If you are a follower of a religion, that is fine. If you are not a follower, that’s fine too. If you don’t know what to believe, you are not alone. The questions you should be asking are why do I believe what I believe? Why do I believe this or that?
People can be enthusiastic when expressing their beliefs about something. But what got them to that particular position? How did they come to the conclusions that they formed?
The most emotional and demonstrative to express their opinions ascribe to the philosophical position we call religion. Beliefs have both intended and unintended consequences. What are the reasons people have for becoming “believers?” What questions should we ask before and after deciding on a philosophical or religious position?
Reasons To Believe
Everyone has some reason or reasons why they believe what they believe. We’ll assume you are an adult, and even if you live in a family or culture controlled by religion, you still have your thoughts. We are each responsible for our thoughts and actions.
Some people pick a belief system because they think it will meet their desire to understand spiritual things. Others join a religion because they need healing or finances. Some people are just born into families where beliefs are passed along. Children don’t have a choice in this situation; they don’t have good reasons to believe.
Perhaps you believe in a God, or Gods, or a higher power or universal force. That’s okay. These philosophical positions are all acceptable. Or, maybe you’ve concluded that Gods or higher powers don’t exist; that is all right too.
Maybe you think there isn’t enough evidence to support anything beyond this reality that is a valid point of view. And maybe you have an opinion different from anything mentioned here. That is fine; these are all valid positions. We all have different backgrounds. So philosophical and religious beliefs run a broad spectrum. Who is to say who is right or who is wrong?
Let’s start by looking at reasons to believe by analyzing the consequences of thoughts and beliefs from two positions, belief and unbelief.
Consequences of Unbelief
It seems strange to talk about “belief” by starting with unbelief, but please stay with us for a minute.
Those who follow a religion think they are part of an exclusive group. But this need not be a dividing issue. We are all going to Hell in someone else’s religion. To follow one God is to reject all the others. To believe or not to believe is simply a matter of numbers. The Atheist has one God fewer than the believer.
1) Remaining Open-Minded
A skeptical mindset requires creditable evidence. Unbelief helps you remain neutral. It keeps you from forming an opinion, and not taking a position keeps you from tainting the evidence. If you take a position, you are more likely to give weight to anything supporting the position you’ve already taken.
So, one of the main consequences of unbelief is unencumbered thinking. The world needs more freethinkers who ask, why do I believe this? You can change the reasons to believe in aligning with the new data.
2) Less Likely to Retain Incorrect Assumptions
If you aren’t married to a position, it is much easier to see the facts and evidence that help you formulate more accurate conclusions. You don’t hold onto them; they are a temporary stop on the way to a better understanding.
Consequences of Believing
To support strong religious beliefs, you must still sustain unbelief in all the other systems of thought that contradict yours. For example, if you believe Mithra is God, you must have equal disbelief that Odin is a God.
If you believe in Odin, Mithra, or other gods, then you are polytheistic in your approach to spirituality. A polytheistic position leaves you with the same dilemma. But, if you believed all Gods are real, you would still need equal unbelief in all the evidence and logic that contradicts this kind of “magical thinking.”
Let’s review some problems with believing in things that have no proof.
1) People hold stronger beliefs for things that are incorrect than for those that are provable.
It sounds like a contradiction, but people who live in imaginary worlds must hold on firmly to their illusions—otherwise, their world crumbles. They attach meaning to the things they can’t prove. It requires unhealthy magical thinking, which they call “faith.”
It’s important to note that we can prove the existence of many things we can’t see. Things like atoms and gravity are not things we can see with the naked eye, but we have other ways to prove they exist. It doesn’t require faith, simply an understanding of the science which proves they exist. People with extremist religious views don’t care if gravity or atoms exist. They only care about the existence of their imaginary friend.
Living with this kind of magical thinking is a slippery slope that leads to other unhealthy thinking. Every suicide bomber started as an innocent believer and then regressed to the point where they could kill in the name of their God. They missed the opportunity somewhere down the line to ask the important questions, why do I believe what I believe? Why do I believe this stuff?
