Figuring Out What I Believe
I grew up in a Christian culture and most of my family and friends consider themselves to be Christians, but I’ve never been comfortable with religion and even less so with religious organisations, the lust for power that often develops within them, and the divisiveness that develops between them. Over the years I’ve come to see myself as a Humanist, but in conversation with Thom and Anna last night it became clear that this label is easily misunderstood and can even be interpreted as a kind of religion by some people, not ideal. So this post is an attempt to clarify what I believe, although ‘believe’ might not be the best word to choose.
I believe in the scientific method as the best tool for improving ourselves and the world, which in this context means that I believe that knowledge needs to be supported by evidence, tested through experiment, and refined through discussion and debate. Knowledge obtained in this way is not fixed, but constantly tested and refined as we learn more about the universe and our place it. I’m always open to new information that might result in my knowledge evolving, or being completely over-turned. This is a very comfortable way to live, because the foundations for my knowledge are always growing stronger, any weaknesses that I discover can be addressed through experiment, discussion, learning, or thinking.
I believe that living well is all about balancing peaks and troughs of experience, there are many different approaches to maximising peak experiences and minimising troughs of negative experiences and people should be free to choose the ones that work best for them, we should respect and encourage these different approaches. The scientific method is the tool that we use to develop recommended ways to maximise the peaks and minimise the troughs. Morals/laws need to evolve to ensure that the different paths to peak experiences don’t interfere with each other too much and that people understand when seeking out short term peak experiences that they might result in longer term troughs (protecting people from themselves). Everyone has a universal right to maximise their peaks and minimise their troughs, subject to the moral and legal code. All these different approaches to balancing the peaks and troughs are experiments from which we learn.
We can call this seeking out ways to maximise peaks and minimise troughs, living well, and religions might provide some of the recommended ways to achieve this, provided they don’t seek to constrain alternative approaches.
All this seeking out of peak experiences though has to be done in the broader context of the world we share and those we share it with, it has to be sustainable over the long term and minimise the negative effect that it has on the plants, animals and natural systems of the world. Our moral code, cultural norms and laws need to ensure that while we have a universal right to ‘live well’, we also have a universal obligation to ‘live right’, ideally living right would mean that in living well, we make the world a better place for our being there.
Living well is relatively easy and I would say it has been the focus for humanity so far, living right is the biggest challenge challenge we face going forward. Living right needs to become the focus of our civilisation, our purpose, living right has to figure out how we:
- live well as individuals, while providing the opportunities for others to live well too
- find approaches to living well that don’t constrain others from choosing alternative approaches
- live well today, while also making sure we improve the world for our descendants, i.e. living right = living well sustainably
- live well without unduly impacting the rights of the animals we share the world with to also live well
- live well without damaging the biosphere, through resource depletion, pollution, ecosystem destruction …
- live well while all subscribing to a set of universal human rights, embedded in our approach to living right
The ‘beliefs’ that I’ve described here can best be described as Humanist, which the British Humanist Association defines as follows:
- Think for oneself about what is right and wrong, based on reason and respect for others
- Find meaning, beauty, and joy in the one life we have, without the need for an afterlife
- Look to science instead of religion as the best way to discover and understand the world
- Believe people can use empathy and compassion to make the world a better place for everyone
However I’m not overly concerned with affiliating myself with any particular system of beliefs, in summary I would say:
I believe in the universal right for individuals to seek out their own path to living well, and our collective responsibility to live right, and to constantly improve our understanding of the universe and what it means to live well and right. A good life is one that balances living well and living right.
When I look at the world today and it’s obsession with consumption and economic growth, with it’s totally unsustainable resource depletion and lack of concern for animals, with it’s growing religious fundamentalism and lack of respect for human rights I think we have a long way to go in developing our approach to living right, best get started now!
I’ve posted a few times on similar topics as I’ve stumbled along trying to figure out what I believe.