I do not believe.
Before you dismiss this as contrarion nonsense, you should know that it informs most of my worldview, and might be elaborated upon as so: there are things I think I know, there are things I do not know, and there is one other quality I will remark shortly. In order to believe one must, if I may borrow from GB Shaw, willingly suspend disbelief. This I am unwilling– or unable– to do.
As I have listened to people over the years try to explain to me what they believe– and some of these have been quite eccentric, like a dear auntie who once stated with absolute conviction that white people were created by god and everyone else was a product of evolution– I am struck by the total absence of evidence to support these claims. That seems to me the essence of belief: to accept the unknowable unquestioningly, without evidence. We are, as a society, addicted to this phenomenon– a society of conspiracy theorists for whom the unknowable must always be explained, for whom extraterrestrials are real, lunar landings and the holocaust are not, and there is never a lone gunman.
I travel on the edges of two warring cultures who are convinced with a sort of idealogical fervor that George W Bush is either Hitler or the risen Jesus. Can they both be right? This is the other problem I have with belief: someone is always right, someone else wrong.
My life seems more ambiguous than that: I do not know if extraterrestrials have visited Earth, or that there was a gunman on the grassy knoll. I am reasonable certain that men walked on the moon and there was a holocaust; I am also willing to reevaluate these notions in the presence of credible evidence to the contrary. I do not know if George W Bush is a good or a bad president. I do know that his values are different than mine, which tend toward the socially permissive and progressive, but are mine right? What if my values are contributing to our drift away from civility so often deplored today? So I will wait and see who is right, and I think I will wait a long time.
When my wife of 23 years died recently I thought I knew that I would have a loyal commmunity of friends and acquaintances to help me through that dreadful time. I was wrong: I had, it turned out, very few friends. I did still have a few, though, and as I shook off my heartbreak at the behavior of the many, and grasped the awesome dimensions of the loyalty of the few, I was filled with a fresh sense of hope: for my future as a widower, for the future of my friends, even for the future of my critics. I also hope that there are extraterrestrials, that men visited the moon, and that George W Bush will prove to be at least harmless, if not something more.
This, then, is what I do: I hope. I hope, and that may be as close as I will ever come to belief.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.