Where do your beliefs lead you?

Snippet of a dialogue from a discussion forum…

Robert says:
The requirements for an observation to be considered to be evidence are strict: the phenomenon must be repeatedly observable by anyone who is interested, and must be able to show, and actually show, that the thesis under discussion is true, if such is the case — AND must be able to show, and would actually show, that said thesis is false if such is the case. And this arises for good reason: it is extremely easy to fool oneself as to the nature and significance of a subjective phenomenon. Clearly, no subjective phenomena of any sort can qualify as evidence in a scientific sense.

None of this has anything whatever to do with anyone’s position on the rights of women and LGBT people — nor whether one is a theist, atheist, or whatever.

Karen writes:
Robert, you write: “None of this has anything whatever to do with anyone’s position on the rights of women and LGBT people — nor whether one is a theist, atheist, or whatever.”

Exactement!! Exactly! Which brings us back to my original question: Seeing as how my beliefs in God don’t cause me to do harm to others, why do you REALLY care about them? What impels you to want to refute them? Why does it matter to you what I believe? Why is it any of your business?

And if I were to tell you that my belief in God has made me a better person – has helped me become kinder, more compassionate, more tolerant – doesn’t that actually make my belief in God a positive thing? Something to be glad about?

I don’t think it’s our beliefs that are important. I think it’s what we do with them that matters. If your belief in Nogod has made you kinder, more compassionate, and more tolerant – then I celebrate your belief in Nogod with you.

Robert responds:
Good post. “…my beliefs in God don’t cause me to do harm to others…” Most of the time, they probably don’t. But if you ever do ANYTHING for religious reasons, there is a distinct possibility that there will be, somewhere, an adverse effect. But the more salient point is: do not these beliefs cause you to do harm to yourself? Do you spend time in a church, as opposed to doing something productive? Do you contribute time or money to religious things, instead of to things that actually improve peoples’ lives? Do you approve of what is demonstrably irrational thought?

“…my belief in God has made me a better person…” I would ask for your grounds for this. Such beliefs can impel people to do good things — or truly horrible things. And, since there does not (and, provably, cannot) exist any means for validating any such belief, whether you do well or ill in accordance with a religious belief is strictly a crapshoot. No doubt you temper your religion-impelled actions on the basis of your appraisal of their overall effect on the society in which you live, but not everybody does this. (Examples of such perfidy are rife in the news these days.)

“I think it’s what we do with them that matters.” Agreed. But the standards to be applied in determining this cannot be based solely on any religion.

Karen responds:
Robert, you ask: “…do not these beliefs cause you to do harm to yourself? Do you spend time in a church, as opposed to doing something productive? Do you contribute time or money to religious things, instead of to things that actually improve peoples’ lives? Do you approve of what is demonstrably irrational thought?”

I am a teacher in a non-profit alternative high school. Seventh-eighths of the population is composed of minority students. My students and their families are dealing with challenges that a lot of us can’t begin to imagine – and that I can’t really share here. I came to the alternative high school after a 20-year career in public education. I get paid peanuts, but I love my job and love working with these kids. I love helping them find academic success and helping them discover their gifts. There are days when I come home totally emotionally drained – not from my students, but from seeing the crap they have to deal with just to survive in our society. I feel useful there. I really like feeling useful. My work is not in any way connected with a religious institution.

I am involved in supporting political issues that matter to me – I served as a state delegate to the 2012 Democratic convention, and write letters to politicians and newspapers, and write posts on my blogs that take the time to address these issues. I have given money to the ACLU, Amnesty International, the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Fund, Habitat for Humanity, Humane Society, and Doctors Without Borders, among others. I have helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity.

I also like to keep moving – hiking, gardening – healthy activities that keep the blood pumping. And I’ve found it’s important to my well-being to set aside time for creative pursuits, too – I’m big into photography, singing, and writing.

I am not, actually, a very religious person. Not all theists are. There are periods in my life when I don’t attend church. And there are periods when I do. Right now I am the Reader at the mid-week testimony meetings, and my job is to pick the week’s topic, find readings on it, and conduct the service. I try to find readings that I think will be helpful and healing to the world. Last week’s readings were on “wrath/anger” and “love/forgiveness.” People seemed really grateful for the inspiration they felt from the readings, and I was glad I could provide that for them.

