To believe or not to believe / by Michael Sloyer

For some reason, I have been thinking about the not-so-light topics of God, religion, and spirituality recently, I am not sure why. Maybe it is because I have been spending more time in the presence of spiritual people. Maybe it is because I am growing closer to making some life changes that would put me on a more spiritual path. Maybe it is because feelings of loneliness have caused me to turn inward and search for a more fulfilling way that is less dependent on the material world. Regardless of why, it has been on my mind. So I thought it would be useful to jot down my thoughts about where I stand on things related to these mildly important matters.

The disclaimer is that these are just my thoughts. Maybe you share them. Maybe you don’t. But I am just a speck in this gigantic universe of ours, so my thoughts don’t really matter all that much. Please don’t take it too personally or too seriously if my thoughts conflict with yours.

So here we go…

I don’t believe in a God that looks like an elderly man with a long white beard that sits in a big chair in the sky.

I believe that science doesn’t even come close to fully explaining issues of how we got here, why we are here, when we got here, and if we will continue to remain here.

I know a lot of people who are way smarter, more thoughtful, and know way more about science than me who believe in God. And I really admire thoughtful people who believe in God.

I don’t agree with people that that believe in God because they were told to by their family, community, or religion.

I don’t agree with people that think that God will reward/punish them for doing good/bad acts.

I don’t like it when anyone, including public athletes and movie stars, thank God publically for whatever good fortune they are experiencing. I believe they are oversimplifying whatever God may or may not be and whatever God’s role may or may not have been in their good fortune. However, in the spirit of giving others the benefit of the doubt, I must also leave open the possibility that these people are practicing consciousness and gratitude in their public expression of thanks for God, and are not actually thoughtless believers.

I don’t believe that humans that believe in God have enough language to be able to describe the God they believe in.

I believe that God might be a feeling that we get. If people believe this feeling can help guide them, then I can understand why they might believe that God has the power to guide them.  

My rational for not doing bad things is not so I can go to heaven or because I want to be judged favorably on judgment day. I don’t believe in heaven or judgment day. I don’t believe in an after life. I believe it goes black and quiet when you die.

My rational for not doing bad things is because they are generally counterproductive in allowing me to achieve what I would consider the purpose of life. In my (humble) opinion, the purpose of life is three fold: 1. To love and be loved. 2. To experience authentic connection 3. To experience pure bliss

I believe in karma…kind of. I don’t believe that if you do a bad thing and no one finds out about it, something bad will still happen to you as a result. I do believe that bad things happen to people that do bad things because there is significant psychological and situational costs of doing bad things (vice versa for good things). For example, if someone steps on an ant, nothing bad will happen to that person directly because of the ant killing. However, over time, the negative thoughts that build up in that person’s brain each time he kills an ant will have real negative effects on that person. Additionally, if others witness the killing of the ant, this person may be judged unfavorably by his fellow human beings and be either directly or indirectly punished by them.

I don’t believe in fate. I do believe in odds. I believe we should do everything in our power to maximize the odds of living the most authentic and purpose filled life we can imagine.

I don’t believe that we control most of what happens to us in life. We only control a small percentage. However, this small percentage can make a huge difference in our lives. For example, we don’t control if a meteor will slam into Earth and kill us. However, we do control how much effort we put into the various relationships that are important to us, and as long as the meteor does not slam into Earth in the near future, the extra effort we put into our relationships will lead to a more fulfilling life.

I don’t believe anything exists independent of the mind. I do believe everything exists interdependently with your mind (a Buddhist teaching). You, therefore, have control of how you react to any situation.

As a corollary, I love the message of the Serenity prayer: “God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.”

I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. I do believe that things happen. And these things lead to other things, and without the original things, we would be in a different situation today than we would have been otherwise. So things have consequences. But they don’t necessarily have reasons. As Steve Jobs says, we can always connect the dots looking backwards.

When it comes to religion, I, to some degree, believe in the Machiavellian philosophy that “the ends justify the means.” It seems to me that people who thoughtfully believe in God and/or have a religious or ritualistic practice, live happier and more fulfilling lives. That doesn’t mean we should trick ourselves into believing things we don’t. It just means we should focus on what is true for us. For me personally, the truth is that many of the actions that are associated with religion, like meditation, reflection, prayer, and philanthropy, improve my quality of life and the lives of those around me.

The feelings of a shared history and the social aspects of religion have also been extremely important to me throughout my life.

Ultimately, consciousness is the X-factor here. All this religion and God stuff are associated with consciousness, which seems to be the critical factor in living a fulfilling life. If you don’t believe in God and don’t practice religion, you can get more than your requisite dose of consciousness from consistent expressions of gratitude, acts of compassion, statements of love, meditation, and a focus on the present.

So…while I don’t really believe in statements like “God is omnipotent”, “God is omniscient”, and “God created everything”….phrases like “God is love”, “God is oneness”, and “God is connection” make more sense to me.

And while I am not ready just yet to declare that I definitely believe in God, I would rather explore my possible belief in God and use it as a tool for a more fulfilling life than get stuck on my inability to prove the existence of God. In other words, I would rather be happy than right.

And for me, this is a big step, because anyone who knows me, knows I often act like I prefer to be right instead of happy.