29 Oct


One hears so much about belief.
Most of it is religious belief, like “I believe in this God” and “I believe in that God”, and the inevitable conclusion that one or the other of the believers is wrong whilst the other one might, just might, but right. No guarantees there, though.
So what is belief?
If you follow the arguments of people reckoning to have faith and belief in a particular deity and its panoply of angels then you might get quite a skewed impression of what belief really is. They have no idea what that deity is, where that deity exists, what the angels are, how the whole thing came into being in the first place. The god and his minions exist, and that’s good enough for them.
And how do they know that they exist?
They know for one or possibly both of two reasons.
Firstly, the belief system has been hammered into their brains since birth. It’s no coincidence that the vast majority of believers actually claim to have faith in the dominant deity of the society into which they were born and brought up. Born in the UK and most Western countries and you have Christianity shoe-horned into your brain until it’s a permanent fixture and difficult to dislodge. Born in the Middle East and you might find Islam as the pervading faith, and, surprise surprise, you’d die in support of Muhammed. But all you did was get born. The society you were born into shaped the rest of your belief. Not a deity: they can’t shape anything, but the prevalent belief that trickled its stories into your head.
Secondly, you’re not immortal. You’re going to die sooner or later and the religions offer you a nice cosy after-life existence in which you either meet up with your nearest and dearest if they’ve gone before you or are rewarded with an unconscionable number of virgins if you’ve fought the good fight on behalf of your god. It’s not a bad option, is it? To have an afterlife in this or that Heaven to look forwards to? Much better than the alternatives, the graveyard or the funeral pyre.
The actual fact, though, is there has never been any evidence for the existence of Heaven, hell, Elysian fields, everlasting torment, angels with harps, anything like that. Like the Gods that spawned them the best guess of an intelligent person is that they are the stuff of fable.
So why is there such a thing as faith, especially religious faith when the religion is, at best, spurious? I mean, we all have senses with which we detect reality. Unless we have been unfortunate and lost our sight we can all see the things that surround us, and even look beyond our actual surroundings and see the stars. We know what those stars are and the fact that they come in uncountable quantities in the shape of galaxies. True, we’ve been told all this by scientists who study the things, but what those scientists tell us adds to the evidence of our senses rather than contradicts it.
As we grow up we get an impression that there is some kind of order in things.
In many respects an atom looks like a tiny replica of a solar system and a solar system gives every impression of being related to a galaxy, though on a minuscule scale. They’re very different, of course, but the forces that supply apparent similarity are the forces that hold the whole of understandable existence in check.
And in all this broad nature there’s no bearded bloke with a cruel streak. There’s absolutely no room for a god, and if a god appeared he’d have absolutely nothing to do. The Universe, Creation, call it what you will, functions in a predictable way without recourse to magic wands.
So why faith in what doesn’t need to exist? Why die in the name of that faith (if you do you’ll get no reward of virgins with whom you might dream of spending Eternity)? Yet people are doing it all the time, and have for a really long time. Back in British History, a few centuries ago (a short time when measured against Everything) people went to the most painful deaths because they just couldn’t recant their faith. There was a general belief that God was good and the devil was bad and God needed human help in defeating that dreadful devil, who had planet evil spies in the human camp, so to speak. Those spies needed rooting out and burning at the stake. And they were, in cruel quantities. In our more enlightened times it looks very much like murder, and it was, murder in the name of God.
So why does faith exist today? Why are there a huge number of people who believe in the particular God of their parents, their God and not someone else’s, and feel angry if someone like me comes along and tries to explain what I see as the truth? The answer probably lies in something simple, like “it always has been like this”.
But times they are a-changing. The Head of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope himself, has said that evolution is a reality and that God is no magician. Many of us knew that anyway, but it’s nice for the Pope to re-enforce our prejudice. All he’s got to do now is dismantle everything that depends on the peculiar cosmology hitherto claimed by the church. He’s broken down the first stone in the wall of ignorance called faith, and if that wall crumbles away – what then?
If gods are consumed in the flames of reality, what will we have to believe in? Where will our faith go? I suppose the good thing is that it will be in our own hands. Maybe, without the anchor of superstition dragging us back, as a species we’ll do good or bad in our own name with no unlikely deity to pray to should things go wrong.
Maybe we’ll get a better hold on reality. And angry young men won’t have weird gods and odd faith to fight for. They’ll have to start to see sense.
© Peter Rogerson 29.10.14


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