Belief is a complex issue which, though I discuss it occasionally with friends, I rarely approach with my family. In discussing the questions presented in an activity on meta-belief in my philosophy class, I was able to learn quite a lot about the views and beliefs of my close family members. Upon examining myself, I found that the questions were more difficult to answer after contemplation than it seemed when I initially read them. Many of my personal beliefs can be proven, and to create a list of them and the evidence backing them up would be quite a task.
Some basic beliefs I hold that can be proven are based in scientific theories. I accept the evidence presented by scientists to back the theories of evolution and the big bang. I also, generally, accept that quantum physics is useful for determining the answers to some questions that may not otherwise be answered. I generally avoid believing in things absolutely, but when things can be reasonably defended with evidence, I tend to accept them as being close to facts. I must admit that the educational background and profession of the individual making these claims tends to play into my acceptance of these ideas as “proven,” but I don’t think that anything can be claimed beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Things I cannot prove among my beliefs are a bit harder to organize in a clear way. I try to avoid believing things that are not defended by facts, but there are a few things that I accept despite a lack of proof. The central belief that holds together most of my thought processes is that; though we can never really know anything absolutely, there is some “Absolute” of existence. I believe that there is some binding factor that prevents all mater from falling apart and becoming nothing.
This Absolute can best be summarized as the collection of natural laws that maintain order in nature. Einstein called this God, saying that “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind…” I sympathize highly with this belief, and I have considered myself to be a pantheist, in some form or another for over a year now.
Many others believe in the existence of an anthropomorphic, personal, loving God who cares for each individual person. I disbelieve the claim that such a figure exists, and the idea of proving its existence seems strange to me. I accept that I cannot prove the existence of my pantheistic Absolute, and I do not understand the idea of having proof for something that cannot be proven. I respect their beliefs, and I often agree with them on many issues, but I have trouble grasping the idea of a personal, loving God standing by in the face of such massive human suffering in the world. If I stopped believing the beliefs I currently hold, my life would be only marginally different. My idea of God as the Absolute is only a rough concept by which I think the universe is sustained, but if some view of God served this purpose more efficiently, I would jump at the opportunity to understand it.
I sat down with a few members of my family with whom I am quite close to ask the same questions and hold a discussion of meta-belief. My grandmother is full-blood Italian, and when she was younger she was a strong Catholic, but her belief has waned in recent years. She works as the secretary at my mother’s office. My mom is a podiatrist, and she has similarly changed the way she thinks from her Catholic upbringing. My grandfather is retired, and he is a follower of many New Age ideas. He is a great admirer of Edgar Cayce.
They reacted similarly to the question of which beliefs they held could be proven. My mother primarily cited her belief in the theories of scientists. We agreed that it is difficult to prove many beliefs conclusively because there is a lack of information about some subjects which seem easily proven. My grandmother, for example, said that she believed she was her parents’ daughter. My mother pointed out that we can only conclusively prove that she was her mother’s daughter, and that due to a lack of DNA tests, we could rely only upon a strong family resemblance to prove her relation to her father. We ultimately agreed that it can be difficult to find proof, beyond a doubt, of most beliefs.
When we approached the question of beliefs that cannot be proven, my grandfather listed many of his deepest held convictions about God, the universe, and the afterlife. He believes fervently in reincarnation, and he is a strong Christian. He also has many “New Age” beliefs including the idea of an “Akashic Record” of the lives of everyone who ever lived, and he told us about the teachings of the clairvoyant Edgar Cayce. Though he admitted that he can’t prove these ideas in a conventional way, he said that he can prove them because they come directly from the “Universal Forces,” which he says are at work all around us.
As a group, we began to see that, when it comes to important beliefs, what is considered to be proof varies from individual to individual. We applied the question “why do you believe this?” in addition to “why do you not have proof of this?” in order to properly express the fact that proof is different for each of us. My grandmother, though she no longer believes in God, does think that an evil person is capable of putting a hex or “evil-eye” on another person. She admits that she cannot prove this belief, but she has seen people’s lives fall apart after being given what they saw as a hex. My mother said that she believes the universe is infinite, but she cannot prove this. She also hopes that there is a God and an afterlife, but she doesn’t think it is likely due to the lack of proof.
We all disbelieve the ideas of many world religions. My grandfather specifically stated that he disagreed with Muslim rules about women. We discussed the idea that people will claim to be able to prove many things, and they will be able to prove those things based on their own sense of what is and is not proof. We also talked about respecting others’ beliefs despite our disagreement or disbelief. All three of my family members believed that without the sense of God, morals, guilt, and the afterlife in which they were raised, they would have lived quite differently. They were not sure if it would have been a negative thing, but they knew they would have been different. My grandmother told me that without the faith he holds, my grandfather would fall apart physically and mentally.
Overall, we concluded that beliefs are put in place by individuals based on the teachings of those around them, and in some cases they are positive, while in others they have clearly negative effects. Each of my family members regretted some portion of their lives in which they felt their beliefs held them back from fully experiencing life. I learned a lot about the way other people think, and I learned more than I probably ever would have about New Age thought. This discussion and activity was a fascinating opportunity to discuss belief with my family and to uncover some new ideas that I can now consider.