Wednesday, December 14, 2005

No Belief

An astute young man asked me today - "What do we have left if we are without belief?"

To clarify, this fellow and I had discussed what we considered "belief". Our inquiry was centered around spiritual/religious belief - the various ideas that people attach themselves to regarding god(s), saviors, souls, prophets, miracles, what happens after death, etc. That is, our inquiry was not about the complete eradication of all belief. We were not considering conjecture based upon observable evidence. For instance, we understood statements such as "I believe this water will turn to ice if we lower the temperature below 0 degrees." or "I believe that if I drop this rock, it will fall to the ground." to be reasonable assertions.

What we considered was the quality of mind that has absolutely no spiritual/religious belief whatsoever.

Perhaps, to find the answer to that we must first find out why we believe. We believe, do we not?, to escape fear. Perhaps since childhood our family or our society has told us to believe and we fear standing alone. We fear being rejected by those who collectively share a particular system of thinking. To stand alone may create unrest, and in order to avoid that unrest we cling to our belief.

Perhaps we stick with a belief because we are afraid to consider the possibility that we may have been deluding ourselves for years. We may have believed something so strongly that to even question that belief would mean questioning everything we've stood for.

Perhaps we believe because we have experienced or witnessed tragedy in our lives and feel lost unless we can try to make sense of it.

In some cases, we may believe in order to deal with the fear another belief evokes. For example, we believe such-and-such happens after death so in order to make sure that our foundational belief in the process of death is carried forth in our interest, we believe in X.

These various escapes from fear we speciously label 'hope' or 'meaning' - for if we honestly saw our belief for what it is - an escape - we may decide to face our fear directly. We say that belief gives us hope and meaning without questioning why we feel the urge to ascribe hope or meaning to life itself.

Indeed, there may be various cosmetic explanations for belief but the common denominator is undeniably fear.

Surely, belief divides us. It never brings us together. Of course, pockets of believers come together under their particular umbrella, but for one concerned with the whole of humanity, it is clear that belief is a mechanism of division. The theists are in their camp whilst the atheists are in theirs. The communists, buddhists, christians, hindus, muslims - they all have their particular beliefs and are thus fragments in conflict with the whole of humanity. At times, they may take action that serves others outside their belief circle, but psychologically - inwardly - they see the world as 'us' and 'them'. Just as one may cling to national pride yet offer foreign aid, action is not whole and therefore, incomplete. The aid is but one plug that may slow the overall leak, but the fundamental fissures are ignored.

What is the quality of mind that looks directly at fear instead of escaping through belief?

One imagines the believer cleverly stating that such a mind also perpetuates the "us" and "them" mentality and is therefore no different. They may claim something like - the "believers" versus the "non-believers". But can the negation of belief (not the reaction toward - take, for instance, the atheists) be fairly lumped into the mash? Is a mind that is alone (all one) a mind that participates in the religious realm of belief at all? Is a mind that steps aside and honestly says "I don't know." in conflict?

What do we have left if we are without belief?

Why speculate? Let's find out.

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Blogger aNDy said...

"What is going to happen to you all? ... Do you know how to work, intellectually and physically, and therefore are able to stand on your own against this current that is carrying people away? - the current of commercialism and vast selfishness. ... Are you going to be sucked into the current, or stand alone?"

These were the words of Krishnamurti to an audience at Brockwood Park...

Although he was not talking (for once) about religious belief, beliefs, in essence, are the same, whether religious, dogmatic or even scientific. Choosing not to believe in any of the beliefs that are "carrying people away" means to “stand alone.”

How is it that all those who do not believe are alone? Why aren’t they together? Not believing surely is something in common, or is it? If it was, then Krishnamurti could’ve said: “stand aside” rather than “stand alone”.

Is the number zero a prime number? Many will jump to say, of course not!!! To be a prime, a number must be only divisible by itself and one; and zero is divisible by every number but itself. Very few can see the other side of the coin: zero can be divided by itself and the answer can be any number you like! Can anyone prove that zero divided by zero is NOT equal to five?

You may start to think, what does this mathematical absurdity have to do with belief? I’ll tell you. The infinite set of equations that you can write by dividing zero by itself is a set of those people who do not believe. How? Although they all do not believe, the result of their lack of belief is not the same, or cannot be proved to be the same. Just as zero divided by zero cannot be proven to be equal to zero divided by zero!!!!!!

Peter argued that belief is more a dividing factor than a unifying one on the large scale of humanity; and I agree fully. But I add that a total non-belief is ultimately worse. For instead of having an “Us” and “Them” kind of a world, we might end up with a “Me” and “The others”!!

