Monday, August 4, 2014

The Temptation of Belief

I have discovered that the majority of atheists find themselves unable to believe. Many of them, whether they were raised religious or not, have always had trouble believing that there was an invisible being watching over them, anxious to hear their prayers. Many atheists are of the stance found in Blaise Pascal's Pensées, where the hypothetical unbeliever declares: "...I am so made that I cannot believe."

Yet, there is another class of atheist, a class of which I am part, to whom belief comes naturally. We are tempted, and have perhaps, been convinced here and there, to believe the impossible. I, for one, spent 24 years engulfed in the absolute belief in God, heaven, and miracles. I was not surprised, and willingly believed, the stories of holy men performing supernatural events. I saw "God's guiding hand" through many of my own experiences. I believed stories about demons, and angels. I believed stories of Elijah the Prophet taking the form of other people to help a Jew out of a tough situation. It was not hard for me to believe the intangible, the incomprehensible, it was as real to me as the sun in the sky. I am a natural believer. I identify with the powerful words of Jean-Paul Sartre when he wrote: "That God does not exist, I cannot deny; that my whole being cries out for God, I cannot forget."

I may be a believer by nature, but I am an atheist by choice. Though religion's warm embrace tempts me, I reject her. Though the mysterious and fantastical call to me, I do not hearken to them. It is irresponsible for me to accept claims without proof. Without being able to check a premise, what right have I to call it reality? 

I must interject here only to state, that I am in no way perpetuating the repeatedly told "axiom" that religion is the best way of life. I have shown in other essays that I firmly do not believe that to be the case. Yet, the comfort that religion gives, existential and otherwise, cannot be denied. Moreover, for someone who wants to believe -- who's being summons him to believe -- religion seems all the more tempting. 

Humans tend to believe many claims without sufficient proof. I, no doubt have done so, and will probably be guilty of it, in some manifestation, again. Can this be called a healthy perception of reality? Can man believe whatever he pleases? When truth is no longer an ideal to strive for, what limits should be put on man's untamed imagination? If we are to believe whatever we desire, without some objective method of testing those beliefs, we have but erased the very word "truth" from the universe. 

If the idea of "truth" is to matter at all, if we are to understand reality, however slightly, we must determine for ourselves a tool for measuring it. I have chosen reason. Reason can be tested, critiqued, and most importantly mended. It has no sacred scriptures it must consult, no dogma it must appease. It requires no believe, no blind faith. It desires free-inquiry and a thirst to learn. It demands honesty and open-mindedness. It is the tool that has propelled mankind from primitive tribes scurrying around the Earth, to advanced civilizations that are currently pushing the boundaries of space. 

Reason is not an end in itself, but a tool. There is yet room in the world for wonder, love, poetry and all other conceivable forms of art. We cannot however, be without reason. It must be the tool that is used to measure all the important questions of life. All other aspects that are to be found in the universe that make living so glorious, must be allowed to roam free, only after reason has established the safe borders.

This is why, as natural as it is for me to believe in religion's claims, as tempting as it is, I cannot. Not unless I can reasonably prove them to be true. That is my duty to the truth. To seek her out, even if she is almost impossible to find. I mustn't capitulate to my feeble heart's desires to be comforted as I once was, by religion. Friedrich Nietzsche correctly wrote: "There is nothing more necessary than the truth, in comparison with it everything else has only secondary value."  

I may at times be tormented by my doubts, my uncertainty. I may be beaten down by my skepticism. But I will forever know, that when faced with the "two roads diverged... I chose the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."    


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