I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about belief. I believe what I know from my experience – that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, that humans have the capacity for both kindness and cruelty, that pumpkin seeds will turn into pumpkin plants and apple seeds into apple trees, and so on – but I know others believe things that cannot be proven, and this perplexes me.

There are many who believe they will go to heaven when they die because they accept Jesus as their savior. Others believe they will be reincarnated after death. Some believe that the position of the planets determines our personalities at birth and many of our experiences throughout life.

I don’t believe these things. That’s not to say that I know that they are false; rather, I cannot know that they are true because they are not provable or knowable, and because no legitimate scientific studies have demonstrated them to be true. They may be true, but I cannot believe them on faith alone.

I often envy people their faith, but I also want people to be good critical thinkers, and I’ve seen “belief” supersede thinking too often. Belief can shut the door on deeper, more complex, more committed efforts to discover truth and seek not only rational, but also effective solutions to problems. It’s easier to follow the precepts or dogmas of a religion or the latest fad or trend in spirituality (or diet or health modalities) than it is to take a scalpel to the information and beliefs surrounding us and dissect them for truth with commitment and engagement.

We are faced with escalating challenges in our world, including human population growth, global warming, peak oil (at some point, whether past, present or future), alarming rates of species extinction, and so on. Beliefs about contraception, the causes of global warming, and faith in human ingenuity to find more oil (or replace it with new technologies), or in God’s ultimate plan, can actually prevent us from taking wise, courageous, compassionate, creative, and critically aware steps to solve our problems.

When beliefs stand in the way of truth – as they often do – we diminish our capacity to make choices that do the most good and the least harm.

I guess I have at least one belief: that we must challenge our beliefs in pursuit of truth.

~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind

Image courtesy of jam343 via Creative Commons.

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