Whilst taking a long journey you might agree that finding a source of entertainment is fundamental. Unfortunately on a day I found myself travelling, I had left the house with zero possible forms of entertainment. Perplexed, I scanned the shelves of WHSmiths in the hope of a magazine that might take my fancy. At university I often purchased the New Scientist, it was different and interesting to read. For the sake of old times I decided to purchase the current issue which happened to be on... belief.
Which in turn brings me to writing this very post you are reading. It struck me that for something that doesn't physically exist in our world and lives; belief is there, manifesting itself in a variety of perplexing ways and at times it can exude beauty. Today we often find ourselves buried under a mountain of negativity regarding belief structures and ideologies. About how they could be the driving force behind some of humanities greatest tragedies and injustices; like The Holocaust, 9/11, racism and homophobia to name but a few.
As the population grows and innovation with it, it is clear to see that belief plays a less important role in many of our lives. This may be why when an atrocity happens, with the motivation behind it being religion we feel outraged at such a preventable disaster. A change in mindset is all it could be to change the fate of innocent children and peace keepers for example. It is no wonder that belief in 2015 creates a vacuum descending into pure negativity, one of which you feel the need to remove yourself from.
Yet on the flip side without belief structures we would not have art and science as we know it today, beautiful architecture and certain charities for example. It appears that religion only highlights the idea of something that occurs in all aspects of life; lack of balance and the dreaded double edged sword of existence. How do you find that balance? Between what we call rational and irrational.
In the New Scientist Rene Descartes rears his philosophical head and we are reminded of his notion of 'understanding'. Descartes suggested that 'only once you have understood something can you weigh it up and decide whether to believe it or not'. That oozes a sense of rationality doesn't it? The idea that we are more in control of what we believe; a more scientific approach. Whereas with Baruch Spinoza we are thrust into the symmetry of knowledge and belief. To know is to believe. One might argue that this is rather irrational, or certainly a more free and irrational way of looking at the creation of belief. Where is the reasoning and is belief something we are to accept whether it have religious tendencies or not. Surely belief isn't inescapable?
Let's take a very quick look at a few of the main ideologies of our time; science, religion, philosophy and atheism. Philosophy I often joke is my religion, of course it isn't really. I don't pray to Socrates and confess my sins to Alain De Botton, but it is a huge part of my life. Looking at my relationship with philosophy through a magnifying glass I soon realise that I really only engage with it, because it gives me a sense of 'outwardness'; growing closer to that which I don't know. Opening my life from the microcosm to the macrocosm; existing within and without the two.
I am no scientist, but I still value it's place in our society. Its fascinating un-discovered aspects are just as exciting as their discoveries; like dark matter for example. Still what remains is a sense of growing closer to that which we don't know; the undiscovered. A belief that we are to learn about everything, we deserve, as primates with powerful brains to know every depth of our bodies and every corner of the universe. Even when quantum science reminds us that we know nothing with any certainty; we still strive on.
The big one: religion. It's become a word weighed down with just as much judgement as it it's self
gives out. There doesn't need to be much explaining that belief is the core to this aspect of humanity. People dedicating their lives to that which they don't know, trusting in the strength of faith to get through a life of doubt.
On the other side of the wrestling ring is atheism whose popularity seems to be growing with every day that passes. Surely it must be the exception? On a surface level you would think that atheism is void of belief, but then we are not used to hearing belief and atheism together in a positive way. It may not be searching for that which we don't know, in-fact it is rather the ultimate acceptance that we don't know, therefore leave it alone. But on the other hand there is still a sense of belief; believe it or not (there's a paradox?) There is a belief in the importance and wonder of humanity, which is wonderful but still altogether a system or strain of belief.
As humans it is like we crave the drug that is belief. Why? In the article it talks about agencies. Not people who are going to give you an acting job, but a greater being who knows you and your fate. A being who might step in every now and then, maybe it could be a warning or just that feeling you get when you know something isn't right. It states that 'our ancestors who assumed agency would have survived longer and had more offspring.' This makes me wonder if belief is a cunning evolutionary part of humanity to keep it safe and ultimately alive. If you feel you are 'chosen' or important you are more likely to value your state of living - therefore staying alive. We are primed to see purpose and meaning everywhere we look. The New Scientist says that 'there is a feeling of rightness about things (particularly religion) that originates deep in our cognitive architecture.' Are we architecturally built to use belief as a tool to survive, without the actual presence of an architect? We have such a vast array of beliefs with the biggest safety nets available; namely being the ability to comfortably enter a paradise in which you can spend eternity after death.
In 1609 Galileo Galilei discovered that moons were orbiting Jupiter, a fact that today sits nicely in our school text books. But for humanity this meant that we weren't as important as the church of the day would have had you believe. The church agreed upon a model (thanks to Aristotle) on which the universe existed; called the geocentric model. We, the apple of god's eye, sat a-top a designed world at the very centre of the universe; of which everything revolved around. Galileo's discovery implicated man's relation to the universe. Earth had no immediate significance amongst the vast and enigmatic universe. Not only were we not the centre, but we were just like every other planet. We were part of Nicolaus Copernicus' (1514) heliocentric universe. My point being that our perception of our place in the universe changes throughout the centuries and throughout every individual.
In a way we have an internal need to use these ideologies in an exhibition of our purpose. Something in our brains; clinging onto the fibres of purpose, because without it we are faced with the war that's going on inside; we could be something special, and we could not. As someone who spends most of my life living on the fence, I find it fascinating to learn from humanity and our impossible ways. My only worry with some forms of belief is that it can become a tempest of an inflated self-worth and feeling of a domineering cosmic importance. At the same time I can see the beauty that is hidden away within people's faith and undying love for a creator or spiritual guide.
For me a belief in humanity is exciting, forever exploring the beauty and wonders of the simple, complex and (most importantly) weird things that make us fundamentally human; not what makes us act like someone else thinks we should. Some people travel the world and find comfort in the teachings of Buddha, or reconnect with the teachings of Jesus in a beautiful cathedral or discover the wonders of quantum physics and how it can make you re-discover the universe and un-discover it all over again. What matters for me is the constant act of thinking about things, in every way imaginable - discover every aspect of life not just that which makes you comfortable.
So have I come to a helpful conclusion about belief for you? I think not. Instead I will leave you stranded in the complex, inescapable realm where certainty is something you are never going to lock down. There is no resting in your thinking; that's what makes you human.