“At the core of all well-founded belief, lies belief that is unfounded.” ~Ludwig Wittgenstein
Fuck religion. Fuck dogma. Fuck trying to make yourself feel better by injecting an imaginary friend into the already confusing equation of existence. Focus instead on becoming a better person. Focus on thinking. Focus on action. It’s less about placation and more about taking things into deep consideration and then letting that shit go. Even then, it’s less about pigeonholing truth and more about self-discovery.
Don’t get me wrong. Spirituality is vital. Be spiritual. But spirituality doesn’t require anyone to “believe” in it. Religion does. Spirituality is flexible; religion is dogmatic. Spirituality is liberating (courage-based); religion is authoritative (fear-based). Spirituality is painful growth; religion is comfortable stagnation. Spirituality is open-minded; religion is close-minded. Spirituality is interdependent; religion is codependent. Spirituality speaks a language older than words; religion speaks a language limited by words. Spirituality allows the Great Mystery (God) to be truly infinite; religion attempts to pigeonhole it into a finite construct. Most important of all, spirituality is full of questions (thought); religion is full of so called answers (belief).
If this seems harsh. Tough shit! I’m not here to tell you what you want to hear. I’m here to tell you what you need to hear. As renown philosopher Daniel Dennett said, “There is no polite way to suggest to someone that they have devoted their life to a folly.” So buckle up, buttercup. Let your little snowflake heart melt all over the place. Make a goddamned mess. You’re in for a ride.
The dangers of belief:
“It is not disbelief that is dangerous to our society, it is belief.” –George Bernard Shaw
Think about it. When has disbelief ever hurt anyone? And I don’t mean feelings. Fuck feelings too. Now, ask yourself, when has belief hurt anyone? Take a moment. Think it through. Get the point?
Belief is dangerous precisely because if you believe in something completely, you’ll do anything, however irrational and however evil (ironic much?), to keep that belief in tact. You can’t be persuaded, because you believe.
Let’s say you believe in some arbitrary authority (God, queen, president, cop). You believe that they are righteous and good. You believe in their religion, politics, or laws. You believe in their infallibility. That belief is so deeply entrenched in you that nothing that authority could do would persuade you to believe otherwise.
Now, let’s say that authority convinced your pure “faithful” heart to do something that, had anyone else told you to do so, you would think it immoral. Like the Christian God telling Abraham to kill his oldest son to “test his faith” for example. What then? Careful, now. You’re on a slippery slope into Evil Town. Like Voltaire famously said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”
Don’t get me wrong. Be confident. Be cool. Be calm, collected and controlled. But you don’t need belief for that. You don’t need faith and certainty to have confidence and achieve self-improvement. If anything, belief will hold you back. It will keep you from questioning things. It will keep you from thinking. And that’s the crux. That’s the kick in the pants. That’s the brain-dead fly in the proverbial ointment. If you cannot think, then you cannot be free.
The freedom of letting go of belief:
“Don’t believe yourself, and don’t believe anyone else. If you don’t believe, what is not true will dissolve in front of your eyes. Only what is true will remain, because what is true doesn’t need anyone to believe it.” ~Don Miguel Ruiz
Now, I know you’re probably shitting cognitive dissonance all up inside your Mormon magical underwear at this point. But take a deep breath, pull your brain out of your forefather’s ass, and think about the big picture for a second. As Samuel Coleridge said, “You do not believe; you only believe that you believe.”
The truth is that reality is the way it is despite your beliefs. I’m not saying that I know the way reality is. I’m saying that it is most certainly the way it is (whatever that is) despite what you believe. It’s self-evident. When you let go of belief, you’re simply rolling with that fact. You’re allowing that to be the case, despite your indoctrination, conditioning, upbringing, or brainwashing.
