Atheists often ask how anyone can base their lives on things for which there is no evidence. Things which they argue are manifestly not even true. Sometimes it seems as though belief and disbelief are the only options open to a person. If you’re even slightly philosophically minded, pure blind faith is virtually impossible. The questioning mind demands to know why, how, and what if? For some druids, personal experience offers a strong enough basis not for faith, but for a sense of certainty that the world works in certain ways. And then there’s the rest of us.
I’ve come to think that belief and disbelief are not the only two positions available to me. I’m going to play out the options by poking some issues.
I don’t think anyone knows what happens when we die. Some people have vivid past life memories, but I don’t know if that’s reincarnation, an ancestral remembering, something about the nature of time, or a brain malfunction. And even if you do remember a previous life, it is no proof there will be lives to come, just as remembering yesterday is no proof that tomorrow will happen. Near death experiences, ghosts, and other paranormal things encourage people to think they know, and yet everything we know about biology makes it hard to see how consciousness continues after death. I must add that everything we know about biology makes it hard to explain how consciousness occurs during life as well.
So my first held position around the afterlife, is one of total uncertainty. I do not know. Holding that thought, I can then go on to say that I believe there is more, and for me reincarnation makes sense. I find I can hold belief as belief, without having to believe that it is fact. It works just as well for gods. I do not know if gods exist, I choose to believe that they do, whilst recognising that this is a position of belief and not an assertion of fact.
I live guided by my beliefs, but these beliefs all hold within them the awareness that I could be wrong. So, for example, while I mostly believe in the possibility of reincarnation, I live this life as though it is the only one I have, because that’s a far more pragmatic call. My belief in gods leads me to honour and respect them, and seek insight, but at the same time my doubt requires me to take full responsibility for myself and not hold out too much hope for divine intervention. I don’t find I need any proof of anything, working this way. Not least because it makes me very aware that ‘proof’ is a flawed, subjective thing and largely isn’t available anyway.
I choose to believe in other things too. I believe that justice matters, that life should be respected, I believe that life is rich with meaning, and that everything we do, matters. These are also faith positions, with no ‘proof’ to back them up. Most values are in fact faith positions, based on beliefs we have chosen. I believe we can make those choices consciously. I would rather be the person who lives a life shaped by positive beliefs and aspirations, both about other people, and the nature of reality as a whole, than someone who chooses a perception that is gloomy and hopeless. I would rather assume the best of people. I would also rather have faith in myself, and those close to me, than choose not to, even while I still retain my capacity to doubt.
I have no idea if there’s a technical name for holding a space that encompasses both belief and disbelief in this way – if anyone knows what it’s called, please do leave a comment.