Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Catch-22 of Belief

This is the story of Joe and Fred. Joe believes in God and believes that God endorses the religion he belongs to. Joe believes that there will be a day that will come, after we all die, where God will judge Joe for his actions. Joe knows that God will also be judging everybody else that has ever lived as well. Joe hopes that God will be kind and forgiving to all those that did not believe in God while they lived on the earth, but Joe has also been told in the texts, regarded as sacred and originating from God by his religion, that God is a jealous God and is very capable of punishing those who do not believe in God.

Joe meets Fred.

Fred doesn't believe in God at all. Fred believes in evolution, the big bang and in the discoveries that science continues to make about our existence. Fred is very open to new ideas, but comfortable with his beliefs. Fred also knows quite a bit about the religious teachings of the church that Joe belongs to.

As Joe and Fred come to know each other they both have thoughts about the other. Joe thinks Fred doesn't do some of the things that he ought to. Joe thinks Fred should go to church or read the books that Joe thinks are sacred, from God, and will help us all to fare better when it comes time for God to judge us. Joe attempts to tell Fred this when the occasion permits but, for the most part, Joe decides to honor Fred's wishes that he not push his religion on him.

However, Joe is concerned.

Joe worries that if Fred doesn't change his "sinning" ways at some point then he will have to pay a heavy price when the judgment day comes. Joe cannot honestly accept Fred the way he is. Joe clings to the belief that Fred will see the error of his ways at some point in the future. In fact, Joe is promised this will be the case by the leaders of his church so Joe should not worry so much about Fred - although, Joe is told, he should still be concerned enough to never give up on Fred. Joe waits patiently for the day when Fred will finally come to his senses, see the error of his ways, and be open to what Joe has been trying tell him. Joe is sure that someday the spirit of God will be poured out on Fred and he will be touched in a way where he will not be able to ever deny the existence of God again.

Joe wants to be friends with Fred, but he also wonders if Fred may be a bad influence on him. He wonders if hanging out with Fred might cause him to someday lose his belief in God. Joe is told by people at church that he should limit his association with "sinners" because they will most assuredly drag him "down to hell" with them.

Joe likes Fred. They have much in common and really enjoy doing things together. Joe is torn about what to do about being friends with Fred. Joe can't really tell Fred what he is going through, worrying about his future with God and all, although he tries to on occasion. Fred just listens to what Joe has to say and chalks it up to his opinion. While Fred accepts Joe and doesn't allow his ideas about believing in God stand in the way of their friendship, he also knows what Joe's beliefs are and senses the struggles that Joe seems to be going through. Fred tries to tell Joe not to worry and everything will be sorted through in the afterlife. Joe hears this and thinks, that's right, in the afterlife you will come to your senses and will believe as I do and we will be even happier together living with God.

Joe, however, can't get past these thoughts of concern for his friend. Joe knows that his beliefs are true. Joe wonders why Fred can't see it and what exactly the devil has done to cloud his mind so he can't see the truth that Joe knows. Fred tries to share some information with Joe about the history of his religion and tries to show why the scriptures don't make sense in places. Joe refuses to listen. Joe has been taught to never question the foundational principles of his beliefs and never does. Fred can't seem to get through to Joe and Joe can't seem to get through to Fred.

Fred doesn't think anything is wrong with Joe. If Joe is truly happy in his beliefs, then Fred is happy. Fred isn't mentally always looking for ways to try and change Joe to his way of thinking, Fred is honestly trying to find what makes the most sense. Fred doesn't fret about the afterlife or the judgment of some God he has never met. Fred can accept Joe without reservation, even though he may think he is wrong about things. Of course, Fred thinks Joe's ideas of some things are a bit weird and illogical, but Fred realizes that he has some pretty strange ideas himself sometimes as well.

So here's the catch-22. Joe cannot ever truly and fully accept Fred the way he is unless he "converts" to his way of believing. Fred can truly and fully accept Joe for who he is and what he believes because his beliefs are open to the possibilities, but grounded in the world we can repeatedly observe around us. The only way that Joe can truly and fully accept Fred for who he is, without Fred converting, is for Joe to deny his belief that his religion represents the truth of what or who God is. Joe cannot have it both ways. It is either that he always sees Fred as deficient in some way (or as a "sinner") and maintains his belief in God or he fully accepts Fred and accepts that his own religious teachings are false. This is why I think religion is very polarizing and causes divisions. The religious mind cannot fully accept people unless they convert to their beliefs and in some way attempt to follow what they, the religious, believe.

What makes this situation all the more difficult is when a person like Joe becomes like Fred and has to try and communicate this to his loved one's who still believe as Joe once did. Marriages are lost over this, relationships between parents and siblings become strained because the believers fear for the eternal well being of their spouse or loved one. They are afraid because of their belief in God. Their belief in God, while permeating so much of who they are and how they think, is just too difficult to abandon.

I am one who was once like Joe. I am now like Fred. I have taken the plunge into the real world and found it to not be as bad as I once thought it was. Now I find the most difficult thing to deal with is the fear that others have for my eternal well being. I fear as well. I fear what my wife and children honestly think of me as they continue to follow their beliefs in God and the afterlife. Do they pity me? How do they deal with the knowledge that I don't believe as they do? I honestly think the only way they can begin to accept me, is to hope that I will see things the way they do someday. I fear that they will think less of me as they pursue the teachings of their church and come to learn (or be reminded) that I am not fully as happy as I could be unless I believe as they do.

This is a lie.

People find their own happiness and can have as much happiness as they want and it doesn't require a God or a religion to have all they desire right here, right now. I can accept this. Religious people who believe they have the truth about God and the afterlife cannot accept this unless you convert to their way of thinking about these things. Their happiness for you is always conditional on your belief. Mine is not conditional. Mine is based on whatever it is that brings you happiness. If it brings you happiness, I am happy, whatever that may be (as long as it doesn't harm me in some way). My happiness does not require you to believe as I do. My happiness is sincerely based on what I find that brings me happiness and allows you to have your chosen happiness and what you find for yourself, truly, regardless of what that is. I am not happy only if you believe, I am happy. Period. If you are happy, great. I am happy for you. No strings attached. My happiness does not require that you change, or find the "true" path, or accept Jesus or anything else.

What is required for you to be truly happy and truly and honestly and fully be able to accept people in life, as they are, without hoping they will come around some day?

I think there are some whose beliefs will prohibit them from being able to honestly answer this question the way I would hope. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. If the believers are right and God is as they suggest, I hope your God shows me some mercy. However, if I'm right and this life is it, I will have been able to accept you as a human being with all your flaws and truly been able to see them as evidence of your uniqueness. Your mistakes or preferences would not serve as proof that we will not ever be able to be together again to enjoy eternal life with God. No. You are your own guide to happiness. It is truly possible for people to be happy without God in their life. I accept this to be true. What do you think?

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