On believing in things.

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Why would I deliberately choose a topic so open-ended, so mammoth in essence, so incalculable and sensitive for my third blog ever written in my entire life? Doesn’t that seem like a stupid, stupid, very stupid idea? That’s probably because it is! There is literally an unfathomable amount of topics to discuss IN EXISTENCE that I could poorly gloss over in this shitty post, why try to tackle something of this magnitude? Why provide such inadequate conjecture about something I’m nowhere near intelligent enough to wrap my below-average sized brain around and expose myself to intense scrutiny, endless torment and not to mention inevitable heaps of visceral internet hate?

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Well, thankfully for me, I can rest my gorgeous, chestnut-brown eyes easy tonight knowing not a soul will ever read this.

So, who does everybody likeeeeee?

Who or what are we believing in, hoping for and rallying around these days? Man, have you seen our options? There’s just so much to choose from now, I mean, I know for a guy like me it would be hard to choose. I still can’t even decide whether or not I like waffles or pancakes more (if you’ve made a decision on this send me tips!), let alone who to invest my undying love and trust in for all of eternity.

Like you’ve got your old classics in God, Jesus or the Prophet Muhammad. Simple, basic and low risk. I’m a betting man, so if I’m putting money down, it’s probably on one of these guys right here. If we looked up the Vegas odds at this very moment, I highly doubt you’d find greater than 2/1 odds that any one of these lovely deities would be the one walking with you, hand-in-hand, down a long stretch of beach into utopian afterlife.

But maybe you’re looking for something a little more high-risk/high-reward, right? Maybe you skip right over those three and find yourself fixated on a couple of guys like Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, who together form the Trinity of the supreme God in Hinduism. A three-for-one deal on a supreme God of the third-largest religious following on the planet? You kidding me? At 5/1 odds I’d have to think long and hard of several reasons NOT to ride those three weirdos all the way to the bitter end.

Or perhaps you’re feeling a bit adventurous, bold even. Maybe you’ve got some spiritual capital to throw around now and so you now think “hey, I’ve got no problem putting something down on a dark horse of sorts, let’s see who’s available.” You continue to scan down the board until you get to the likes of Ahura Mazda at 120/1, a little further down and there’s Cao Đài at 200/1, followed closely be the fun and popular Odin at 220/1 and all-powerful Cronus at 250/1.

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If this is me in this ridiculously-idiotic hypothetical scenario — and it is— you can bet I’m laying some cheddar down on the guy who promised to eradicate all ice giants on earth, along with a dude that chopped off his own dad’s dick and balls and chucked them into the ocean. If that’s the kind of action available for mere pennies, I’ll take out a second mortgage on my entire fucking spiritual estate. I want in.

Anyway, so here we are, looking up and down this huge board of odds, filled with gods who come in all kinds of different shapes, sizes and abilities. And you might take a moment to think to yourself, “gee, we sure do believe in whole lot of different shit, eh?”  Well, you’d be correct in thinking that. In fact, a quick Google search in 2016 shows estimates there are currently around 4,300 active religions worldwide, according to Adherents.com. Now, how credible is that source? I’m not sure, but I do know the answer has gotta be somewhere around A FUCK TON. Plus, if you compound the current collective of beliefs with those that have either evolved or died out throughout the course of human history, you’re left with a truly staggering amount of different things humanity has chosen to put its faith behind.

But this is your lucky day, because right now I’m going to reveal to you exactly what you should be believing in. That’s right, I have the answer, and I am willing to impart this rare piece of wisdom to you, totally free of charge, so here it is. What you should believe in is…

Just, whatever you feel like.

That’s it. Believe in whatever you want. Believe in a funny, cool and sexy horse god named Clyde in a tailored suit. Believe in an almighty, iridium-based, furniture god with the power to Feng shui a room in mere seconds. Fuck, you can even believe in a gargantuan, salty, angry, mashed potatoes god who incinerates all non-devout heathens in boiling pots of delicious creamy gravy. I don’t care and neither should anyone else. And that’s because what we’re beginning to learn about the human brain reveals that what we believe in matters far less than our ability to demonstrate belief in anything at all.

Take for example the work of Bruce Hood, an experimental psychologist at the University of Bristol. Hood has written extensively on the human brain and the almost intrinsic nature of its belief in superstition and supernatural forces, even going as far as to say that these things are hardwired into our brains from birth:

Our research shows children have a natural, intuitive way of reasoning that leads them to all kinds of supernatural beliefs about how the world works.

