Belief

A post by Ariane Zurcher today on Emma’s Hope Book entitled I Want to Know What God Thinks About Autism got me thinking about belief. I was feeling very low before I read this post, but for some reason after considering the question I now feel motivated.

It started me thinking: do I believe in anything? Well, not in a god or the supernatural. I began to consider what belief or faith means: accepting as true without concrete proof of existence, and I realized that I do believe in certain things.

The word true itself originally only meant faithful: in Middle English there was a separate word sooth, meaning factual, whose meaning merged with true. Truth itself is an abstract concept, as are its relatives fairness, loyalty and honesty. To paraphrase Terry Pratchett, you could grind the universe to dust and not find one atom of fairness or truth. So are they real? Do they exist?

I would argue that they do, but it is belief that creates and sustains them. I believe in fairness, in honesty, in compassion, and expend my own energy in trying to ensure that my world is one in which they may be observed. I see them as ideals to strive for. I am human and consequently I am fallible, but I do try my best to uphold these ideals — these beliefs — in my own life.

In this I am not so different from one who believes in god, who accepts the teachings of a faith and tries to live by them. There is no god in my personal beliefs and I feel ultimately responsible only to myself as I try to lead a good, moral life. But whatever its origin there is that strong sense of morality, of right and wrong.

A religious person might fear god’s judgement of their sins, and work to atone and be absolved. I judge my own actions: I feel guilt and shame when I fail to meet my own standards of behavior. And only I can ever forgive myself for my wrongs.

That forgiveness does not come easily, nor do I think it should. It is a powerful drive that holds me to the right course according to my moral compass. When I deviate from that path — and I can tell you that I certainly have had lapses — I feel such disappointment in myself, such guilt that it pushes me to avoid such behavior in future.

But there are two sides to this. When I do hold to my beliefs there is a feeling of serenity and grace. Doing right feels satisfying: it is its own reward. And Ariane’s post evoked the same impression of grace as her love and respect for her daughter came through so strongly. I believe I have been inspired.

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14 thoughts on “Belief

  1. Ben – what a beautiful post.
    I too, do not believe in “god”. Having said that, I have less a “belief in” as a belief “within”. Not to say I believe I am all powerful, I know well I am not. But I believe within each of us we have tremendous power and affect one another greatly. We can use our power to encourage change, to encourage each other, to encourage loving kindness, compassion and actions that vacillate those things or we can behave in ways that do not. I opt for the former, but I falter, often, and need others to demonstrate what I believe, when I cannot. Thank you for encouraging kindness, love and compassion.

  2. I judge my own actions: I feel guilt and shame when I fail to meet my own standards of behavior. And only I can ever forgive myself for my wrongs.

    This is what people around me call “being too hard on myself”, I think. You’ve beautifully explained why this isn’t a bad thing, as some might think. We have to have standards and reasons for striving to meet those standards.

    • Thank you! I’ve had similar experiences where people have told me “it’s not important”. Well, it is to me. Sometimes it feels as if I’m forever watching over my own shoulder and providing a little nudge where needed to keep myself true to my standards.

      I can be exceptionally hard on myself at times: there are a very few things I have done in my life that I strongly believe I should not have and I can’t see that I will ever forgive myself for them — but I live with that. I have to.

  3. I feel that people often discard atheists as being not spiritual people at all.
    Nothing could be further from the truth. To actually reflect on what is good, what is moral, what it is we should thrive for in terms of attitudes and behaviour – instead of turning to a book with answers and guidance.. that takes a lot of soul searching.
    And I like how you say that feeling the guilt within yourself, and having to decide for yourself how and when to forgive yourself for the wrong actions or thoughts or whatever..it is hard, but so true. And same goes for the good feeling you get living up to your own standards.
    The posts by Ariane, your comments and this one really made me feel good about my own beliefs today, so thank you. =)

    • Thank you for this — and I’m glad I helped you feel good. :D

      I do describe myself as atheist, but worry that some might equate that with the intolerant fundamentalist atheism of Richard Dawkins and his ilk. I’m married to a Catholic woman and I have seen first-hand how her faith gives her strength: how could that be wrong?

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