Saturday, April 4, 2009

Belief...not belief. Whatever.

I'm so tired of folks who insist on flying the banner of belief. Y'know - the ones who talk about what they believe, or don't, and insist that we should understand something significant about them because of it.

I have no issue with belief. I believe in all sorts of things. I just don't want to have to know what you're trying to tell me with your belief shorthand. Tell me what you mean instead. There is so much belief shorthand, all tied up with labels, that we have lots of words and no meaning.

Like global warming. Seems innocent enough. But part of the shorthand about global warming for conservatives is that it represents an erroneous belief in scientific data, and the politics and policy that have emerged from concerns about global warming are just another excuse for liberals to trample the rights of private citizens and businesses.

And part of the shorthand about global warming for scientists and perhaps more liberal politicians is that we are facing a crisis that requires resources and engagement and that it's getting exponentially worse, so we must act now. And failure to do so may be the most catastrophic event to befall the planet.

BIG difference in perspective. What the actual data reveals depends entirely on your basic belief system. You cannot understand information in a belief-free vacuum. It is simply not possible. And belief comes from experience, and experience comes from belief. 70 degrees is a bit of factual data. If you're in Arizona in the summer, it means very cool. If you're Alaska in the winter, it means very warm. The information by itself otherwise has no particular meaning.

There are all those folks who don't seem to realize that what they believe - the truths they hold to be self-evident - are beliefs at all. Folks who think that evolution is the answer to explaining the world believe that science got it right, and that ONLY science got it right. And some of them defend that viewpoint with more religious fervor than the overtly religious. And they hold that because their belief is based in science, that it's not at all about belief. It's just about facts.

But it's never that way. What you accept and reject is essentially about belief. "Scientific" notions of the truth have changed dramatically over time, and continue to change, literally every day. There is no constant truth in science. Just the belief that examination of the physical world will yield the ultimate insight into the meaning and purpose and existence of life.

It's the exact same pursuit as religion, just different methodology, and different acceptable criteria. And you can see that some folks who have been wounded by religion are so religious in their rejection of religion and so passionate in their embrace of science. They are defensive and unbending about the rightness of their belief in non-belief.

Reminds me of the terrible tension between the most ardent fundamentalists of Islam and Judaism. They are so very similar in how their belief should be upheld in daily life - the importance of prayer, the rejection of modern culture and society, gender roles, the importance of religious education, etc., - and yet for all their similarities, for their common heritage and ancestry, they see each other only as enemies, seeing only the differences and blind to the similarities.

These are all folks who are deeply, intensely, passionately concerned with Truth - finding it, understanding it, living it and sharing it. And ironically, their equally intense pursuit of the same thing has taken them in irreconcilably different directions.

I don't know that we can get to any place of understanding without one of two things - or both of these things. One is communication with real, simple, everyday words, with the actual intention of listening to each other. And the other is silence. If we can come together in silence, hearing not our own voices, but the heartbeat of G*d, then maybe we have a chance.