Do I claim to have a solution? I wouldn’t be on this earth if I had… I don’t even know if a solution exists. But what I know for sure is that I don’t believe, nonetheless… And Peter, it is more peaceful without the belief, and this is not a speculation…

Blogger Gnuosphere said...

andy said:

"But I add that a total non-belief is ultimately worse. For instead of having an “Us” and “Them” kind of a world, we might end up with a “Me” and “The others”"

I see what you are getting at. However, in order to have a "me" and "the others" outlook, one must carry the belief that the "me" is something other than the world. I am not talking about questioning most belief. We must be conscious of and examine all belief. There is no "half-way" option. If we are honestly critical of absolutely every belief we hold then there should be no danger of creating a "me" and "the others" mentality.

However, I do see the difference between rejecting belief with a "I refuse any claim immediately" dogma - and simply being without belief because one honestly says, "I don't know, but if possible I'm willing to find out."

Take, for example, dependent origination. One may claim the chain of rebirth-consciousness (and the breaking of it) as fact - many buddhists do. It would be dangerous to immediately reject that doctrine and equally dangerous to merely accept it at an intellectual level simply because it meshes with one's religious/philosophical identity. That is, many buddhists claim it as fact merely because they identify themselves as buddhists - not because they have found out the claim's fallaciousness or verity for themselves. Rejecting it without a critical examination would be a belief - the belief that it is false. Accepting it without understanding it for oneself would also be a belief. Belief not only divides humanity, but also prevents one from finding out what is true. We become satiated with a belief instead of putting aside reactionary rejection or blind acceptance of a claim and finding out for ourselves.

Blogger aNDy said...

gnuosphere said:

"Rejecting it without a critical examination would be a belief - the belief that it is false. Accepting it without understanding it for oneself would also be a belief"

Maybe I can rephrase your words... And tell me if I got your point...

Humanity will be far better and nearer to the "truth" if we stopped believing and started knowing...

Blogger Gnuosphere said...

aNDy said:

"Humanity will be far better and nearer to the "truth" if we stopped believing and started knowing..."


Let's say one holds out a close-fisted hand and claims that inside is a rock. It would be dangerous for one to either believe that there is a rock or believe that there isn't a rock. If possible, the claim should be verified. If not, why believe or disbelieve? Why not humbly accept that one does not know, and move on? Claims lacking any verisimilitude - whether true or not - are not of any value other than being platforms for great fiction. But at their worst, they act as psychological escape vehicles. Escape from fear in the form of belief. A step away from understanding ourselves. It is only through the understanding of the mind - not escape - that fear ceases, no?

Blogger Michael said...

I enjoyed your post, with one possible exception:

"Rejecting it without a critical examination would be a belief - the belief that it is false. Accepting it without understanding it for oneself would also be a belief"

I'm not sure that classifying the rejection of a proposition as a belief. There are many propositions in the world which we may not have specific evidence for or against; take your reincarnation example. Certainly there is no evidence (beyond the subjective stories of those who might as well have been probed on a UFO) for reincarnation, and there is no specific evidence against it. But to classify the rejection of reincarnation as a belief itself, is to discard all the other rational and scientific thought that leads to actual knowledge.

There is, one might say, a philosophy involved in using science and reason to determine what is real in the world, and rejection of principles which do not conform to that process is implied. In this sense, a person who approaches life through this scientific philosophy does have evidence against any belief... that evidence is that a belief derived without evidence is most likely flawed. Maybe, you then might say, my belief is in science's ability to find reality, and so all I've done in my argument is displace the word belief from your original assertion of it's location (believing in not reincarnation) to the new location (believing in science). But then, I would maintain that believing in science is nearly akin to your first example, that "if I drop this rock, it will fall to the ground", is a reasonable assertion and not a belief.

Perhaps my previous use of syntax illustrates another piont. That being, "not believing in reincarnation" is disctinct from "believing there is no reincarnation". Penn (of Penn & Teller) recently wrote this piece for NPR's , This I Believe series, making this distinction. He says that he has gone beyond what most atheists claim (that they don't believe in God) to the actual belief that there is no God. This is the same distiction it seems you are looking for. Claiming a lack of belief is not the same as claiming a belief, but maybe more akin to your preferred opinion of "I don't know".

Now, maybe I've gotten a bit too semantic and picky about the wording. If so, sorry, but at least I've satisfied my urge to give out an unsolicited opinion at least once a week. I do enjoy your blog... it's much more refreshing than the drivel of everyday life that some people think is intersting to others.


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