When beliefs are mentioned religion often comes to mind. What do you believe? Think about that for a minute… Some people might reply, “Well, I believe in God.” Others might respond, “I’m not sure what I believe.” I’ve heard people say, “I believe in freedom.” There’s really no right way to believe. I know that might sound a bit blasphemous considering that I’m a Muslim and I should probably say that the right way to believe is the way in which I believe, right? Well, not really. My value system comes from my reading of a book called the Qur’an. In this book it states, “There is no compulsion in religion, truth stands clear from falsehood…” This, to me, highlights two fundamental realities:
- That there must be an objective reality
- That beliefs are inherent, deeply entrenched and can never be imposed. Frankly, it’s impossible to impose.
People either feel convinced that something is true, or they don’t. However, whatever they hold o be true will inform their decisions, their attitudes, their emotional landscape, and possibly whether they will be successful or not. Hence, it becomes necessary for us to think of beliefs as building blocks of life instead of merely an exercise in theology. Beliefs extend beyond the boundaries of religion- as we commonly understand it today.
What then should you believe? People sometimes ask me that after I’ve mind fucked them a few times. If it were that simple, then this discussion would be pointless. I could just say, “Believe in One God” and be done with it. Rather I am going to give you a way to evaluate your experiences and try to discover what you really believe. I’ve come to realize myself, that we often don’t know what we believe, even when we are affiliated with a religion that tells us to what to believe.
I’ve seen people who are faithful followers of a religion and have committed to studying doctrine, law, theology and divinity, and then when faced with a moral dilemma choose to go with the most immoral actions. I’ve also seen people who claim not to believe in anything faced with a similar dilemma, refuse to compromise on what they see as ethical and fair. I’ve not seen this happen once or twice, I’ve seen it happen all my life. After years of contemplation I’ve boiled things down to a few very simple constructs.
Believe what is true on the basis of evidence. If you’ve noticed that each time you get up too fast your head spins a bit, it’s possible that you are slightly anemic. It’s very likely that that is the case. After you get your blood tested you discover that you it’s true. The doctor gives you a bunch of iron tablets and you feel fine after that. You can believe all that is true because there’s proof. Sure you might say that it’s called ‘belief’ because there’s no proof and so you should just ‘have faith.’ That’s the kind of belief that will cost you dearly. That’s the kind of beliefs I’m advising against.
Believe in what you know from your experiences and the experiences of others. I know that experiences are subjective. The way in which I experience the world is really unique to me, right? Well, what if the way in which I experience the world is held in common with countless other people? What if we all are terrified to tease a lion in the jungle? Is it still so subject? There’s a consensus that thousands of years of human experiences bring together. Sometimes we pejoratively call it ‘stereotypes’ and other times we call it ‘lived experiences’ it depends on the point we are trying to make. I’m just taking a bit of a piss at some academic articles I unfortunately have to read now and again. The point is that if you have certain experiences in your life, and it can be corroborated by countless other people, it’s probably true. It could, on the odd chance be false, or not true in all cases, but that might be negligible. The mind cannot re-think and re-hash every idea on the spot each time you need to make a decision. Instead, it has a shortcut mechanism to act based on decisions you already made. It’s like your mind operates on precedence, just like the law does. Be careful what you allow to be in your basket of shortcut keys.
Believe in what is analogous to what you know to be true already. Here we might be entering the realm of religion. I, for example, believe that the world operates on the basis of cause and effect. A wrong move is punished by the consequences it will reap. A right move is rewarded by the positive results it produces. This being the nature of the world, I’ve noticed that the full effect of punishments and rewards are not met out here. Frankly, someone might die before serving a life sentence for having killed hundreds of people. Someone else might suffer terrible losses of saving an entire nation or more often than not, be killed by the very people he saved. The logic of existence doesn’t work for me if heaven and hell weren’t real. It is analogous to how the world works and so by extension, it must be real. In fact, it’s so consistent in religious traditions that it is hard to look past it. In this way, I personally evaluate ideas founded on scripture. The world is real, life is real, things are real, and if all that I know to be real doesn’t fit into what I read, then I guess somethings wrong? Is it the chair in front of me, or the idea? I choose the chair, and I scrap the idea.
Believe in what is innate. This is a bit of a difficult one. It requires that you bring the mind to a still and that you feel everything within you. It’s not easy to come to terms with yourself so intimately that you know what resonates with you deep within yourself. We, the Muslims, find these moments at times in our five daily prayers. However, in other faith traditions there are exercises that have such aims. In my respect for the things of religions I must acknowledge that my experiences are limited to my own. If you follow a religion other than Islam, you should look into the disciplines that facilitate your getting in touch with yourself. You’d know better what that is.
This brings us full circle. “There is no compulsion in religion, truth stands clear from falsehood.” It stands clear from falsehood, because you are true, you’ve been created in truth, and in fact if anyone knows the truth it will be you, you might just not have realized how much data you really have. The wanderer in the desert under the night sky looks to the heavens and knows, just like the Eskimo walking in the snow, that the vastness he beholds speaks of a great reality. A reality that is beyond. May God bless and guide us all unto His ways.