And now I give the question back to you: How do your beliefs in Nogod help mankind? How do they make the world a better place?

“We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out on the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat… Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.” – Tim Minchin

I really like that quote. I especially like the thought that we need to start with our OWN biases when it comes to thinking critically. How much of your time do you spend on self-reflection? When was the last time you changed the way you thought about something? Or recognized a bias that wasn’t healthy for you to have?

How do we know when we need to change our beliefs about something? Well, for me it starts with looking at where my beliefs are taking me. If they’re leading me towards hate, fear, anger, bigotry, bullying, greed, and selfishness, then those beliefs have got to go. But if my beliefs are leading me towards love – guiding me to a place of courage and compassion, generosity and hope, joy and kindness and forgiveness and integrity – then those are the beliefs I’m going to nurture.

What about you? Where do your beliefs lead you?

Robert responds:

A most excellent post. It appears that you have your life well together — something that is rare in this day and age. I entirely approve of the Minchen quote. I am not young, and have spent much time and intellectual effort on identifying the source and nature of knowledge and what can be done with it.”it starts with looking at where my beliefs are taking me.” In other words, you are looking for evidence. Are your theses sound, or are they refuted by evidence of some sort? This is exactly what you should be doing — and are, with the notable exception of religious beliefs. You are doing appropriate things with respect to society, but your foundation is weak.”Where do your beliefs lead you?” Among other things, to participate in these forums. We have all seen the horrors that religious beliefs have brought to the world society; it is my purpose to show these to be the nonsense that they are. So, that instead of flying airplanes into tall buildings, we can indeed spend our efforts productively in things like teaching the next generation, discovering cures for loathsome diseases, and making it possible for people to live in comfort and peace.Carry on!

Seeker responds to Karen:
I read your post and then the reply from Robert, and I have to say that I don’t see your “foundation” as being weak. Even though I would probably side with Robert on the idea that there is no proof of God, I don’t see religious belief as automatically detrimental. In fact, in proper perspective and using definitions appropriately I have seen great value from those that profit by their faith. That said… it is sad that so many use religion to justify those reprehensible things you mention, “hate, fear, anger, bigotry, bullying, greed, and selfishness”, and do it in the name of religion. What is strange is that most of those failing in these areas ARE the religious. Very sad, and certainly detrimental to those that use faith as you apparently do.

I believe your last question, in context with your examples of guidance, is one that all people should be aware of. So I will ask it again…Where do your beliefs lead you?

Robert writes:
Re Karen T., above and elsewhere: You have well described your various activities, which I consider meritorious. Suppose, now, that you concluded that, since the existence of any god cannot be demonstrated by any means [1], you decide that it is pointless to believe in one. In what way (if at all), would your subsequent activities differ from what you are doing now?

1. Recall that this is provable.

Karen responds:
Thank you, Robert. You don’t know what a relief it is to learn that my life has met with your approval. 🙂

I guess I could lie and tell you that I no longer believe in God – and maybe win your complete approval of me and stuff… but… well, it wouldn’t be honest of me.

My belief in God is based on happenings I have witnessed or experienced first-hand – so, although these experiences are just nice anecdotes to people who didn’t live them or see them, to me they are more than that. For me, they are “proof.”

Remember that I don’t believe in an anthropomorphic god. I believe in a power and presence and Consciousness of Love and Truth. There’s nothing supernatural about this God.

Nando Perrado describes “God” this way (Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home) and I have not found a better description for the God I believe in: “…I did not feel God as most people see Him. I did feel something larger than myself, something in the mountains and the glaciers and the glowing sky that, in rare moments, reassured me, and made me feel that the world was orderly and loving and good… It was simply a silence, a wholeness, an awe-inspiring simplicity. It seemed to reach me through my own feelings of love, and I have often thought that when we feel what we call love, we are really feeling our connection to this awesome presence.”

Seeker responds to Karen:
That’s nice, and I am awed by what can be experienced, too.

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