What to believe?

I read an interesting article a while ago claiming that the most rapidly expanding form of worship in today’s world is the worship of celebrities. While I can understand the intrigue with these prominent individuals whom have attained fame and wealth in their lives that most of us can only dream of, what is more fascinating to me is that when these stars stumble, when they are shown to be just as fallible and regular as the rest of us, people continue to adore them. With the recent downfall of Kate Moss (in case you don’t follow tabloids, she is a supermodel who was caught on camera snorting cocaine “expertly”) came a story that summarized her situation quite well. The fact that models use drugs to maintain their trim figures has been long known in the corporate world, but as long as the reality was not caught on photo, they could ignore it. Kate Moss lost several modeling contracts after being caught using drugs. But the biggest irony is that Kate Moss was famous for her gaunt, “drugged-up” look. Even though she has fallen from favour, the fashion world will likely embrace her once again after the shock had worn off, that is as long as she maintains her looks. This has already begun happening, as (I believe) some of those same modeling contracts that she had lost were offered to her once again after she had left rehab.

This preoccupation with appearance is intriguing. There are certain materialistic philosophies (Thomas Hobbes’, for example) that discuss reality as being limited to the tangible. Whether or not people consciously embrace such a philosophy, such are their lives when their primary focus is on the corporeal. I wonder though, if people would continue to follow such philosophy if they realized how neatly one could summarize their “worship.” It’s about appearance.

The other extreme is the general disinterest in religion in today’s secular society. People point out the fallibility (ahem) of the human-run institution, bring up such historical atrocities as the Spanish Inquisition. They say, “See, religion did this, and so religion is bad.” (Side note, if religion brings people to bad decisions, is religion to blame, or the people?) While the logic may seem sound, there is a problem with the argument. Religion is not limited by its human component. There’s a godlike component that is the focus of religion, a component that is beyond all human comprehension. Certainly, the natural argument would seem to be, “But how can you know there’s a God? How can you have faith so blindly? It’s much better to believe in solid, tested, and tangible things. I believe in science.” Those of faith may reply that much of life is based on faith, whether in science or not, and that once you have faith in God, you just know. And that’s all they need, as unsatisfactory as the explanation sounds to the rest of the population.

Although it is impossible to test the existence of God or a higher power, psychologists have tested the positive effects of believing in such. Just the belief in Heaven as a reward for those who live well is incentive to follow the ‘moral path.’ It provides comfort in times of sadness and direction in times of duress. This is true faith, although it is not necessarily ‘religiosity.’ To those who argue that religion is bad because of its limiting factors, people of non-faith who claim religiosity, aren’t making a valid argument, or at least not one that pertains to ‘true faith’ which should be the question at hand.

Science is another area trumpeted by society, particularly in opposition to religion. (Although, it’s interesting that many people fail to realize that science and religion can function alongside one another). The Scientific Method, people claim, can prove anything, as long as it is given time. People who make these claims make me wonder how much they actually know about science. The Scientific Method, fundamentally, cannot prove anything. Its nature is such that its ‘proof’ comes from continually disproving the alternative. Science is never able to say, “This is what is.” It only ever says, “This is the most probable or likely.” The Scientific Method is just as faith-based as religion. But the positive effects, like in religion, are seen. After all, we have bridges, many great architectural achievements, and medical breakthroughs. However, even these achievements are limited because of human error.

Yet, we continue our science-based lives. When we’re sick, pretty much everyone will go to a doctor. Many of us, if we needed a heart transplant, would go for it. We do this, trusting strangers, even though medicine is based on people and people are fallible. Fallibility is why the number of preventable deaths in hospitals is disappointingly high. Human error plays a major factor. The statistics are public and for the most part don’t prevent us from seeking medical intervention when we need it. Why? It is because we have learned to trust in it, and in some cases to trust blindly.

I have met a large number of individuals who believe that one day humans, through slow but sure progress, will know everything and achieve everything, and that all areas of human endeavour will become infallible. I ask these people, “How? When? Sometime in the far future?” I’m guessing that this is supposed to happen the moment humans become perfect. But we won’t. Why? It won’t happen because, even if we don’t end up killing our planet and ourselves in the next thousand years, we will still be a part of recapitulating history. Despite progress and improvements in all areas of knowledge, humans generally think the same as they did a thousand years ago. The other problem is nature. There is always a factor of error in nature. Nothing is 100 percent. Those who have studied quantum physics know that beyond the threshold of light, quarks move in erratic, random ways. While we can learn much from indirect experimentation, we will never be able to rationalize all the data, just like we will never be able to know the entirety of pi. We might achieve commendable progress, but we’ll never make it to the end because of a limiting factor. That limiting factor is us.

Try a little experiment right now; if you manage to do it, I’ll immediately retract my statements about the finitude of humans. Sit back in your chair, close your eyes, and try to imagine infinity. There’s always a limit to it, isn’t there? When you try to imagine the infinite vastness of space, don’t you always come to a border and wonder what’s beyond that border?

This discussion is not about telling people how to think or what to believe in. It’s primarily an urge to think about what you believe in and to know why you believe in it. We’re free to choose what we will, so should we not put our intellect into the decision? Should we not truly decide what we believe in instead of taking things for granted? I think the world would be a much better place if people explored what they believed in, why, and what the implications are. Then interactions would be brought to honest and intellectual levels with the purpose of elevating the human awareness.

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