Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Beliefs (and Mormonism)
Someone else was asking me recently about my beliefs. I thought of an analogy that might help explain. I was in New York and wanted to meet up with an old school friend. We were trying to figure out a good activity given the weather constraints -- 40% chance of rain. She explained to me that in that part of the country, 40% chance of rain doesn't really mean that there is a 40% chance of any precipitation, rather it refers more accurately to the amount of rain you could expect that day -- 40% of what would be considered a good downpour (100%).
My beliefs are very similar to this. I don't expect to have absolute certainty about anything in my life, in fact I don't think I do have absolute certainty about anything in my life (including my own existence, despite Descartes' brave assertions). So I assess all "facts" in my life in terms of not just likelihood that they are true, but also the amount of what they are that is true. And then there is the uncertainty in the assessment itself. I may guess that there is a 40% chance of rain (or 40% of "rain"), but what if I am only 40% certain of it? Or maybe I only feel like I understand 40% of it, so what does that mean in terms of how much or whether I believe? Add that to the fact that I have never really felt the need to define myself, not by my beliefs, not by my what I "like" on facebook, not by my profession, or my religion, or my gender, or my race -- and that even if I were to try to define myself I am constantly changing, more like smoke and mirrors even to my own eyes than anything more tangible -- and I really don't spend hardly any time thinking about what exactly I believe.
Despite all of this uncertainty about what I may or may not believe, there are patterns in my behavior that suggest that certain things are more important to me than others. I keep showing up to church Sunday after Sunday. I pay 10% of my money to my church. Every time someone asks me for something church related I say yes. Does that mean that I have some underlying belief about things? It must, or maybe I just like doing those things for whatever reason. Or am afraid to not do them. And how tied up are those feelings of like and fear with whatever my beliefs are? I don't know.
It's not like I think my beliefs are any more or less ridiculous than others. And if I had been raised with a different set of beliefs and shared that different set of beliefs with my family and a support system, maybe I would "believe" those things instead. Although the Mormon religion is sort of uniquely suited to my mindset -- we're all gods in embryo and will continue to progress until we have unimaginable power? Yeah, that appeals to me. I like that combined with the Mormon story of Moses, who is shown a vision of just a fraction of time and expanse of the universe and faints. Upon waking Moses says about his experience: "Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed." So I like that too, this idea that we all have a universe of potential but that we don't come even close to expressing a fraction of that potential yet. It makes me feel like there is a lot to look forward to still.