So What Do You Believe In, Then?

What do I believe in?

This is a difficult question to answer. As an atheist, I don’t believe in any gods and there’s plenty of other things I don’t believe in – leprechauns, fairies, goblins etc.

I think part of the reason is that when you say ‘I believe’ in something, you are placing trust in that thing – you are stating, in effect, that you think it will hold good if not for all time, then at least until something comes along which proves otherwise.

And of course, there’s the issue of truth, too. What ‘proofs’ do we have that the beliefs we hold as ‘true’ are, in fact, true? Everyone in the world probably has irrational fears, anxieties and prejudices, none of which are actually ‘true’ in any meaningful sense (other than in the glib way that ‘it’s true for me’).

So, no, it’s not an easy task – but I’ll do my best. I’m not going to waste time with things like ‘I believe the Earth is real’ or ‘I believe I’m real’ because I clearly do – otherwise, how could I sensibly live my day to day life? Here’s some things I believe:

  1. I believe love and compassion are good principles by which we can live our lives and that they are far better than hatred and cruelty. If this sounds obvious and even trite, it’s remarkable how often in everyday life all of us, me included, allow ourselves to forget that.

  2. I believe knowledge is, on the whole, a good thing and that having more knowledge about things is preferable to having less. Knowledge is therefore preferable to ignorance.

  3. I believe skepticism is an important virtue and that it is good not to hold to any principle or idea (including your own), without being prepared to change it if the evidence merits a change. That’s not to say I think we should distrust everything, rather that we should have a sort of ‘sliding scale’ of evidence at the back of our minds – and that the more outlandish a claim is, the more evidence is needed to support it. And this also includes the knowledge that this is not an easy thing to practise in every day life.

  4. I believe accepting things on the basis of rational belief including facts and evidence is always better than accepting them for other reasons – such as popular appeal, tradition and authority. Regardless of how many supporters a wrong thing has, it’s still a wrong thing. No matter how ‘old’ a cruel tradition is, it’s still cruel. And, regardless of how eminent or powerful a person is, they can still get it wrong.

  5. I believe in the finite extent of my own knowledge, powers and abilities as well as those of other people. I do not, and never will, know everything, nor should I be expected to. Therefore, I am ‘allowed’ to be wrong and so is everyone else. None of us has all the answers.

  6. I believe a system is only as good as the people who made it – and that no system is therefore ever ‘perfect.’ We can however, strive to make our systems as fair, tolerant, compassionate and efficient as possible, for the good of everyone.

  7. I believe it is entirely possible to have an ethical code by which we can live, which is not dictated by any divine or higher authority. Likewise, I believe humanity can use its reason and intelligence to promote secular morality which is free from the influence of god or gods. We can decide what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and resolve to follow it for its own sake – not for the prospect of reward or punishment in a non-existent afterlife.

  8. I believe, on the whole, that forgiveness is better than harbouring hatreds, including the forgiveness of yourself. This is very hard to do in practice – but I still think it is worth the effort – at least in principle.

  9. I believe the best kind of social system is that which benefits everyone, rather than a privileged, elite few – and strikes a happy medium between protecting people’s freedoms and excessive control.

  10. I believe that if there is to be ‘authority’ in this world, it must be based upon people’s merits and abilities including their intelligence and capacity for reason and compassion not upon hereditary titles or how much money they have. And, I believe all authority should be accountable, justified by reason and be able to be removed and replaced with something better if the need arises.

  11. I believe in the progress of knowledge, in that, if we discover new facts which contradict our existing systems, we must either modify those systems or replace them with better ones. Modifying the facts to fit the systems is never a good idea.

  12. I believe there is no ‘right’ way to live your life nor any ‘true’ purpose for us to follow. I do however believe there are ‘better’ and ‘worse’ ways to live your life and that the best way is to do as much good as possible and do as little harm as possible, to yourself and to others.

  13. I believe in the power of friendship, the sharing of knowledge, love and support – and I believe that a few good friends will always triumph over a larger group of fair-weather acquaintences.

  14. I believe everyone is free to hold whatever opinions they wish, to share them with others and to follow their own conscience – providing it does not cause an unreasonable harm to others. By ‘harm’ I do not mean we should not be allowed to hurt others’ feelings – this is inevitable as long as people have different views on how things ‘ought’ to be. Rather, by ‘harm’ I mean we should not pursue a course of cruelty towards others.

  15. I believe this life, that which we are now living, is the only life we will ever have – all the more reason to make it as comfortable, happy and fulfilling as we can.

 

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