10 June 2008

This I Believe

I wrote this essay a little over a year ago. It was an attempt to articulate to my friends in the Pentecostal church that I had been raised in what I believed now, without the messy details of deconversion: this essay was to be positive, not negative. I think the essay reflects "me" quite well, and because I am somewhat proud of my accomplishment in being able to articulate my complex worldview in just a few paragraphs, I post it here. I take the name of this essay ("This I Believe") from the NPR program that invites ordinary people to talk about their own personal philosophies.

If someone had asked me what I believed in a few years ago, I would have been hard-pressed to give a sensible and sincere answer. A couple of years ago, however, I began to evaluate myself and life. I began to think on who I was as a person and what I wanted to do with my life. Up until that point in my life, all of the big questions had been answered by the religion I was raised in. Despite my embracing the faith of my parents, I found that I was deeply unhappy and sought the reasons why; and I sought the remedy to my discouragement and weariness. I am happy to report that I did realize why I was unhappy, and I did find the answer to my problems. In the process, I established a new worldview -- one built upon lessons learned in childhood and supported throughout a lifetime of experience.

I believe that the only thing that ever has or ever will matter to us is the needs of humanity. For this reason, I have no sympathy for gods who demand worship and threaten torture. If they are real, then I pity them -- because they are lesser beings than we have grown to be. I have never been attracted to the idea of streets of gold and walls of jasper, but I have longed for Heaven on Earth. It is my heart’s desire to see people united in love for one another -- overcoming the boundaries of language, ethnicity, religion, and nationality. I spurn any idea that promotes divisiveness. Is a united and healthy Earth an impossible ideal? Perhaps, but think how wonderful just realizing part of that ideal would be. It is this idealism, born of love for humanity, that drives me. Because this idealism has served me so well, I give no quarter to ideas that would rob me or other people of that idealism by telling us that we are worthless and depraved or dependent upon anything but ourselves to effect the changes we need to see. That idea is worthless and depraved. I believe in the power of idealism: I believe we can be better than we are, and that we should set goals for ourselves. Even if we don’t reach them, we are made better by our struggle to overcome our failings. To lose faith in ourselves is to die -- as individuals, as a society.

As I see that there is no difference between the needs of myself and the needs of my neighbors -- whether they be next door or across the oceans -- I live my life in the sprit of empathy. I strive to live in love -- to be compassionate and understand the needs of those around me. After all, that’s all that really matters. I want someone’s life to have been improved in some miniscule way by my existence here. This is done in recognition of the fact that ordinary kindnesses from other people have helped me, and I want to improve other people’s lives in the same way that mine has been improved.

Because I recognize that life is fleeting and that regret is rarely satiated, I strive to live my best life now and to realize the potential of each moment; to be as happy sitting at a red-light as I am driving through the countryside on a sunny autumn day. I recognize that I will have good days and I will have bad days -- but I deserve neither. All I can do is appreciate and make the most of each. I do not live in the past or future, but in the present; and I make the most of it. I am in awe of the world that I live in. When I gaze out of my bedroom window and see the lush green of the trees set against the unbroken blue sky, I understand worship. I am delighted by the pursuit of knowledge, because being able to understand the world that I live in enables me to appreciate it all the more.

I see reason as a flaming sword -- not one that keeps us from paradise, but one that allows us to do away with the choking brambles of ignorance and superstition to make paradise. I recognize that the scientific method, that uncompromising search for real answers, is what has helped humanity rise “from the swamp to the stars”. Inspired by what science has achieved, I adopted the principles of freethought in my life and have found my life to be all the better because of this. I recognize that science and reason must be tempered with empathy , because as Paul Johnson once said, “The worst of all despotisms is the heartless tyranny of ideas.” The only thing that matters is people -- and that is what I believe.

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