Welcome to the Real World

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been part of a handful of spiritual paths over the years.  I was raised in an evangelical Protestant family, became Catholic after graduating college, began studying Wicca and neopaganism a few years after that, then became something of an atheistic pagan.  I think religions and spiritual paths, much like jobs, are left out of dissatisfaction.  Very rarely are people lured away.

As a boss, I know that for the most part employees quit when they reach a point where the negatives of a job outweigh the positives.  If they’re out searching for new jobs, they’ve already decided to leave.  And very rarely do new jobs pop up that are so enticing that satisfies employees are willing to take a chance on a job change.

Similarly, I’ve known a lot of people who leave churches and religions because they reach a point where the questions and disagreements and discomfort outweigh the benefits of staying.  If they’re actively searching for a new church home, they’ve already decided to leave the previous one.  Very rarely do new spiritual paths lure committed and faithful people away from a spiritual path they find to be fulfilling and true.

I left the familiar Protestant faith I was raised in not because the Catholic Church was offering me a better deal, but because I realized that, without my family there to provide me special opportunities and incentive to participate, I had no personal desire to continue attending that kind of church.  It didn’t fit me.  That church was centered on the idea that it was our responsibility to center our lives entirely on god, to throw ourselves into church activities and seek to convert others.  Even then, I felt it was irresponsible and counterproductive to push a faith on others, if not dangerous.  That faith did not paint a realistic picture of what I thought it should mean to be a Christian.

I left Catholicism not because paganism looked so much better, but because I stopped feeling that I was getting anything out of my church experience.  I’d lost interest in going to Mass because I didn’t come away feeling like I’d really benefited from it.  I disagreed with too much of the Church’s doctrines and felt that it did not paint a realistic picture of how humans should be treated and respected.

I stopped studying traditional neopagan spirituality because I started feeling rather silly pretending to call upon deities and beings I didn’t thing really existed.  I didn’t feel that it painted a realistic picture of the workings of the universe and the relationship between humans and the planet.

And I think I’m pretty normal in that regard.  People leave religions when they start questioning too much.  They leave when their perception of reality stands at odds with the teachings and dogmas they’re being asked to embrace.  And this is important right now because there are so many people leaving organized religion these days.  Whether you think that is a good thing or a bad thing, it’s very clearly a sign that religious teachings as they stand are not proving to be accurate when measured against the experience of current reality.

If religion fails to speak to reality, what good is it?

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Your Beliefs Are Bad and You Should Feel Bad

It’s odd how prone we are as humans to believe some things not because of the evidence we see in front of us, but in spite of it.  

I once tried to explain to a lottery player that it didn’t matter how many winners or losers had just been sold out of the pack, the odds for winning on the next ticket remained exactly the same.  It’s called the gambler’s fallacy.  It’s a misunderstanding of the way odds work.  I pointed out that, if there were a system which would allow a person to determine when the next ticket was a winner, there wouldn’t be anyone working at stores who sold lottery tickets because all of those employees would have spotted the pattern and used it to become wealthy already.

And yet, despite the fact that these “lucky” systems have not worked to make these players as rich as they want to be and that it is highly likely they cannot even name one person they know who has succeeded at getting rich off the lottery, the belief that their system “works” persists.  Trying to convince an avid lottery player otherwise is not generally a productive endeavor.

So is there even a point to trying to convince someone that the world doesn’t work the way they believe it does?  Those who believe that they have a “lucky system” for winning the lottery will always perceive the world in a distorted manner which favors their belief.  Likewise, those who believe that they can convince others of the error of their views are similarly delusional.  Overwhelming evidence tells us that telling others they are wrong does very little to change their minds.

Back to the lottery player, then.  Why did I even try to tell him he was wrong?  Well, it’s because I wanted him to stop playing just then.  I was annoyed.  It didn’t really matter to me in the long run if my explanation actually made him rethink his gambling strategies.  I had no real investment in changing his belief in luck or chance or whether the first ticket on the roll was lucky or not.  I just wanted, in that particular moment, for him to go away so I could get on with what I was doing.  

Is that why we do this, then?  Is that why we confront others and dispute their worldviews?  Is it more an act intended to push them away and put comfortable distance between us than it is to change their minds?  

Is it an effort to get them to shut up and go away?

If so, I think we should be prompted to take a moment to think about what we’re doing when others challenge our views and beliefs.  Are they trying to convert our thinking, or have we imposed on them to the point where they just want to make us go away?