Jan 9, 2017
Changing your beliefs feels like dying.
Whether it’s religion, politics, or science, letting go of the complex of ideas that provides an orderly explanation for your life and your experiences seems like falling into chaos and oblivion. It seems suicidal even to loosen your grip on that branch of Truth suspended over the abyss of ignorance.
But every day, with every new thing you learn, you’re hopping to another, usually very close, branch. The Truth you believe in today is a little different from yesterday’s. And sometimes the change is so big you find yourself clinging to the branch of a different tree: You change religions, or switch political parties, or experience a paradigm shift.
After doing it several times, you realize that if you gave up believing altogether, you’d only have to die once.
Then Truth ceases to be a branch you cling to but a forest of branches and the air between: You can spread your intellectual wings in this more inclusive Truth and fly from branch to branch, choosing truths and viewpoints according to their usefulness, appropriateness, esthetics, promise. The moralistic preoccupation with “correctness”, whether you’re clinging to the “right” branch, is irrelevant. Salvation, in science as in politics and religion, is simply fear of flying.
Camus addressed this matter four decades ago: Can you live without hope? Without belief? He concluded that not only can you, but you must to become truly human and to avoid the homicidal presumption that you are a god. (Or, in today’s terms, that you know the mind of God.)
Only after you have died to beliefs do you discover real faith–the confidence that the universe and your part in it will be what it is regardless of your belief. Your beliefs (and their opposite polarity, disbeliefs) are the sand in which your head is buried. They are a mirror, reflecting your own brilliance and blinding you to the unassuming light of reality. They are a log anchoring your feet, preventing you from soaring into the universe that is your natural home.