the devil vs god, are all examples of the struggle to have one side of a belief prevail over its concomitant opposite. It is the nature of mind to build protective structures (such as beliefs) around itself in an attempt to ward off its own perceived annihilation.[10]
        More could be written on the subtleties and nuances of beliefs, but such an exercise could be detractive rather than informative. I suspect that, in order to fully appreciate what I am conveying, the reader would have to go through an intense process of self-observation.[11] No matter how lucid arguments may be, one has to engage processes that, over time, reveal the nature of mind and beliefs experientially.[12] Trying to describe the quality of belief to someone who is unwilling to engage such a process, would be like trying to explain the taste of chocolate to a person who thinks (or ‘believes’) they know what it is like because they have previously eaten carob or black sapote. Until one has actually tasted chocolate, one will never know what poor substitutes the other foods are!
        So, in summary, when I say I do not believe in anything, I am expressing how I view existence. The question of belief just does not enter into my reckoning. Do I believe I love my parents? No, I know I do; there is no doubt about it and this knowing is not a mental construction. Do I believe in reincarnation, fairies, extra-terrestrials or arch-angels? The answers are neither yes nor no to all such questions as well. I have never met a fairy, come into contact with an arch-angel or an extra-terrestrial, or experienced a previous life. This does not mean none of these entities or processes exist – I simply have no experience of such things and thus do not believe or disbelieve them. Ultimately, I do not know.
        Do I believe the sun will rise tomorrow? Given it has every day of my life, and taking into account the mountain of scientific evidence predicting it will, my best guess is it will rise again tomorrow. But I do not ‘believe’ it will; it may not. Finally, is the earth spherical and does it revolve around the sun? All the scientific evidence points to ‘yes’ to both questions but, again, I do not believe or disbelieve either of these propositions.[13] They do, however, offer reasonable interpretations for lots of empirical observations and experimentation.
        I now turn my attention briefly to the word ‘god’, a word that has, over the millennia, been distorted by numerous definitions and connotations, and used to mean many things. As indicated earlier in this essay, I consider the god of Western religions (and any other religion or ‘spiritual’ path with distinct deities) as the god of separation, a separate Being that supposedly created the universe and now presides over it in judgement. To me, this god represents the mindsets of fear and childish religiosity. I use ‘god’ in my writings in order to highlight these deficiencies. I also use it at times just to be controversial. The best I can do to explain my understanding of that which is termed ‘god’, is to say god is simply reality, the ‘isness’ of life.
        Existence is an unimaginable mystery where beliefs of any kind are superfluous, and a god with any characteristics is the consequence of human frailty and invention. Existence is also a Paradox, a play of opposites.[14] Anyone who does not appreciate Paradox is indeed humourless!

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A final word on Judaism and me, especially for those who feel that because I write about such issues in my pieces, there is some sort of personal religious implication I have not properly addressed.
        I was brought up in a culturally Jewish setting, quite distinct from a religious Jewish setting.[15] Both my parents are confirmed atheists and they consider themselves to be Jewish – actually, very much so. If this is confusing, then I suggest getting some Woody Allan movies. They may bring about some useful insights into the matter. They may not as well. At the very least, you might have a good laugh!

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NOTES

[1] I use the word ‘understanding’ here to mean a recognition that is not subject to the vagaries of beliefs which always have fear and doubt as core motivators.

[2] Note that this is an exercise in awareness, not intellectualization.

[3] This understanding is not novel; e.g., it is written in the Upanishads (which constitute the core teachings of the Hindu Vedantic scriptures), that as long as there is an other, fear arises.

[4] In contrast to my previous vocation as a scientist, I offer no proofs here for this assertion. One either notices the feeling of separation and the fear it engenders, and therefore confirms my assertion, or one does not and discounts it (or is at least sceptical).

[5] www.hopkinsmedicine.org; viewed 3/10/10.

[6]Webster’s Dictionary online: www.webster-dictionary.org/definition/belief; viewed 3/10/10.

[7]www.thefreedictionary.com/belief; viewed 3/10/10.

[8] For example, see ‘To Believe Or Not To Believe, That Is The Question’, by this author; July, 2010.

[9] The word ‘duality’ is often used to describe the division people feel in the midst of existence.

[10] The word ‘ego’ can also be used here in place of ‘mind.’ They are both bound by self-preservation.

[11] Self-observation leads to an awareness of reality as it is, unencumbered by the overlay of the conceptual mind.

[12] It is beyond the scope of this essay to go through the process that may be necessary. Suffice to say, it requires an extraordinary commitment to uncovering the Truth. In my own case, I went through a long process that took me to different parts of the world and to the feet of some extraordinary beings. I have written about my experiences in this regard in an essay titled ‘Leaving Adidam’. I still cannot claim to know what the Truth is: I suspect I never will.

[13] Incidentally, the earth and the sun revolve around each other, not just the former around the latter. In describing the planets’ orbits mathematically, it is just more convenient to assume the sun as the centre of the solar system. This results in consistent elliptical orbits of the planets around the sun rather than a series of very complex trajectories.

[14] Paradox is ‘a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.’ (www.dictionary.reference.com/browse/paradox; viewed 6/10/10). Truth is not one thing over and against another; in reality, the two sides are true at the same time. In order to appreciate such seeming absurdities, Zen Masters have used Koans to go beyond the mind’s inherent resistance to such notions.

[15] Many people think that Judaism is necessarily connected with some religious conviction as, for example, Catholicism is. People who claim to be Catholics consider themselves to have religious commitments that are intimately related (and compatible  to varying degrees) with the Catholic Church. This is not the case for most people who claim to be Jewish. Contemporary Judaism is mostly a cultural identification and not a religious one. Go figure.

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