Monday, January 23, 2012

Philosophy and Praxis II: Belief and Actions

In a comment to Galina's post, RedLadyMoon asked:

I liked this, a lot. Thank you for sharing. I want to ask though because I do not understand, how can you love deity without believing? I understand that they are in existence whether we believe in them or not. I also understand that there are many "right" ways of believing or no wrong ways. I guess my questions comes from the problem of what your definition of belief is. Or anybody's for that matter. I'm fairly new at being pagan so excuse me while I try to pick through what you've said and what I'm trying to say. I don't think I'm trying to argue the point of your post but I'm trying to understand it better. The whole time while writing this I'm frowning while trying to put my thoughts here coherently.
The first thing I'd note is that there are many wrong ways of believing. We are entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts.  If I believe the Druids celebrated Samhain with pumpkins carved into jack-o-lanterns and offered potatoes to their Threefold Goddess, the best available evidence suggests that I am mistaken. Unless I can point to some evidence that those New World crops arrived in Ireland some 2,000 years earlier than everyone else believes, I've made a blunder which shows my ignorance of history and archaeology.

(Note that I said "ignorance," not "stupidity." Ignorance is curable. If I talk to someone knowledgeable, I can easily correct my mistake. If, on the other hand, I insist that all academics are fascists and we don't really know much about the Druids so my belief is just as good as anyone else's, I have fallen into the Abyss of Willful Stupidity - a chasm from which only a very few escape).

It is also possible to have beliefs which can get us into a great deal of trouble. If I believe that I am a Highly Evolved Person and needn't trouble myself with the laws of mundane society, I might soon find myself in the custody of unsmiling men with badges who disagree with me. If I believe that there is nothing of value to be learned from Religion X or Political Philosophy Y I have ensured that I, at least, will learn nothing of value therefrom. If I believe that I am going to win the lottery and plan my budget accordingly, I may find myself fending off creditors if my prediction is wrong.  If we define a belief as "something which we hold to be true and which shapes our way of dealing with the world," then it becomes clear that beliefs are very important indeed and deserve due consideration and thought.

But it's also clear that our beliefs can change from minute to minute based on internal and external circumstances. I believe I have a loving marriage until I argue with my partner, when I believe that I am unappreciated and trapped in a dysfunctional relationship ... a belief which persists until we kiss and make up a few minutes later.  I believe I am a capable professional, until one of my business decisions doesn't work out as planned, whereupon I believe I am utterly incompetent and should find a more suitable line of work. And so I might draw a distinction between the beliefs of the instant and the beliefs which shape my life on the long-term.  I would call the former "belief" and the latter "faith," but others might differ.  (I'd be especially interested in hearing what Galina has to say on this).

As to how you can love a deity without believing: you can behave as if you believe even in those moments when you doubt. And you can believe in a way that changes your life and your actions.  A lot of "worshippers of Gaia" show their love by wearing pentagrams and putting ecologically correct bumper stickers on their car. How many are willing to forego using a car and rely on public transportation or a bicycle instead? How many are willing to live with minimal (or no) air conditioning and heating during uncomfortably warm/cold periods? How many are willing to take the fight to polluters and animal abusers by direct action ala Earth First! or the Animal Liberation Front? These are real sacrifices with real costs, but they are far more effective than simply mouthing "green" slogans.  And as belief shapes actions, these actions will shape belief: they will bring you closer to your Deity and help you to establish a closer and more productive relationship.  Within a Protestant Christian context works are useful primarily as a sign of one's belief: within a Pagan theology beliefs are useful only insofar as they influence your works.