To me, belief denotes an element of doubt that necessitates faith. I know that our lives have meaning and purpose. I know that most of us (unless we are very good or very bad) will become angels when we pass on, and thereby seek to helpfully guide our loved ones. These things I learned when I died for 20 minutes in 1985.
When it comes to belief I must search. My beliefs enjoy that status because my faith in them seems to be regularly tested, and I spend weeks, months, even years holding on to them despite all evidence to the contrary, with only history and experience as my compass. Belief arises from one’s values. I choose to believe, because I want to inhabit a just and loving universe. My beliefs are: good always triumphs over evil; and that pacifism, non-violence, is the only path to beneficial transformation.
I don’t believe in Satan, or that evil exists anywhere but inside of man. After some terrible event occurs, huge as 9/11 or Katrina or personal as victimization at the hands of a criminal, goodness steps in. And that goodness is usually manifest in the kindnesses of strangers, in that most selfless, pure kind of love. I believe most of us know this to be true, in our hearts.
History is littered with wars that accomplished nothing, with revolutions that replaced one dictator with another just as bad. Our own revolution is the exception that proves the rule. If you recall, the colonists were so enamored of George Washington that they offered to make him king. It was only his super-human strength in declining that role that got our democracy off and running.
Dr. King, Gandhi, and Jesus are better examples of the virtue of non-violence. I like the allegory of the tree: nothing is more passive than a tree. In the first few centuries of the conquest of North America trees were an obstacle to be removed, or at best a commodity so plentiful as to be practically worthless. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, excepting a few isolated refugia, our nation was denuded, clear-cut. But what happened after that? There is something in the human spirit that loves a tree. Visionaries like Teddy Roosevelt starting setting aside huge tracts of land where trees and all wildlife could live, grow, and multiply, unmolested. And people planted and continue to plant trees, mostly for their intrinsic beauty. Every time I drive through the Appalachian Mountains I feel restored by the endless miles of re-grown forest. Perhaps we can’t always turn the other cheek, perhaps white America would not have embraced Martin Luther King Jr. without their fear of Malcolm X, but I’d at least like to see one world leader try that approach, even once. No one ever thinks they are being the aggressor; every act of violence is always rationalized as retaliation, as revenge. Remember, to forgive is divine. As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye leaves us all blind.”