Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Well, What Do You Believe In?

After explaining to someone recently that I simply did not believe in the existence of any gods, my companion confronted me—with a suggestion of smugness—by posing the question, "Well, what do you believe in?"
Tucked away in the question What do you believe in? is the insinuation that one must have faith in something beyond what the senses convey. To which we skeptics say, Why? How is it having faith in the unfathomable has become a prerequisite for finding meaning and purpose in life? Many would argue that acknowledging something greater than ourselves relieves us of our sense of self-importance, and that in so doing we achieve a genuine humility. Daring to speak for others, the entity greater than ourselves many of us skeptics look to is community—each other in the aggregate.
It seems the theist’s definition of “believe” implies that the object of belief must be beyond what our senses can convey and our ability to reason can affirm. Whereas, we who are constrained by rational thinking feel that anything worth believing in, by definition, should be precisely the things our senses can convey and our ability to reason can affirm.
In other words, my friend, I believe you are sitting in a chair across the table asking me questions. Why? Because my senses convey as much. I also believe that if I drop a stone from a tall building it will fall to the pavement. Why? Because I have reasoned that the effects of gravity suggest it is the likely outcome.
The feeling I so often get is that we who do not possess a blind faith in something beyond the rational are less deserving of the full complement of life's redeeming values, as if it were somehow morally advantageous to have faith in something beyond our ability to comprehend if not supernatural altogether. Yes, it is the morally condescending attitude so many religious people possess and convey that manages to infiltrate and disable our otherwise benign dispositions. Have faith in whatever you want, but understand that believing and knowing are two different things.
The closest thing to a blind faith I possess is what I believe about our capacity to love and our willingness to help those who have never been properly loved. It may be a stretch, but I do indeed believe love can make a difference.