 

As they grow up they overlay these beliefs with more rational approaches but the tendency to illogical supernatural beliefs remains as religion.

Courtesy the UK Daily Mail

That actually makes a lot of sense though. Kids really do believe in the DUMBEST SHIT. Oh, a magical fairy that, while you sleep, replaces your rotten, decaying canine with valuable currency? Like does that actually sound like a plausible transaction to you? Of course not. But we were all kids once, with kid brains. And believe it or not, we’re actually still those same people, just many trips around the sun later. Would it be so naive to think that not a single part of our minds would still be capable of producing a thought of similar value? Like maybe, I don’t know, something about an omnipotent, old, white, bearded creator that lives in the clouds with his half-human son. Oh, but billions of fully-developed adult human beings believe that’s real? My mistake.

Hood is hardly the first to make a claim like this though. There’s a bulk of other psychological research that supports this fact, stating, basically, that the need to believe in something is actually a mechanism of evolution directly linked to survival of our species. Martin D. Jaffe, author of the book Primal Instinct, elaborates on this theory:

Evolutionary psychology’s answer is straightforward: Religions have lasted for millenniums because humans’ most basic instinct is for security, and God promises security.

Courtesy The New York Times

Simple and to the point. Believe in God, live forever. Don’t believe and spend eternal damnation rotting in the depths of fiery hell. Here, the choice on whether to believe or not seems pretty clear.

Another, more-philosophical, approach to our need to believe was crafted by seventeenth-century French mathematician and physicist, Blaise Pascal. Pascal authored a probabilistic argument entitled Pascal’s Wager, summarized as the following:

Pascal’s argument is a simple one: reason and intellect cannot decide the question of whether God exists or not; therefore, it makes sense to choose the option that would benefit us most should we be right. Accordingly, the options would be as follows:

1. You may live a religious and moral life and be rewarded by eternal happiness.

 

2. You may live a pleasure-seeking life and be denied eternal happiness.

 

3. You may live a holy life but there is actually no God or eternal life.

 

4. You may live a pleasure-seeking life but it makes no difference because there is no God.

 

For Pascal, the first of these options is the most important one because it represents the maximum gain and loss. Even if it should turn out that there is no God, the sheer risk of deciding against such a possibility warrants that we should take that option.

Courtesy the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

That Pascal has a point. Even if there’s literally no feasible way to scientifically prove the existence of a god, you’re likely better off believing in one anyway. Fuck, maybe in some weirdly-twisted, probability-based way, we really are just programmed to fake-believe from the get-go.

But, you could dive EVEN FURTHER into the rabbit hole about why we believe, because in order to even express the need to believe in something, you would theoretically have to be able to ask the question about why it is you came into existence in the first place. This is perfectly encapsulated by philosopher Rene Descartes‘ famous statement, “I think, therefore I am.” Could it be possible that, in order to even exist, the primary function of a being must be its ability to think about and question its very own existence?

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And so now, we’re approaching what I like to call, THE PUKE ZONE, that area of fundamental thought that makes you so uncomfortable to even discuss, you want to vomit all over your brand new Macbook Air. So, I will leave you with this. Perhaps the need to believe is innately hardwired in us from birth. Maybe it’s a product from years of evolutionary progress focused totally on survival. Or, it could be, that given the circumstances, it’s in our greatest intentions to just believe in something and hope for the best.

Regardless, there’s one thing I’m absolutely certain of when it comes to believing in something and I’m not making any jokes here because this is serious sentiment. You CANNOT kill other human beings over what they believe OR because of what you believe. You cannot. Every human being expresses the need to believe in something, even as an atheist — which I am — you’re expressing a belief. To kill someone over something they are most likely fundamentally programmed to do, just like breathing, because they do it in a different way? That’s unacceptable in my opinion.

But don’t take my word for it, because what the fuck do I know really? I’m just a guy with a pair of hands typing shit into a computer. Take the word of the most intelligent, unbelievable, creative and mind-numbingly-insane doctor who ever existed. And that my friends, is the unimpeachable Dr. Seuss.

I remember watching that as a kid growing up and, to this day, I haven’t forgotten it. Probably because it’s absolute fucking madness and has haunted me in my sleep over the past two decades, but I’ll always remember the meaning behind it.

And that’s it. Just believe in whatever you want, but don’t kill folks. It’s as simple as that.

Not such a difficult topic after all.

In my research for this post, I came across a great op-ed piece from 2012 in the New York Times entitled The Moral Animal, written by a chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth named Jonathan Sacks. Even if you don’t agree with it, it’s an easy, great and interesting read.

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