Archive for Choice

Surrender to life

We cannot control what happens in life. This is a sobering fact to realize. We often make the mistake of thinking that living our lives is like painting a picture. When we paint a picture, everything is under our control. We can choose exactly what we want to be on that canvas, and if the vision in our mind’s eye is not perfectly transferred, that is due to our own errors. We may not always know what we should paint, and we may lack the skills to paint it, but ultimately it is under our control, and with enough hard work we can have what we want. Life is not like this.

It is easy to believe that we can control our lives because much of the time we can. If we work hard enough at school, we probably will pass our exams. If we gather the required skills, we probably can get that job. Clearly, it is important to understand that much of life is in our hands, and that with the intelligent application of effort we can achieve a lot. However, it is equally important to understand that portions of life that are not in our hands, or at least only partially so. Consider the desire to be happily married at age 25. Do we really have full control over this? There is a lot that we can do to bring it about. We can cultivate compassion and kindness in an effort to have more harmonious relationships. We can be friendly and sociable and build up our self-confidence in an effort to connect with more people. However, we cannot really control whether someone will want to marry us, simply because it is a joint decision. We do not know how our loved one will feel, whether he or she will get cold feet, and so forth. Our control is only partial. Furthermore, we also have the many catastrophes that life can throw up – our spouse being hit by the proverbial bus, an earthquake striking, or a war breaking out. Although each of these events is individually unlikely, there is a good chance that some such thing will happen at some point in our lives, even further shattering that illusion of control.

So if life is not like painting a picture, how about watching a movie? When we watch a movie, we have no control over what happens. We may be able to guess what happens, and we may like or dislike what happens, but we can certainly not control what happens. Yet in spite of this, most of us enjoy movies, and their unpredictability is one of their best features. Perhaps this is a better way of looking at life?

The truth is that living life has some of the qualities of watching a movie, and some of the qualities of painting a picture. We must learn to work hard and cultivate our skills to shape things as best we can, and yet ultimately, we must also be able to sit back and just enjoy whatever happens. Although we try hard to make life work as we want it to, the final decision is not with us – ultimately, we must accept that life will work as it wants to, and we are best to just enjoy the ride.

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Can we be open-minded in organized religion?

If we honestly seek the truth, we must be open to any conclusion. This is true of any field, and religion is no exception. Some might argue that if everyone agrees on something then it is probably true. This would mean that blind faith is acceptable. Whether this argument is valid or not, it does not apply to religion for the simple reason that people are nowhere close to a consensus. Therefore, questioning is essential.

Belonging to an organized religion can make questioning difficult because we are afraid to deviate from the mindset of those around us. Although we may be able to question finer points of doctrine, the environment likely makes it difficult to challenge any fundamental assumptions that would effectively preclude us from remaining in the religion. For example, it is hard to question the very existence of God, or the existence of a soul, from within the context of organized religion.

Nevertheless, it is important to question such things. People generally shrink from such uncertainty. They are afraid to challenge their secure world view, a view which is supported by the other members of their religion. The stakes are especially high because religion offers hope, it offers a way out, and therefore to challenge it is to admit the frightening possibility that our path to redemption is not valid. Such a fear-based mindset will get us nowhere. Religion is a search for truth, not a search for security or for pleasure. In any case, believing something simply because we were told it will not bring security: We will always be afraid that our belief is wrong. We must only believe something if we have questioned it and found it to be true.

Uncertainty is present whether we like it or not. Our only choice is whether to ignore it. We may think that blind faith brings security, but the opposite is true. The most secure path is through critical thinking – challenging our assumptions and questioning everything. If we do this, we either confirm our beliefs, or we come up with new and better beliefs. In either case, we will have confidence in them and will know that we have thought about them, rather than simply believing what we were told or what we believed yesterday. In the context of an organized religion, this open-mindedness may not be possible. If we are expected to maintain a certain set of core beliefs, then we dampen the spirit of inquiry. Therefore, although we may find the discussion and company of an organized religion useful, we should never be strongly identified with it. Open-mindedness is the real path to the truth.

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