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What Do You Believe?

belief (n.) Look up belief at
late 12c., bileave, replacing Old English geleafa "belief, faith," from West Germanic *ga-laubon "to hold dear, esteem, trust" (cf. Old Saxon gilobo, Middle Dutchgelove, Old High German giloubo, German Glaube), from *galaub- "dear, esteemed," from intensive prefix *ga- + *leubh- "to care, desire, like, love"

"You may believe in this shaman hooey..."  That's the last little fragment of the comment left here a few posts back.  I've taken off and written this series of posts about the content of that comment that got me to thinking.

I found it amusing that the immediate, and obviously unthinking follow on to the characterization of shamanism as "hooey," was the assertion that her "god" was into making me pay for what I'd done.  I guess one person's hooey is another person's belief.  And vice versa.

I'm not sure that I'd say I believe in shamanism.  I'm not sure that I'd say I believe in much of anything, actually.  I style myself a scientist, and I understand the basics of a lot of scientific theory from natural selection to quantum mechanics -- but believe it?  Well, that's a little different.  If you told me that the existence of dark matter is akin to magic, I'd take your word for it.  I can push the clouds around and move a storm from one track to another, but I can't explain it and I don't really "believe" it.  I can prove that 2+3 equals 3+2, and I can also prove that the interior angles of a triangle always add up to 180 degrees, but believe it?  On faith?  No.  Not really.  I for sure don't believe in some up in the sky somewhere "god" who keeps track of human doings and then evens up the score.  I don't believe that some or any of the gods of human mythology were really born of any of the virgin mothers found in those same myths.  I don't believe that any of them ever rose from the dead, or caused anyone else to do that.  I don't believe that god sent Katrina to New Orleans or allowed crazy people to fly planes into the World Trade Center to punish us for our sins, and I sure as heck don't believe that god is out to get me because I chose badly when I married at the age of 21 years.

I think that, as humans, we believe in the abstracts that we believe because they help us to explain the unexplainable:  emotions and feelings, intellectual uncertainties, and arbitrary suffering.  Too, belief in the abstract works to stabilize the social order, to oppress and manage the masses, to define the roles and rankings among us all.  In the end, believing in whatever it is helps us make sense of a world and life that most often does not make sense.  No wonder we come to "esteem," and even "love" the belief system that enhances our sense of comfort and belonging.  Shamanism is like that for me.  It works in some instances to help me make sense of things that make no sense.  I feel the same way about parts of paganism, the practice of wicca, and native American spirituality.  I can get lost in the music at a Catholic mass, and love the ritual and ceremony, even as I reject the basic theology.

I've never claimed the label of atheist, or even agnostic.  I really don't feel the need for any of the labels.  There is so much that is not amenable to any sort of "unified theory."  The universe is one unfathomable mystery piled on top on all the others.  From the beginnings of time, which is, itself, shrouded in mystery beyond our reach, we've tried to find the stories that help us understand (just a bit).  Religion and all its secular counterparts are nothing more than that:  the stories we tell ourselves so that we can make it through the darkness without being too afraid.



  1. This is so smart.

  2. I believe that many of my 'beliefs' began in childhood by what I was taught then. I feel as an adult I've taken the time to exam them more closely, read about many beliefs, talked to many intelligent people who believed many different things. I believe in many of the teachings of Christianity. I consider myself a Christian, but I'm sure some fundamentalist wouldn't. Not my problem what they think. I don't feel comfortable with anyone would explains their beliefs buy saying 'That's just the way it is.' I enjoy people who can say I believe 'this' and this is why. They get added points if they are willing to listen politely to what I believe too.


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