The idea of God is endlessly fascinating, but I am not a “believer.” In fact, I do not believe “believers.” We all doubt, but doubt scares many individuals to a point where they willingly surrender their critical faculties and accept whatever they’re taught.
Consider the individual born into a Muslim family. He is told what to believe and accepts it, but should time and experience broaden his outlook on life, he may begin to doubt. In Islam, however, there is no greater sin than apostasy (abandoning one’s faith). Apostasy is punishable by death; therefore, doubt must be smothered.
The Christian South does not slay its unbelievers — not literally, at least — but doubt still carries a heavy burden. A blatant unbeliever cannot run for political office, cannot hold an important position in business or the community, or be accepted in the “best” families. Doubt is taught in seminaries (Nietzsche), but it doesn’t get you very far in business or politics.
The world doesn’t consist of just the known and the unknown. As pointed out by ex-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, there are unknown unknowns — things we do not know that we do not know. I’m not so sure Rummy didn’t get that backward. There are things we know but cannot admit that we know.
Sigmund Freud introduced the concept of the unconscious and formulated his theory of repression in the early 1900s, but much of the time people don’t exactly repress knowledge. They know, but they deny what they know.
When confronted with questions where honesty would upset the social order, we lie. We tell a friend she looks fine in a dress that is obviously too tight. But lying is insidious. We defend friends and family with small untruths and then lose track of what is real and what isn’t. Finally peer acceptance becomes more important than truth. It’s wrong, and we know it. We just don’t want to admit it.
This would be just a personal matter if it didn’t infect political life. Apparently we can’t be loyal Americans unless we accept American exceptionalism, the idea that our country is somehow exempt from the historical mistakes and immorality that have affected other nations. This is wrong, and we know it. We just don’t admit it.
When it comes to religion, we go even farther out on a limb. There is less reason to be absolutely sure of anything, but instead of questioning we throw all our emotional weight behind belief. We believe because we cannot prove. But why fear doubt?
Doubt will take you farther because you must constantly search for the truth instead of assuming that you already know it. You weigh. You measure. You plumb the depth of your own psyche. It is not always comfortable, but you’re a richer person because of it. If you are a Christian, you will be a better Christian. If you are a Muslim or a Jew, you will be a better Muslim or Jew.
Whatever religion you chose, you do it freely with an open mind. You can even be an atheist if you like, but you must doubt that, too. It isn’t necessary to “believe.” One can doubt and still commit to a system of values. But because one isn’t compelled to blindly believe, he or she is free to question, compare and learn from others.
The problem is this: Are we able to give up our love of — no, our need for — the supernatural? Religion developed to explain the unexplainable. When something was beyond our understanding, we called it God.
At one time religion, science and philosophy were one. Today, they have diverged and developed different languages, but if you look deep enough, you’ll find they address the same questions: Who are we and where are we going?
The answers are personal. Your God is another man’s myth. The test is in this life, not the next.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.