This I Believe

Todd - Crawfordsville, Indiana
Entered on April 10, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
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After believing for most of my life, I strive to not believe in anything ever again.

I grew up in a deeply religious family. My father earned his living by helping people pray for solutions to their problems. My siblings and I received religious exemptions from immunizations, sex education, and biology classes. I adopted the lifestyle dictated by our beliefs, even though its morality went beyond simply loving others and causing no harm. I’m sure it spared me from many of the pitfalls of adolescence, but it also estranged me from my peers. I eventually attended a college exclusively for students of my faith and, after graduating, poured myself into the community provided by my local church.

Believing in something requires faith that it’s 100% true, so one must ignore any contradictory empirical evidence. That was easy to do in the insular world I grew up in where family and friends helped filter out contrary evidence and provide rationalizations for the little that leaked through. The woman who walked with a limp because she didn’t have her broken foot set? Just a lie needing redemption. The girl with the bump on her leg growing into a basketball-sized cancer while her parents kept the state away so they could pray during the six months until she died? Surely in a better place. My beloved father who, after dedicating his life to helping others on behalf of his god, spent the final months of his sixty years praying to that god to heal the cancer growing inside him? Well, that was the final straw for me.

The hardest part about letting go of my beliefs was, and still is, dealing with the rifts that doing so caused between myself and my friends and family. Personally, I appreciate them even more now that I’m no longer ignorant of the incredible way we are physically linked to the stars, the mountains, the plants, the animals, and each other. Do I believe that? No, I only trust in the evidence that supports it. Believing would encourage me to ignore any new evidence which increases my understanding even more. Besides, what we’ve discovered about reality so far surpasses even the wildest human imagination that it defies belief.

Trust must be earned and can be withdrawn. Trusting is a never-ending process requiring debate, reason, and flexibility. Trust relies on an objective, universal language that builds bridges. Beliefs are unchanging speculations based on subjective feelings and opinions which, as such, divide us along cultural and ideological lines.

I look forward to the day when the believers I left behind will no longer feel threatened by talking to me. On a grander scale, once the world follows the example of scientists – who are united across all conceivable boundaries by a method free from belief – we will no longer commit atrocities in the name of our convictions. Instead, we will work together for solutions that benefit the most and harm the least. This I trust.