From a young age, I’ve always been interested in discovering the truth. So I questioned everything, sometimes to the annoyance of my employers! You might say I’m a natural born philosopher, though I’ve never studied the subject formally.
For much of my life, science has provided the best answers to many questions. We come up with an idea, design an experiment to test it, then either reject or strengthen the idea based on our experimental results. That’s the scientific method… and it’s hard to argue with its truth-discovering power.
As a teen, I went through a phase as an Evangelical Christian. Some of it was good, some of it was less good. One of the things I most enjoyed the most was the sense of community, of being part of something bigger than myself.
I’m the first to admit I’m not a great singer, but I really enjoyed that feeling of unity when we sang together.
It’s a feeling I was rarely able to replicate after I left the church and pursued the path of atheism. It’s something I missed and craved.
In short, I almost wished that I did believe in God, simply so I could go to church and enjoy that feeling of unity and community again.
Science generally advocates only believing in something if there’s good evidence for it being true. But this is only one way in which something can be real. In this blog post, I suggested there are other ways for something to be real or true.
There have been several times in my atheistic adult life where I almost wished I could force myself to believe in God again. Christians seemed to get several physical and mental benefits from their beliefs, that feeling of unity I mentioned above being one of them.
Alas, it didn’t seem possible to make myself believe something which, in my heart of hearts, I didn’t think was true. I thought cognitive dissonance would get in the way.
Now, my views have changed. In what may seem like heresy to an atheist or scientist, I now believe it’s worth holding a belief purely for its utilitarian value, even if part of me suspects it may not be objectively true.
Here’s an example…
I now believe in Fate/Destiny. The utility of this belief is that it helps to relieve me of the emotional burdens of depression, anxiety, stress or worry. If the past couldn’t have happened any other way than it did, then there’s no point wishing it was different. Likewise, things in my future will happen if they are meant to happen, so there’s no point feeling anxious.
But I also believe in the flipside – I believe humans have Free Will. This may seem paradoxical – it directly contradicts my belief in Fate/Destiny. So how can I believe in both?
The trick is to pick which of those two beliefs is most useful at any given time.
It’s important to be clear about my intentions at the start. I’m looking to “be good”, aim high, take on responsibility, improve my life and that of those around me. I am not looking for an easy life or to shirk responsibility.
So, if I’m thinking about a past event, or considering a possible future one, then it’s (usually) best for me to believe in Fate/Destiny. This is because it reduces the degree to which I feel negative emotion such as depression or anxiety.
But when I’m thinking about making a decision in the present moment, I force myself to act as if I have Free Will. This means I take on full responsibility for myself and my actions.
It would be morally wrong of me to abdicate my responsibility and say my life is all down to Fate/Destiny/Luck. Not only that, but being a passive victim somehow destroys my soul a little. I don’t want that!
Does all of the above make sense?
I think it’s worth believing something if I can derive some benefit from that belief. And I don’t seem to have any logical or moral problems with flipping my beliefs on their head, if the context demands it.
What do you think? Am I insane? Have I lost my moral backbone? Or can you see the sense in holding flexible and paradoxical beliefs like this?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.