When you let go of belief, you let go of expectation, and you allow yourself to simply be with the naked, harsh, unforgiving truth of reality. The cold and hard truth of “you don’t know.” The pulsing blister of “you are going to die!” The answers to which should be: “Okay, let’s figure it out by weighing the evidence and then using probability as a guide to see if our “answers” are valid according to universal laws, and then keep questioning,” and, “Okay, I’m going to die. Great! I better get busy living the healthiest life I can live because I simply don’t know if this is the only chance I get to live a life well-lived or not.” Neither of which require belief. Both of which require you to sacrifice belief.
Not believing in anything is absolute freedom precisely because neither our intellect nor our imagination can be diminished by the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation.
Not believing in anything frees us to take everything into consideration. We become logically liberated, scientifically set free, and our rationality is relieved. We’re free to dig deeper into reality without the shame and guilt of dogmatic belief hanging over our heads.
Healthy skepticism and an intimacy with probability become our shifting bedrock, our foundational quicksand, our liberated measuring tool. We’re free to swim in the waters of uncertainty rather than remain chained to the pillars of certitude.
When it comes down to it, letting go of belief allows us the freedom of being wrong. It’s finally admitting that we are a species that is profoundly fallible and prone to mistakes. We’re a barely evolved naked ape going through the awkward motions of its adolescent phase of existence. We’re a floundering and confused species.
Indeed. My believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster gets me nowhere, except maybe entertained. Better to simply take it into consideration as a silly belief that some people might have, and then laugh at it. Laugh at myself. Poke holes in it. Question why I might believe that “his noodly appendage will save me from my sins.” Or why I insist on wearing a colander for a hat. As with all things, a good sense of humor will set you free.
The importance of reasoning rather than believing:
“Belief is when someone else does the thinking.” ~R. Buckminster Fuller
Caveat credentis: believer beware. Rather than believe in things, take things into consideration. It is simple to alter considerations, but it’s almost impossible to alter beliefs. And altering both considerations and beliefs are vital for the healthy, progressive evolution of our species.
Taking things into consideration is far superior to believing in them because we are a fallible, ever-changing, still-evolving species. We happen to be a species with a big brain, which gives us a false sense of security that we have discovered answers to complex questions. Along with the false sense of accomplishment that we’ve evolved to a peak state.
But when it really comes down to it we are merely big-brained mammals stumbling through a vast cosmos of which we have barely even scratched the surface.
That’s why we must take things into consideration rather than believe in them. Belief is limiting. Taking things into consideration is limitless. Belief is mental slavery. Taking things into consideration is mental liberation.
The best way to maintain a healthy, reasonable skepticism, and not devolve into an ignorant, sycophantic, violent mess of a human, is to take things into deep consideration and then question them rather than believe in them. When you come up with what seems like a solid answer, simply take it into consideration rather than believe in it. In other words: entertain the answer without accepting it. Then use the “answer” as a tool so that it doesn’t turn you into a tool.
In the end, believing in nothing frees you up to rethink and re-imagine, regardless of the cultural, political, and religious boxes seeking to contain you. Believing in nothing frees you up to be truly alive, in the moment, rather than merely waiting to die. It opens something up for you to explore. It gives you something to question. It gives you something to have an adventure with.
Believing in nothing liberates you from the chains of dogma so that you can discover the courage of self-improvement. It releases you from the bondage of certitude so that you can gain the wherewithal of self-confidence in the face of uncertainty. It’s having the vulnerable mettle of courage despite the invulnerable metal of faith.
Believing in nothing is absolute freedom because you can finally see how everything is connected to everything else, and how attempting to stuff infinity into the finite nutshell of a belief is done in vain. It’s perhaps the vainest act of all. Better to not be vain in the first place. Better to remain in a state of constant awe, in love with the moment, bewildered and astonished by the grandeur of the unknown.
Imagination liberated. Intellect untethered. Love unmoored. Humor dethroning all gods. Unlimited by belief but limited by cosmic law. Allowing the universe to be the way it is despite our beliefs, because the universe is going to be that way anyway. So we might as well get better at living in accordance with it.