Archive for July 1st, 2009

How to decide what to believe

Posted on July 1, 2009. Filed under: HowTo, Philosophy |

Rather pretentious title, eh what?

I often refer in my writings to my “belief system” or “set of values” or some such thing. One might surmise by that, that I’ve spent much time contemplating different beliefs presented for my listening and reading pleasure; then sifting through them all logically for the best match(es). OR, perhaps I was taught my set of beliefs by an authority figure or figures, and because those figures were confident in the way life works, I was, too.

I have chosen lifeviews based on both the above assumptions at various times, and, at those times, they worked well for me. Now, though, I have a simpler rule…

One thing I DON’T do, is evaluate a belief based on the amount of “truth” it contains. There are two reasons for this. The first is obvious, in that in calling something a “belief” to start with, we are recognizing that the thought-content has not been “proven”. If it were, it would be something called a “fact”, not a belief. Beyond that, however, I also tend to believe that both “facts” and “truths” are subjective; attempts of our incarnate selves to “get a grip” on on perceived reality.

I use the oft-employed example of Newtonian Physics, which was “true” and consistent within its own limited paradigm, but not useful when studying very large or very small phenomena. Just because some scientists in the 16th century “believed” their physics applied to all, didn’t make it so. It seems to me this is more the rule than the exception. (Besides, Newton was one of the inventors of Calculus, which tormented me in high school, so I am less kindly disposed towards him.) 😉

Religion is taught and accepted much as science is. Science is more widely accepted by more people because most of its precepts are also endorsed by religious leaders. I’m aware of few teachers of religious beliefs (including our parents) who would say to a child:

“This is what I believe. I could be wrong, but it feels right, and resonant to me. You are invited to test your own theories. I’d advise you to look within, and adopt what beliefs seem to ring true to you, regardless of what I do religiously.”

That sort of teaching sounds like heaven to me—but we so often want to teach others “how life works”. A belief I tend to embrace states that there is no way, really, to know how life works. This is true for me whether regarding, let’s say, algebra (solve all the equations you want to; they still exist within a mental construct) or, for instance, a holy book giving advice (I don’t dispute one may find truth there, but it doesn’t confer authority upon those who believe differently).

So, how do I decide what to believe? Beliefs, for me (at least on the day I write this) need to have three qualities for me to embrace them; listed in order of importance:

  • The belief must be fun. (I’m serious about that!)
  • The belief must be useful (as defined by…guess who?) The belief must enhance my life, and, by extension, help my life be of benefit to others. It must be pragmatic; workable; affirming. If not, I do my best to chuck it out as soon as possible.
  • The belief must not cause me the slightest temptation to want to impose it upon another. This is crucial. I’d never want to impose…well, anything upon a person who hasn’t asked to share it.

Beliefs, for me, turn out to be very much like clubs to join. I entertain the belief that many scientific experiments are repeatable, and therefore give us knowledge about the workings of the Universe. (Ah, but what is knowledge? A topic for another day.) Therefore, I enjoy playing in the arena of science. I feel that music connects me with you and all beings; it allows me to feel emotionally in ways I don’t otherwise. So, I participate in music.

I “believe” in these things. That “belief” doesn’t make them real. All it does is give meaning to my human existence. How to decide what to believe? Any way you can. Om Peace, Blessings, Salaam, Shalom.

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