We cannot choose our beliefs.
While watching the movie “Peomethius” the other night, a character made a statement that really bugged me. The main character, as a child, asks her father where her mom went when she died, and the father tells her that she went somewhere beautiful, and the girl asks “How do you know?” and the father replies
“It’s what I choose to believe.”
This statement is false, and very dangerous. You cannot “choose” to believe something. Trust me, I’ve tried. My wife says that I take, what she believes to be, the extreme position on everything, just to be a rebel. And there have been times that I thought that maybe she was right. But she isn’t. These positions are what I believe. I could just as easily wish myself blue skin than choose to believe that government is moral, or rape is good. That god is real.
I struggled for many, many years with the question of faith. I finally realized that I had always been an atheist. But I hadn’t really known it until very recently. I knew that what I was being told in church as a child wasn’t true. In fact, I knew that all the adults and other children around me were lying. I never felt, even the slightest little bit, the things that they claimed they felt.
But I wanted to.
So, I began, as a teenager, my journey to discover the truth. Wicca, Buddihsm, New Age Zen crap, I studied to be a Druid, for a very short time. I even thought about making up my own. I studied religions from the most mainstream, to the crazy to the really silly. I even called myself a Pastafarian for a while. Yes, Pastafarian with a “P”. I wanted so much to believe in a “A Power Greater than Myself”. I am also a recovering alcoholic, so for the first few years that I went to meetings, I tried praying again. I just felt silly. So I stopped, and I stayed sober even without prayer.
I finally settled on calling myself a pagan. Just pagan. I had no idea what to believe. I tried to believe that if you were kind to people, and didn’t steal, you would be rewarded. Many people told me that I was wrong. That I had to believe in Jesus, or I was going to hell. It didn’t scare me.
Then I started listening to The Geologic Podcast. George Hrab is a Skeptic, and an Atheist. He was the first person I really heard talk about the concept of being good, without god. That atheists are actually more moral, because they are good to people, because it is the right thing to do, not because they are afraid to go to hell.
I had always thought that there was something wrong with atheists. That it was like saying that you were better than everyone else. I just wanted to be comfortable in what I believed, not a snob. I was wrong.
I think that part of what helped me along was that I was also learning about liberty at the same time. One of the most important things I learned about was individualism. That while there certainly were Atheists who were snobs, not all were. That I didn’t have to “preach” about it or pick fights with Christians. I could just be what I was.
Now, when I say I “know” there is no god, I’m not saying that I am better than people who believe. This is just something that is true, for me. I cannot believe otherwise. I have a christian friend that tried to talk to me about religion and science, that science proves that there is a god. I didn’t argue with him. I don’t know enough to argue with him, but that doesn’t mean that he is right. And it doesn’t mean that I need to spend tons of time doing research to prove him wrong. I don’t need to argue.
Yes, like I said in the beginning, I do sometimes wish that I was wrong. And maybe I am. I would love to believe that I was going to see my mom, and my beloved dog Chiana again. And it really does hurt sometimes that I can’t just choose to believe it. But I can’t, and I don’t believe anyone else can either. Not without being being very dishonest with themselves.