This I Believe

John - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Entered on November 26, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
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I make a point of having exactly no beliefs, and I encourage you to adopt my practice. My intention here is to show that belief serves no positive purpose, and can lead us to irrational behavior, delivering lousy results for everyone.

Just a few examples:

Christians drowned witches because they believed witches were agents of Satan.

Hindus let their children starve rather than feed them the flesh of cattle because they believe that they contain the souls of their ancestors.

Jews will not give up conquered lands even though it might guarantee their security because they believe the land is a gift from God.

Muslims destroy themselves with explosives strapped to their bodies because they believe that doing so will result in a direct trip to heaven.

People all over the world contract the HIV virus because they believe they can have unprotected sex just this once and be all right.

Abortions are rising all over the world because anti-abortionists in power believe that an invisible superbeing in the sky dislikes sex education and birth control.

You get the idea.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not trying to discourage anyone from having principles. Quite the contrary. A code of ethics is very important to a person who disdains belief. Nor am I talking about “belief in oneself” or “belief in the team” or the like. That’s not belief the way I mean it. That’s just a figure of speech referring to things like confidence, teamwork, persistence, and the like.

Obviously, I am also not implying that opinions are to be avoided. Although everything I say is — by definition — fact, I understand that other people do occasionally have valid opinions. (:^)}

I don’t scorn hunches, or intuition that leads us to positions taken without sufficient evidence, or having a good/bad/funny feeling about something. These are all tools that nature has given us. They are actually based on experience and reason even when we can’t exactly say how. We wouldn’t be as good as we are at being human without them. Sometimes they lead us astray, but often they point us to breakthroughs.

No, the beliefs I am cautioning against are based on faith that has no foundation in fact, experience, expertise, or intellect. When we act as the result of a position that we hold and intend to continue to hold regardless of the facts, it leads to the kinds of consequences enumerated above.

So what I am advocating is this: If you perceive, or if someone demonstrates to you, that some position you hold — no matter how dearly — is not only without factual foundation but actually in complete contradiction to demonstrable fact, change your mind. You and civilization will be a better person for it.

Phew, that was hard work. I believe I’ll have a beer.