Why do you believe what you believe?

 I have this joke and it goes something like this…

“When I tell people that I have no beliefs; they don’t believe me.”    

I make this point over and over in my book, The Practical BuddhistThe believing part of having beliefs is a false definition; You can’t exactly observe someone believing anything. It’s not really an action; rather it’s a rationalization for behaving in a certain manner and attributing it to something that can’t be defined.

Like a child being good in order for Santa Claus to reward her on Christmas morning, so adults rationalize their religious and secular behavior in the name of God or organization.

Here’s what I had to say in the book about beliefs:

Not only are beliefs, by their nature, exclusionary, they are also not based on experience. You may say you believe in gravity, but I’d counter that you’ve experienced it instead. You may say that you believe in love or hunger but again, I’d say that you experienced them.

Beliefs distract me from experiencing what’s real

To fully accept an idea or concept you need to reject everything else…every other possible explanation.  Alternatively, to experience something is to know it firsthand and when confronted with contradictory or corroborating evidence your view changes.

If you blindly accept 2 + 2 = 4, you don’t know it to be true.  Without having the experience of two blocks set before you, adding two more, and then counting the resulting number, you are accepting someone else’s version of this truth. It is only when first graders perform this tactile experiment that they experience how the resulting data is true.

I’ve experienced love, gravity, poverty, hunger, illness, joy, pain, sadness, guilt, etc.  I don’t need to form any beliefs about these topics to make them real.

When I find myself wanting to place faith in something I haven’t experienced, I have to pause and consider what I’m doing and ask myself whether this is an appropriate view.

Without exception, it is not.

I experience what’s real and do not place my consciousness in something that isn’t real. I’m challenged on this quite frequently by those who feel I’m chiding them for having beliefs in God, religion, or concepts. But I maintain that beliefs are a false construct; placing confidence in and living your life according to something for which you cannot provide objective proof…that isn’t belief, it’s irrational behavior.

How can you live without beliefs?

It’s simple; don’t believe anything you can’t experience.

Instead, examine what you currently believe. Whether your belief is in the existence of God, a Supreme Being, the Boogie-Man, Satan, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, demons, angels, or something else you must take on faith, begin by asking and answering this question:

  • Do I have definitive, demonstrable evidence* that what I believe is true?

*Is the belief supported by evidence that is corroborated independently by those outside of the belief circle? If not, then it is only a myth. If so, it is no longer a belief, but something you can experience.

I know this sounds simple. That’s because it is. You don’t need to believe anything you can’t experience. Living day to day with beliefs requires you to keep your actions in check so as to always remain within the confines of the behavior that the belief dictates.

Some will counter that this is a benefit of holding certain beliefs so that we don’t spiral into mass lawlessness and that without beliefs in God, religion, or other constructs our behavior would rapidly disintegrate.

I disagree. My actions are governed by 1) my own internal compass; 2) laws that prescribe what limitations exist within the society; 3) what I deem as beneficial to myself and others regardless of the morality or legality of the issues covered by both 1 and 2. I don’t need an imaginary authority-source to dictate my behavior.

The ramifications of living without beliefs

What are the ramifications of living without beliefs? Won’t there be mass hysteria, looting, riots, and the disintegration of freedom?

If you are held captive by beliefs, you aren’t free to begin with.

If my life is an example, then I can say no. I am not a lawless renegade nor a violent person. I don’t own a firearm nor do I belong to groups that support their free distribution. I give money to those who I feel can benefit from it whether they are standing on a street corner or asking for a donation via online or in-person requests.

However, when you look into the beliefs of those who are responsible for some of the most heinous human acts, more often you will find belief at the root of their decision-making. One need only to read current news sites or look to history for examples.

I urge you to examine what you believe and be honest with yourself about whether or not what you believe is true. If not, reject it and lead your life in a new direction; one without any beliefs. You will be happier.