Archive for October, 2007

Why atheism or theism is not a choice

Religions, particularly the theistic ones, place huge emphasis on belief. Those who believe will be saved; those who do not will be doomed. The natural implication of this is the idea that we can control our beliefs. A so-called good person believes, and a so-called bad person does not. However, in my opinion, we cannot choose what we believe. Our beliefs are simply the result of the evidence we have seen. Regardless of what we profess to think, our beliefs, and thus our atheism or our theism, are not a choice.

What is belief? How do we change it? Can we convince ourselves that the moon does not exist? What if we told ourselves this a thousand times? Would it still be present when we look to the sky, or would our minds refuse to acknowledge its existence? In this sense, perhaps we can tell ourselves that God does or does not exist. Perhaps we can fool ourselves into thinking one way or the other. However, we would always know that we had not truly considered the issue. We would know that our “belief” was simply the result of conditioning and will-power. Therefore, we would not truly believe it.

Deep down, a true belief can only be based on our own evidence and reasoning. This evidence may take many forms – it is not restricted to bolts of lightning and flaming bushes. The sense of God speaking within our heart may count as evidence. Whatever we tell ourselves, it is ultimately this evidence, and our interpretation of it, that determines whether we believe or not. We can tell ourselves otherwise, we can tell the world otherwise, but deep down we believe what we believe and we have no choice in this.

So what can we do? Is there then no way to change our belief? If we are now a theist, will we remain this way forever? If we atheists, are we forever doomed? No, there is one thing we can do. We can open our minds and look for new evidence. Be open to the possibility of a God and listen for his word. Or consider what may seem a scary possibility that there is no God. You do not know what will happen when you try this. Maybe your theistic or atheistic beliefs will be confirmed. Or perhaps you will begin to doubt what you have always known. At any rate, we believe what we believe and we cannot change this. We can gather evidence, but we cannot know upon which side this evidence will lead us. Hence, in this respect, atheism is not a choice. If we are atheists, then this is the only conclusion we could come to given what we knew. Similarly for theists. We may wish to deny our theism or atheism, but we are only fooling ourselves. We have no choice in what we believe, so we had best admit to it.

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Facing our fear of death

Death forces us to let go of everything. We must accept this and go peacefully. If we cling to people, or to things, or to our hopes and dreams, then death will be a moment of agony. We don’t know what will happen next, but it makes sense to accept the inevitable, and let death be a peaceful letting go.

Our life can be a training for the moment of death. If we learn to regard the world as fleeting and temporary, then it is easier to release it. This is training for life as well as for death. Whether we admit it or not, nearly all of us fear death. If we can learn to accept death, our lives will be lighter, as will the moment of death.

We fear death because we spend our lives clinging to things of this world. We strive for more money, we bond with friends, and most of all, we become attached to that voice in our head that we call “me”. We see our happiness as being dependent on these things, and conveniently ignore the grim reality that it could all end in an instant, for death can come at any time.

We must not ignore death. We must come to terms with the fact that everything is ephemeral. We still enjoy life, just as we enjoy a blooming flower, even knowing its beauty will fade. In fact, to accept death in our hearts and minds is perhaps the only way that we can truly enjoy life. For death in itself is not a sadness, it is our desire for things to last forever that makes death so unbearable.

So is there a part that will never die? Is there something solid that we can cling to? For some of us, this sense of eternity is found in God. Others of us must look within ourselves for that which is eternal. It is not the body, nor our discursive mind, but is there an essence, deep within, which was always present and always will be? If so, that is what we can cling to. If you have no such belief, then instead you must learn to delight in the very nature of change, in the idea that nothing remains the same. Yet at a higher level, we can also see that nothing ever changes, just as the sea is in constant motion and yet forever remains the same. When these truths are grasped, when we rise above our limited identities and learn to release the world, then our lives will be free. Finally, when death chooses to strike, we readily let go of all that remains.

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