For as long as I can remember, I have been confused about this question.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
What does it mean to believe in something?
Does it mean to pretend I know something I don’t?
Or that I hope or fear that something is true?
Does it mean I find something likely, based on my limited experience and information?
WHERE DOES THE QUESTION COME FROM?
Why do some ask that question? Where does it come from?
I suspect it may have to do with Christianity and perhaps religions in general.
In Christianity, we are asked to believe something we cannot verify for ourselves. In other words, we either hope (or fear) something, or we pretend we know something we cannot know, and we call it “belief”. Christianity presents this as a virtue, as something good, and perhaps even as a gift.
And in that type of culture, it may be natural to extend this to other areas.
Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe there is life elsewhere in the universe? Do you believe we have past lives? Do you believe that politician can help our country?
WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?
There is an alternative, and that is to be more specific, which is also to be more honest and grounded in reality.
I don’t consciously and actively believe in anything. (Of course, parts of me believe all sorts of stressful stories but that’s another topic.)
Instead, I have hopes and fears. These clearly say more about me than reality. And I hopefully (!) recognize them as fantasies and I don’t mistake them for reality.
I find something more or less likely. I usually phrase this as “I wouldn’t be surprised if”. For instance, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is life in other places in this galaxy and the universe. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of it is intelligent and technologically advanced, perhaps far beyond us. And I know that reality may be quite different from what I find likely. In the absence of solid data, it’s best to have the mindset that anything is possible. (Within reason, although reality something presents itself outside of what we previously found reasonable!)
I hold second-hand information lightly. If someone says something, and it’s not backed up by solid science or my own experience, I put it on the “maybe” shelf.
With some topics, I say “It’s a topic for science” and “It would be very interesting to see what comes out of a serious investigation”. Ghosts, UFOs, reincarnation, and so on are all appropriate topics for science, and there are some studies on these and similar topics.
With some topics, like our nature, it’s something I can investigate for myself. What do I find in my own first-person experience? Does it match what others report? If not, what are the differences and why may that be?
IS IT A BIG DEAL?
Does it matter?
For me personally, it matters. I get confused about the “do you believe” question because I don’t know what it really means. (Fortunately, people I know don’t tend to ask that question.) It seems far more interesting to be specific and honest about it. And when I say “I try not to believe in anything, but I find it likely….” then it’s a small part in creating a culture that is a little more precise and honest about these things.
Highlighting this also helps us examine how we relate to white areas on the map in general, whether it’s aliens, conspiracy theories, spirituality or religion, past lives, or what will happen tomorrow or next year.
Do I have hopes and fear, and do I recognize them as that? How do I relate to second-hand information not backed up by science or my own experience? How do I relate to what spiritual teachers or religious leaders say? How do I relate to information that’s not backed up by solid data? What do I hold as true, and can I know for certain?Read More