According to the dictionary, belief is 1) “an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists” and 2) “something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion or conviction." As I write this down, I am amused by both the stark similarity and then the subtly apparent contradiction between these two definitions.
The first implies that, to be “believed," something must be accepted by someone as true or existing, on a seemingly scientific basis; the second suggests a subtler, perhaps even subjective experience, the words “opinion” and “conviction” being key.
No matter the nuance, however, both involve some sort of personal acceptance. Before I go any further, please believe that I am not a 21-year-old millennial who thinks they have all the answers because frankly, I believe quite the opposite.
I’m just a kid who has been, in this Information Age, exposed to a heck of a lot of different perspectives and who is not about to decide which specific ones are right or wrong (notice that I didn’t cite a certain dictionary name for my definitions; I just took what popped up at the top of my Google browser under “Dictionary” because I decided I liked it). I don’t ever want to know all the answers, or even a single “right” answer. I have been close with Christians, Catholics, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists and even a scientologist.
I think there’s a little glimmer of truth, even of similarity behind each of their life philosophies and experiences. As for me, I have no idea apart from the various musings I’m about to throw out and the collective spaghetti-mess of a shape they make. So I just call myself spiritual.
According to a Pew Research Survey conducted in 2012, 18 percent of the U.S. population identify as spiritual rather than religious. Sometimes labeled with the acronym SNR (Spiritual Not Religious) or SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious), this group represents one in five American adults ("Religion and the Unaffiliated").
After varied experiences with churches and diverse friendships, this is the closest label I can come up with when someone asks me about my personal beliefs. When they look at me quizzically, I usually mention something about my experiences and then tell them that I often see God in nature, at the risk of sounding like a hippie.
But it’s true. Whether I decide to describe my experience of God as a collective soul imbuing all living things (I’m partial to Carl Jung), or a diverse and infinite life-giving energy that is neither created nor destroyed, or that moment when you think about someone and contact them only to discover that they have been thinking of you, too — I believe there’s something greater that we’re all part of. If I have a faith, it’s an empirical faith, informed and guided by the things I have seen and experienced and learned from others and about myself.
It might seem selfish, but it works for me. It’s a dynamic way to believe; it’s a sort of hopeful understanding that keeps growing and shifting as I go. It’s a little difficult to believe and to talk about in the Midwest, but it’s what puts my soul at peace. In a world that’s both constantly discovering new things and digging its heels into older ways, as well as increasingly fracturing into divisive groups and labels, it makes the most sense for me.
I have a friend studying neuroscience and psychology. She’s also a strong Catholic.
Recently she shared with me that research has found that people who have strong beliefs have thicker layers of brain tissue that protect them from depression. The fact that she could simultaneously be strong in her faith and talk about the biological workings of belief in the brain to me seemed to bridge the problematic theist-atheist barrier.
While I will in no way claim that this single example can prove or even perfectly represent a breakdown of the polarization between believers and nonbelievers, I do believe that such ways of believing can be interpreted as evidence that issues pertaining to the religion-science dichotomy are not so “black and white." Perhaps like the critical connection between the mind and body that doctors, psychologists, scientists, artists and musicians alike are slowly but surely illuminating; religion and science have strikingly similar roots in our history and present lives. But I won’t go into the evidence that points me to that idea: I’ll let you mull things over for yourself.
I’m an English major with a keen interest in religion and spirituality, especially Biblical stories such as that of Adam and Eve. If you were to ask me whether such stories are fact or fiction, I would answer that I figure they are a mix of both.
I believe in everything I’ve shared like I believe in metaphors (and I love me some metaphors) — I understand that they are ideas standing in for something else, something more complex and real than can be described in any other way. I still believe them. I know that they are symbols and also that they are reality. In my opinion, these two descriptions are not mutually exclusive.
Now that I’ve bored or baffled or bothered you with all of my rambling, I would just like you to consider this: what if everyone were to simply treat each other with kindness and respect, whatever their respective belief systems may be?
At this point you are probably thinking that might as well be Christianity, “do unto others as you would have them do onto you”, but it was actually an atheist who brought this up to me. Honestly, above all I believe that each of us in this wide, wacky world needs something to believe in, some spirit of hope; and this person who claims no belief seems to have a heck of a lot of hope.