This I Believe

Saul - Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
Entered on November 4, 2006

I believe in humility: The humility to admit that I may be wrong; that my beliefs, even the ones I speak of here, are based on limited knowledge and open to change. Often I have acted as though my beliefs were solid, and unchanging, as though I was not human, full of much doubt and confusion.

My beliefs have been like clothing, protecting me, keeping me comfortable, and proclaiming who I am. It is true they have been useful, bringing some order to my world. Yet these beliefs have also been a problem, especially when I have held on to them too tightly. And like clothing, without a good airing out, beliefs are apt to stink. My beliefs have changed enough in my life that I begin now to see the limits of their value.

When I was in high school, I was drawn to science, and I believed in the wonder and order of scientific discovery. I saw religion as irrelevant or irrational. In college, I became disillusioned with science. I began to be influenced by literature: I loved Dostoevsky and others who searched for the heart of the big questions. I became interested in my Jewish roots, and I took a class in Buddhist psychology which revealed a new way of seeing the mind and the world. Science then seemed to me limiting and cold.

After college I found myself without direction, knowing only that I did not want to be trapped by a career. I had no alternative, until I was moved to tears by a book by Wendell Berry. I was so inspired by his vision of a simple rural life that I resolved to move from the city to a small family farm where I could discover this life. For years I held tightly to this ideal and I pursued it with zeal. In that time I judged harshly those who I saw as slaves to their comfort and technology.

I have learned many valuable things from this path. I have also often used my beliefs to arrogantly assert my own views. I have used science to disdain those who believe irrationally, and I have used religion to assert my superiority over those who do not believe. I have looked down upon the ignorance of country people, and I have scorned the smugness of urban cosmopolitans.

I have also drawn powerful sources of humility from some of these beliefs: From the keen skepticism and awe of science, as from the great religious mysteries; from the quiet life of a farm, as from the tolerance that may come from experiencing many kinds of people.

I will no doubt continue to cling to my beliefs. But I believe it is best not to take them too seriously. After all, harmful or helpful, they are at best an approximation of any absolute truth.

With humility I may recognize the limits of my beliefs; I may see the bewilderment and tenderness lying beneath the surface of each of us, and I may glimpse the great unknown that encompasses my own small knowledge.