2) The more exposure to brainwashing, the harder it is to free the mind.
Religions are, by their nature, built upon a system of continuous indoctrination and brainwashing.
If your beliefs are a source of bias and prejudice, it affects everyone. If you decide you need an imaginary friend, that’s okay. Need a God or Gods? Well, that’s your choice. There is often some rationale behind this decision. The real question you should ask is, why do I believe this?
“There is a distinct difference between having an open mind and having a hole in your head from which your brain leaks out.” ― James Randi
The problem arises when your beliefs have negative consequences. If what you think will have a harmful result, please ask yourself, what is the evidence for my conclusion?
“You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep-seated need to believe.” ― Carl Sagan
3) Slippery Slope of Magical Thinking
Religion constantly mutates the culture to fit its superstition and mythology. It’s never a good thing. On the surface, most organized religions proclaim their goodness. They create outreaches to prove that their intentions are positive. Yet, the outcomes are always the same, more division and conflict.
“Religious people claim that it’s just the fundamentalists of each religion that cause problems. But, there’s got to be something wrong with the religion itself if those who strictly adhere to its most fundamental principles are violent bigots and sexists.” — David G. Mcafee
Belief in fairytales is a problem. Ignoring those who believe in fairytales is also a problem because they are the ones who start religions. So, the only way to make the world a better place is the challenge their superstitions and mythologies instead of protecting their rights to uphold such dogma as fact.
4) The Need to Proselytize
Organized religions want you to become a believer and sell their product to others. They have “missions” set up to proselytize and indoctrinate. They want you to convert or attempt to convert as many new customers as possible.
So, to believe or not to believe doesn’t matter as long as you don’t require others to accept what you think. If you have an imaginary friend, that’s all good. But don’t require others to share in your illusion.
Don’t use your beliefs to justify bias, prejudice, and discrimination. If you think you need to protect your ideas, start with the question, why do I believe this?
“Religious doctrines … are all illusions, they do not admit proof, and no one can be compelled to consider them as true or to believe in them.” ― Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion
“From the beginning, men used God to justify the unjustifiable.” ― Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses
Why do I Believe What I Believe
To believe or not to believe isn’t the really important question. The vital question to ask is, why do I believe this? The “reasons to believe” should be the focus of our attention. It’s not just semantics or wordplay. It’s the difference that makes critical thinking a reality.
If you are seeking spiritual truth, what you believe does not matter. Your beliefs change nothing. To seek the truth, you need to cultivate a beginner’s attitude. Then apply processes to develop your awareness.
Seeking spiritual truth isn’t about pretending in an invisible friend. The path of spirituality is about investigating your spirit and your consciousness. We call this spiritual exploration. It has nothing to do with belief. You use methods for expanding awareness—some of these open doors to higher states of consciousness. Using a process does not require faith. They work if you follow the procedure correctly.
So, the best thing to do is keep asking yourself why. Why do I believe what I believe? After you find out the reasons, remove your ownership of the idea. What you believe about reality doesn’t matter. Your beliefs create a self-imposed prison that keeps you from advancing.
To believe or not to believe is one of our fundamental choices. If you believe in a religion, that is fine. If you don’t, that is fine, too. Not knowing what is believable is perfectly okay. Not knowing for sure is often the result of exhausting all logical possibilities.
What’s important is to ask, “why do I believe what I believe?”
You are open to new experiences and revelations when you can change your position based on new evidence. A better way to approach religion or philosophy is to ask yourself why do I believe this? Then, find out why. See if what you think has valid evidence.
“Wherever you go you will find people lying to you, and as your awareness grows, you will notice that you also lie to yourself. Do not expect people to tell you the truth because they also lie to themselves. You have to trust yourself and choose to believe or not to believe what someone says to you.” — Miguel Angel Ruiz