Thursday, June 9, 2016

Belief required

Occasionally I will meet a person assiduously devoted to the scientific method of positing a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis' veracity, and then modifying the hypothesis as warranted before initiating a new round of testing. More than one such individual has maintained that s/he seeks to live strictly on the basis of fact, assiduously striving to eradicate all unsupported beliefs from her/his life.

Claims that a person can navigate life's major decisions without beliefs seem fatuous to me. For example, should one marry? If so, whom should one choose as her/his spouse? Although social scientists are beginning to accumulate some data about the attributes of what will make for a healthy, happy marriage, the research is far from adequate for preparing anyone to analyze possible life partners and then to decide who will make the best spouse. A person necessarily plunges into the deep, uncertain waters of marriage hopeful but with no guarantee of success.

Similarly, what career or occupation should one pursue? Whether described as a calling (e.g., to the ordained ministry or to the bar) or as a preference (e.g., to join the Navy instead of the Army), the choice of a career or occupation entails significant beliefs about one's abilities, skills, future happiness, job requirements, etc. Vocational tests may help a person to assess personality, talents, and preferences but no amount of testing can guarantee success, much less happiness.

At best, collection and analysis of all relevant information can enable a person to make an educated guess about probable outcomes of decisions regarding marriage, vocation, and so forth. Actual decisions entail beliefs about the decision's likely outcome. Sometimes one may choose to play the odds; on other occasions, one may feel that s/he is likely to be the exception who beats the odds rather than the norm. In other words, life inescapably requires belief.

Our beliefs are always a mixture of confidence and doubt. Beliefs by their very nature lack the certainty of facts.

I believe in God. That is, after collecting and analyzing the data I believe that I discern a force at work in the cosmos that is not reducible to physics, chemistry, biology, or math. The cosmos exhibits, I believe, a trajectory toward life, love, and justice that is otherwise unexplainable. This force (God) constitutes the essence of the religious impulse and is evident in all of the world's great religions. My belief in God lies at the center of my life.

Belief is required, not optional. Socrates at his trial for impiety famously declared, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Thus, vital questions are: What belief(s) form the center of your existence? Do your beliefs provide a solid foundation for a satisfying and rewarding life? Does your life's foundation include beliefs of which you are unaware? What beliefs might strengthen that foundation? Is belief in God as the ground of being (a phrase borrowed from Paul Tillich) part of that foundation?

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