Thursday, March 09, 2006

Living the Best Life

I sincerely beg for your understanding on the following issue:

I think I have figured out how to make this world a better place (with the help of friends and some livid guy that Andy told me about on CSPAN).

Before we can get to the solution, we need to address the problem. The problem is that people, especially from different cultures, tend to have a hard time getting along with eachother. I think it can be agreed upon that the major reason humans have had trouble getting along in the past is simply that people have differing interests and beliefs. So let us, for a brief moment, not focus on how we all differ but instead focus on something we all have in common. Namely, I think it can be agreed upon, that everyone is interested in living the best lives that they can. I realize that if you were to ask people to define what "living the best life" means, they would undoubtedly have vastly different definitions; but, I think, much more important than these differences is the simple fact that all humans DO have this common ground: we all want to live the best life we can.

I think it is safe to say that a great majority of humanity would include believing in a specific god or gods as a major part of their definition of "living the best life."

Now the question must be asked "Why do people follow their religion?"

Clearly there are various reasons why people believe their religion to be correct-- but I think that if we look at the picture more broadly then we can see that everyone that follows a religion believes it to be correct based on personal experiences and evidence (which is what all beliefs are based on).

I don't see any problem with this... people can certainly believe whatever they want to believe. However, I believe a large problem arises when people that believe in God state that they know their religion is right. Notice that I am not saying that it is a problem for a person to believe that their religion is right... but simply that it is a problem for a person to believe that they know their religion is correct. Before I get into why I believe this is a problem that affects everyone, let us first look into the issue of knowledge.

The fact is, we really don't know anything about the world. Following the philosophy of Descartes, the only thing we know for certain is that we exist (and, more trivially that doubt exists). This Cartesian doubt is illustrated in the movie The Matrix (yay for pop-culture) which explored the idea that, for all we know, we could be plugged into a machine that is making us have our current perceptions. To explore this, let us apply this idea to the ground I walk on every day. I assuredly believe that the ground I walk on is real (in the physical sense) but there is the minute possibility that what I am perceiving is not real. As I said, I believe very strongly in the existence of the ground I walk on, and the point I'm making is not that my belief is unreasonable-- because my belief stems from experiences and evidence (as do all beliefs)--but at no point, no matter how solid the evidence is, can I say that I know that the ground exists.

Thus, even if it seems like the most ridiculous idea ever (as it most certainly will for many believers) that your religion is incorrect and even if you believe the evidence on which you base your beliefs to be undeniably strong (as you most certainly do)... you still cannot say that you know your religion is correct. The lack of knowlege is not a weakness of religion by any means and, correct me if I'm wrong, it doesn't appear to contradict any religion-- thus, it appears that there's really no need to hold on to the belief "I know my religion is right"(because all that really means is "I believe very strongly based on evidence and experiences that my religion is right").

What problems does the statement "I know my religion is right" cause?

The major problem with making the statement "I know my religion is right" is that inherent in that statement is the statement: "I know your religion is wrong." And it seems to me, since people's beliefs are based on common reasons, that we should grant that people with different beliefs than our own believe these beliefs just as sincerely as we believe ours. By saying "I know your religion is wrong" people with different beliefs will look at you as close-minded and will, more than likely, close all possible doors that could lead to a civil dialogue.

Since it appears that there is no need to make such an assuming ("know") statement, it seems like a much better formulation would be "I believe my religion is right" (with a basis in experience and evidence) which inherently has the more respectful corollary "I believe your religion is wrong." With the latter ("believe") statements there can be dialogue and attempts at understanding other people's views... which is obviously much more conducive to a positive and peaceful society; On the other hand the prior ("know") statements leave absolutely no room for discussion and lead to an us vs. them mentality which is, what I believe to be, the root cause of conflict between societies. Furthermore, by admitting that you don't know whether your religion is right you are also admitting that other religions could be right (even if it seems very improbable to you)-- and this mutual respect for other beliefs is essential to co-exist peacefully alongside other beliefs.

Since both sides have the common ground on why they believe their religions, the natural & peaceful solution is to understand the commonality and celebrate it. Instead of polarizing ourselves by using "know" statements, by using "believe" statements we can work together (by sharing experiences and evidence) as people with similar goals to understand that we aren't all that different.

5 Comments:

Anonymous chas said...

herb is the answer

1:06 AM  
Anonymous natie_pie said...

then i have a lot of questions

2:58 PM  
Anonymous Calipornia said...

Probably one of the most coherent and ultimately true things I've read in awhile. Thanks for the enlightening my life.

And yes herb is the answer.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Herb said...

I'm here.

10:37 PM  
Blogger t.napier said...

thought you would like this, goes along

http://www.shambhala.org/teachers/vctr/bluepancake.html


when there are many different beliefs in 'truth', when dialectical perspectives are seemingly unresolvable that seems to be when the sky falls on both our heads.


new dimensions of logic, new perspectives - its more that the rug being pulled out from under you (which is 'possible') - its the sky falling on all of us (which is 'impossible')


"It may be our cultural training to believe that only one person can get the truth: "You can receive this, but nobody else can...

"In fact, according to Vimalamitra, the reason maha ati is necessary is because throughout the eight lower yanas the dharma has been marketed as a particularly juicy morsel of food. The maha ati level is necessary in order to save the dharma from being parceled and marketed; that is, it is necessary to preserve the wholesomeness of the whole path....

...Our ordinary approach to reality and truth is so poverty stricken that we don't realize that the truth is not one truth, but all truth. It could be everywhere, like raindrops, as opposed to water coming out of a faucet that only one person can drink from at a time. Our limited approach is a problem."
-Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

4:36 PM  

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