Thursday, July 17, 2014

How Can You Possibly Believe (or Not Believe) in God!?

Everyone knows a type of person that I call a "belief machine". Belief machines are not tied down to any particular religion (or any religion for that matter), but we all know and have met them. These are the people who fervently believe whatever they have been raised to believe and no amount of evidence will ever change their minds.

Likewise we have all met skeptic machines. People who will never believe anything without the most compelling body of evidence to support it. These are people who are completely unmoved, and unfazed by appeals to faith, experience, anecdotes, wonderful stories, etc. Only cold, hard facts and a lot of them will do.

More on that in just a moment.

Two years ago I set out to investigate whether my own beliefs were true. It is my opinion that one can never know if their beliefs are true unless they are willing to consider the possibility that they are false.  I have interviewed thousands of people from dozens of religions and have asked them to answer one simple question: how do you know your beliefs are true?

I have come to the conclusion that Christians, atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Jews, Scientologists, Mormons, Baha'i, Deists, Mysticists, Pagans, agnostics, and New Agers are all brilliant, stupid, rational, irrational, kind, mean, wonderful, and mean-spirited in equal measure.  Trust me, I have talked to thousands of these people over the last two years.

What I have discovered is more about humanity and the way our minds work more than anything. So as alluded to earlier, there are certain people (and we all know them) who just believe, absolutely no evidence of any kind is required. And, in fact, if presented with hard evidence contrary to their conclusions, they will simply dismiss it out of hand without a second thought as false.

Folks like that are cognitively wired for belief.

Transversely, there are people on the opposite end of the spectrum cognitively. They simply do not believe anything without strong, supporting evidence often from multiple lines that are repeatedly and independently confirmed. Until an extremely high burden of proof is met, these folks simply will not establish a belief.

People like that are natural-born skeptics.

I'm not saying one position is better than the other, they are simply different. Although, there can be serious problems with either extreme.  The point is humans exist on both ends of that spectrum cognitively and also exist, like a gradient, on every point in between. Some people are simply wired for belief. Other people are naturally skeptical. Then you have people like me who fall somewhere in the center of that spectrum.

To this point, we have all heard people say things like, "I simply do not understand how some people don't believe in god(s)." And we have also probably heard people say, "I simply do not understand how some people DO believe in god(s)."  These are honest statements from opposite ends of the spectrum. A natural-born believer, someone who is cognitively wired before belief is simply not going to understand the mindset of a natural-born skeptic, and vice-versa.

To the natural-born skeptic, a god belief is foreign, unnatural, completely incredulous. She simply cannot understand or relate to why anyone would take something like that on faith. It's ridiculous! Therefore she rationalizes this buy saying things like, "well people who have a god belief are just brainwashed, or delusional."  Because, for her, a god belief can ONLY exist on those terms. Her mind simply cannot understand it, so she rationalizes it in a way that she can understand it. Delusion, dogma, brainwashing, etc.

On the other hand, to the natural-born believer a god belief is intuitive, intrinsic, as easy and as natural as breathing. In fact, most natural-born believers cannot separate themselves from the idea of a belief in god. Existing without a god belief would be the worst possible thing imaginable. Thus, these people simply do not understand natural-born skeptics. They rationalize their non-belief with statements like, "you only don't believe in god(s) because you are angry with them, you know they exist you're just in love with your own pride." Because to them, not having a god belief is simply unfathomable. They cannot and do not understand a skeptic's mindset, so they put it in terms they do understand. "You only don't believe in god because you obviously hate god."

After two years of investigating whether my own beliefs are true, I am not sure I'm any closer to the answer. In fact, I would venture to say my investigation has raised more questions than answers. But I have learned other valuable lessons along the way, including the one I have presented here. Recognizing there are people who have extremely different mindsets than me is important. Understanding people, even people with whom I vehemently disagree with, helps establish empathy. I think all sides should strive to understand one another more, not just assume that their own personal cognitive position applies to every one else. Not everyone thinks as you do, or as I do. But even more so, not everyone is cognitively capable of thinking like you do.  Understanding this should go a long way in helping people with vastly different ideas to discuss matters calmly, and with an eye towards mutual benefit and understanding rather than hate.