23/40 Belief in God.

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From the desk of Rabbi Brian

This article is part of an ongoing God-beliefs investigation. It’s good
to read NO MATTER WHAT you believe or don’t believe. Really. – RB


Do you cringe when someone asks if you believe in God? If so, you’re not alone.

It often seems like the answer divides us more than it brings us together, so why answer?

believe we all ought to answer in the affirmative (and that we can do
so with a clear conscious) to prove that there just might be more
common ground between “us” and “them” than “they” would have “us”

Let’s examine why.

(Note: it doesn’t matter which group you believe is “us” and which you believe is “them.”)

Belief in God: what does it mean?

its etymological root, the word belief – among other definitions –
means 1) “to hold dear,” 2) “to desire,” 3) “to have faith,” and 4) “to
accept as true.”

Therefore, the sentence, “I believe in God” can mean any of the following:

  1. “I
    hold dear to the notion that there is a potential for each of us to act
    in accordance with the highest expression of human ability.”
  2. “I desire to feel loved by an unending love.”
  3. “I have faith that God revealed the Bible as a book upon which I should base my life.”
  4. “I accept as true the notion that an active, all-powerful and all-good, external deity exists.”

As you can see, there’s quite a bit of disparity in those four statements.

example, the people who agree with statement #1 and those who agree
with statement #3 might both say, “I believe in God.”- even though they
have very dissimilar creeds.

And that’s part of my point – depending
on whom you ask, the meaning of the letters G-O-D and B-E-L-I-E-V-E can
vary greatly. And that variation makes the question moot.

(Most people never realize this.)

The science of belief.

Great books and articles
have been published about the brain’s desire for answers and how our
DNA is preprogrammed to believe in something greater than us. This is a
truly interesting way of looking at all of this and I give it a lot of

Some scientists argue that humans can need an active,
external deity so much that, regardless of the actual existence of this
ultimate parental figure, they will convince themselves to believe.
These scientists believe that God is created from fundamental human
longing. (This is a essentially a modern, über-scientific take on the
classic notion that we created God in our own image.) The theory is
that humanity, as a group, experiences such a strong need for God that
it causes us to believe in God.

One of my hobbies is the study
of group dynamics. It is very interesting to observe the way a group
tends to perceive its authority figure(s) as all-powerful, all-knowing,
and all-good. For example, imagine that a group of people is told to go
to a room and wait for something, but nothing happens. As long as the
group has trust in the formal authorities that sent them to the empty
room, that group will invariably put forth a theory to explain away the
inconsistency: “The powers-that-be planned for this to happen to teach
us a lesson.”

In doomsday cults where predictions are made for
specific date, what happens if the expected event doesn’t happen? Does
the group disband? No. Instead, they come up with an explanation that
shows how the previous prediction was somehow misunderstood.

Why belief doesn’t matter.

really doesn’t matter whether or not you believe in an active, external
deity’s existence. (I know that may seem a bit shocking, but it’s still

Let me explain why.

Let’s look at this logically starting with the following two statements:

  • Either an active, external deity exists or not.
  • Either you believe in an active, external deity or not.

an active, external God exists, you still have to get through your day,
right? And if there is no active, external deity? Well, you still have
the same mind-boggling number of things to do from the time you wake-up
until the time you go to sleep. So, really, God’s existence as an
external deity involved in your life doesn’t matter.

(For a further exploration of this, click here to read my article about why it behooves us all to believe in Santa)

second statement is also irrelevant. Believing in an active, external
deity doesn’t automatically make someone a better person. It doesn’t
mean the believer becomes incapable of lying, theft, or worse, murder.
And lack of belief in an active, external deity doesn’t preclude
someone from living a god-like or godly life.

Belief and actions aren’t necessarily synonymous. But you knew that already.

is possible to live a truly religious life filled with spiritual
completeness without believing in or ever mentioning an active,
external deity. Just as it’s possible to believe in God and still be a

A final note on belief in God

attempted to explain that there is little reason to bother defining
yourself as someone who does – or does not – believe in God. And
there’s no point in pigeonholing others based on their answers either.
Remember, actions are more important that words.

Treat yourself and others as though they are the incarnation of the divine.

With love,

Rabbi Brian

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