Buddhism beliefs

Can you choose your beliefs?

Recently a Facebook friend asked a simple but deep question: “Do you think that belief is a choice? Can you really help whether or not you are convinced of something? “

That’s an important question, especially in light of last week’s post on hacking your worldview.

As pagans and polytheists, we understand that religion is not about what you believe, but what you do, who you are and who you are. The idea that religion is about the set of supernatural propositions that you assert and reject is a very modern, Western, Protestant idea – and not very useful either.

Yet what we believe matters. Last year I wrote about the role of belief in an orthopraxic religion – I recommend reading this article, especially the section called “Good Beliefs Take Humility”.

So, can you choose your beliefs? Not directly, and not easily. But there are steps you can take to change them.

What is belief?

A belief is a conclusion reached in the absence of clear evidence. Contrary to what skeptics claim, even the most fantastic beliefs are not supported by any evidence. The evidence may be insufficient or wrong, but there is always a reason people believe what they believe.

For most people, for most beliefs, that reason is “this is what I was taught as a child.” For too many people, the reason is that “this is what I want to be true” – which is often due to the fact that this is what they were taught as children. We feel comfortable with what we know, even if we think it is hurting us.

You can’t just choose a belief

A long time ago – in pre-pagan times – someone asked me to believe something that didn’t make sense to me. He said I needed to “make a decision” and assert his religious belief (he would have argued that it was not a belief, but it is what it is) despite my doubts about it. .

He was asking me to lie.

I couldn’t believe his particular religious proposition because my assessment of it – superficial as that assessment may have been – told me it was not true. His insistence that “you just have to believe” told me he hadn’t given it much thought.

The problem of “childish faith”

Some Christians like to talk about “childish faith”. Now, as a pagan, it’s not my job to tell Christians how to practice Christianity. But since Christianity is the 800 pound gorilla in Western religion and culture, I cannot ignore it completely.

The phrase “childish faith” is not found in the Bible, and different Christians have different opinions as to what Jesus meant when he said “as a child” (or whether he even said so, but that’s another topic for another time, and probably, for another blog).

As a pagan and especially as a magician, I see the need for a childish approach in certain areas. Most of all, I enjoy the way kids approach new things with open-minded curiosity – and with a million questions. Children inherently believe in magic – it must be “educated” from them. Children sometimes have past life memories that defy “rational” explanation… and then those memories start to fade as they move into adolescence.

But for too many people – Christians of course, but also people of other faiths – “childish faith” refers to a longing for a simpler time when they wouldn’t have to wrestle with complicated questions of religion. metaphysics, ethics, etc. A time when they just believed what they were told.

Obviously, some people simply choose to believe what they have been taught, without thinking. If they are happy and leading a good life, so be it.

As for me, I cannot imagine anything more dishonest.

Socrates once said that “the life without examination is not worth living”. I say unexamined belief is not worth believing. In the words of Terence McKenna, “if it’s real, it can take the pressure.”

You can choose which evidence you review

If there is enough evidence for or against something, belief is no longer necessary – you have evidence. But for everything else, there is evidence that supports or disproves a particular belief, even if it is inconclusive.

There is no conclusive evidence that gods exist. But there is evidence: the stories of our ancestors, the temples they built and the rites they performed. More importantly, there is evidence from our own experiences. I’ve experienced the Morrigan so many times that I can’t not believe in his reality and in his divinity.

Some beliefs require choosing to ignore certain evidence. If you are a Young Earth creationist, you must ignore the discoveries of geology, astronomy and biology, let alone the oral history of the Australian Aborigines, which dates back to at least 10,000 years and probably much longer.

If you are unhappy with some of your beliefs, or if they don’t seem right, examine the evidence for and against them. See if there is any evidence that you weren’t aware of, or evidence that you ignored.

You can choose your evaluation criteria

For too many people, the endpoint is “does this confirm what I want to be true?” “

Does this contradict the findings of science? Science does not have all the answers. Some questions – especially in the realm of religion, philosophy and ethics – go beyond the bounds of science. But the answers that science has are very reliable. If you believe something that contradicts science, it is probably wrong.

The story is notoriously incomplete. Can you imagine if a future historian was working on our current period and all that was left was Fox News tapes? We’ve all heard it said that “history is written by winners,” but most of all, history is written by those in power. Even history written by professional historians is written from their point of view, which can never be completely neutral. Minority views are generally absent from official records. History (which includes the history contained in the scriptures) is often helpful, but that’s no reason to bet your soul.

For me, once we establish that a belief is not categorically wrong, whether I believe it or not, it boils down to two questions. First, is this the most likely explanation, given my basic assumptions as an animist and polytheist? Two – and most important – is this useful?

Does a belief inspire us to live a virtuous life? Does it help us to cope with life’s difficulties and uncertainties? Does it help us build and maintain respectful and reciprocal relationships with our neighbors – all of our neighbors?

If so, then I am inclined to believe it. If it inspires fear, hatred and conflict, I am inclined to deny it.

And if it’s clearly true, then I’m morally obligated to believe it, no matter how uncomfortable, even embarrassing, even painful.

If you’re having trouble letting go of beliefs that you find harmful, ask yourself what criteria you use to assess them.

You always choose your actions

Ultimately, what you believe is your business. How you interact with others is everyone’s business.

If you believe something very different from me, we can still be friends and even co-religionists – at least up to a point. As I like to say, there is no belief test for dancing the Maypole (will we be able to dance the Maypole next year? I hope so).

What we believe matters, but religion is more than belief. Who are your people? Who are your Gods? How do you relate to them, to the land where you live and to other people – human and other than human – who share it with you? “Religion” comes from the Latin word reread, meaning “to bind together”. We are linked by more than belief.

You cannot choose your beliefs. But you can choose what evidence you review and your criteria for reviewing it. And you always choose your actions.