Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Believers Don't Believe
”I'm a believer,” The Monkees sang in 1966. They meant a believer in love, but mostly the term is used for and by religious people, sticking to convictions that common sense dismisses. But the term is a paradox. The use of it reveals a lack of belief.
The Monkees sang that they thought love was only true in fairytales, until:
Then I saw her face, now I'm a believer
Not a trace of doubt in my mind
I'm in love, I'm a believer
But wait a minute. If you believe in love, there's still room for doubt. Otherwise you would regard it as a fact, not a belief. So, the boy of the song is not sure enough to do more than believe in the love by which his heart is overcome. What he's really saying is that he hopes he can trust love. He's taking the chance.
The same is true for religious people claiming to believe in this or that. They don't claim it to be a fact, they don't say they know it. They believe it, which is really confessing that they shouldn't, if they listened to reason. They reveal that they insist on something, although they can't even convince themselves of it.
So, every statement of belief is a confession to the contrary.
Those who say that they believe God created the world a few thousand years ago thereby admit to its absurdity. They confirm this by saying that they don't believe in evolution, which is a way of admitting that they know better. Those who believe in Heaven and Hell as the next destination after death admit that they really don't expect anything but bodily decay after their last breath.
Mostly, people say they believe in this or that god. Again, that's admitting such an entity to be highly unlikely, to say the least. What else could they say about someone (or something) so elusive?
It would be different if they said that they know this god exists, but that would be preposterous. They could say that the god is possible, which is as hard to deny as the opposite. Or they could be perfectly honest and say that they hope the god exists.
It's all about hope.
Atheists in heated debates with religious fundamentalists insist that they are stupid for believing, but that actually proves they are not. If they claimed knowledge, certainty, they would be. But by using the word belief, they hang on to their own reason and common sense. And they know it.
The true driving force of religious extremists is the fear of admitting to themselves that they have doubts, serious doubts. So, they try to silence what their minds are whispering to them, by taking a fanatic position and committing to it as blatantly as they are able. They hope that by this commitment they will finally convince themselves.
That's nothing but fear, of course. The fear of losing hope. It's the cause of much anguish in the world – and far from only to the ones stuck in this conflict of emotions.