Tonight I got into an…um…vigorous… discussion about belief with a long-time friend of mine.
This follows on another such exercising discussion that I had with a different friend a couple nights ago, where she was upset because fundamentalists seem to be the only ones that anyone (including me) listens to, pays attention to, or thinks of when someone says the word “Christian”.
So I feel the need to clarify, for those who haven’t been here a long time, my thoughts and feelings about belief.
See, the first friend made the statement that I seem to be “pissed off by people believing anything that can’t be proven”. Later, she tried to nail me down by summarizing that I “don’t get enjoyment from fanciful or imaginative thoughts, and only enjoy concrete things”. In a final, desperate attempt to clarify my beliefs, she surmise that what pissed me off was “people being judgmental of me for not believing what they believed”, and then countered with an accusation that I was intolerant of their equally valid beliefs.
What I was trying to get across to her was that I have no problem with people believing whatever the hell they believed…but DID have a problem with people denying demonstrable, undeniable, reliable facts that contradict their beliefs. It frustrates me to witness them inventing increasingly complex and improbable mythologies to support those beliefs in the face of more reasonable, cohesive and pervasive explanations.
For example, I object to people denying that they have any power or control over themselves or their own lives, minds, or destinies in favor of some feeling of specialness that they are watched over by a power that nursemaids them through every day much the same way that parents wipe the bottoms and noses of their helpless infants; but then say that anything that goes wrong is their fault, and anything that goes right is “God’s blessing”, as if they were created by a God that made them incapable of any good, but wants nothing but the best for them; AND then hold up that belief as if it makes them more special than anyone else.
I object to them pointing to the sins and failings of non-believers as proof that human beings are inherently evil and incapable of good without the intervention of God. I object to them pointing to the sins of believers as proof that human beings are inherently evil and incapable of good without the intervention of God…and expecting me to accept that as incontrovertible proof that things would get better if only we were all believers.
I object to them living their lives in such a state of powerlessness and self-loathing. I object to preachers encouraging them to believe as they do and collecting every spare dime from them that they can spare in the hopes of heavenly reward. I object to them claiming the right to teach their self-loathing pathology to my children in school, and I object to them trying to get my elected officials to pass laws through my government to subject me to the twisted products of their delusion. I object to them re-writing a history they never bothered to read and understand. I object to them rejecting science that they think they can counter with the intellectual equivalent of a rabbit’s foot; and then claiming the right to dictate what I can use for medical care. I object to them being able to fund their movement to violate my right to conscience with tax-free money and without government scrutiny. I object to them then claiming that THEY are the ones being victimized. (For the record, I think that churches should be tax-exempt for charitable work, and for traditional church property and expenses - sanctuary, church office, parsonage, nave, fellowship hall, church kitchen, staff wages and such. They should have to pay taxes on income from business ventures like book stores and coffee shops, and they should be required to pay property taxes on property such as health clubs. They should also be subject to government regulation for public services such as day cares, respite cares and restaurants.)
If you will allow me to pick on the New Agers for a moment, I object to the mother of a friend of mine spending God knows how much (my friend estimated about ten grand) on an unproven “alternative” medical procedure to cure her arthritis, and then complaining about the materialism and lack of generosity of her children, the lack of opportunity in the corporate-governed economy, and the general unfairness of humanity at large, and God only knows who else (but not herself or her “doctor” and certainly not God - it’s not his fault it’s not a perfect world) when she is unable to pay for necessary home improvements. I object that she insists that the treatments are working wonderfully when she is more crippled up everytime I see her, and only improve when she is told that she has completed the treatment…whereupon she returns to a state just slightly worse than she was in when she started and proclaims herself to feel “better”.
I object to self-help gurus charging thousands of dollars for seminars that people take one after the other after the other only to wind up lonely, bitter, lost, anxious middle-aged people with no money and nothing to show for all their “work”…which, by the way they were doing all these years to get ready to start the lives they just never felt “ready” for.
I object to people telling their kids that a rainbow is something placed in the sky by a God that wiped out every living person on the earth except for one family, and then admitted it was a mistake and made the rainbow as a symbol of the promise to never ever make that same mistake again. I object to them claiming we can believe this because God is perfect and would never make mistakes or break his word. I object to them saying that this is a God of perfect mercy and perfect love. I object to being told that I am going to hell because, when given the choice to believe in the book that spouts such nonsense, and believing in God, I choose God and reject their stupid book and the preachers who claim authority under its power.
I object to people turning down chemotherapy to treat their cancer because its made of chemicals, but relying on crystals to heal them (despite the fact that crystals are made of chemicals).
There’s a lot I object to, but let’s move on before I get too terribly tedious, even for you intrepid few who made it this far.
Let’s talk about what I believe. What I believe cannot be proven. If it can be proven, then it is known, not something I believe. What I believe cannot be disproven or contradicted by anything I currently know or understand. If it can be, I cease to believe it. I constantly strive to know and understand more than I do currently.
Therefore, what I believe is continuously being eroded by what I know.
While I greatly enjoy and possibly benefit from fanciful conjectures, poetical or lyrical dalliances, and the occasional unexplainable experience, I do not consider them to be a superior experience to things which can be independently and objectively verified, replicated and tested.
If other people believe differently than I do, I assume that they have important and compelling reasons for it. I do not judge them as being mentally deficient or morally inferior to me because they believe differently…even if what they believe is contrary to what I believe. At the same time, I reserve the right to observe when their beliefs do them harm. I also reserve the right to be dismayed when they persist in damaging behavior because of their beliefs. Further, I reserve the right to object strenuously when their persistence in their beliefs does harm to others.
Other than that, I believe that it is my obligation to leave them and their beliefs the hell alone, and worry about my own.