First I should say that, to me, the word belief signifies no more or less than one’s strongly held opinions about what is true, meaningful, or real. Much of the time, our beliefs matter little, although I accept that in those moments when there is a choice to make or a forked path to consider, what we hold true does matter. So I try to be open to available information and clear about what I think about things. Decisive moments often arrive without warning. I like to be ready.
I think of myself as a person without beliefs, although certainly, I do not lack opinions, which, though strongly held, I am prone to change fairly often, as I see fit. I am the prototype anathema to religious zealots—someone who invariably sides with relativity rather than absolutism. I am fairly certain that I can be certain of nothing. Since I have no expectation of being right, I can state my current opinion about God without fear of being wrong.
Although I don’t believe there are any right beliefs about God, I do think there are many, many wrong ones. And the wrong ones always seem to get the loudest shouts, to be the most prevailing tides. To me, God is a concept, like love, like freedom, like compassion. Real but not tangible. We don’t see ideas, they exist in and through us. Ideas are human creations. Love is what we make of it. Compassion flows from viewing others’ invisibility. Freedom, the intangible of intangibles. And God—a concept large enough for all other concepts to rest upon her bosom. And too, I wonder if God is not the origin but the culmination of evolution, a destination as yet unreached but worthy of our aspirations.
It would seem to be enough to have an opinion about God, but the question of God always seems to raise the question of “afterlife”. When I consider what happens after we die, I tend to accept the modern Jewish answer, that we live on in others’ memories. For this to work, it is good to have children, but sending one’s creative efforts off into the world in the form of art or poetry or pottery is equally good. But this is certainly a modern view in that it is what was needed following the Shoah. Jews, too, believed in heaven and hell, Gomorrah and Gahanna, before that culminating event, when it became impossible to imagine God at all, much less imagine how God could raise so many souls to heaven in such a short amount of time. Which is foolish really, if we equate God, as we must on some level, with timelessness. Jews abandoned heaven to the Christians, because, clearly if that was where they were going, we wanted nothing of it.
I do have opinions about “after death”. I suffer a tad of naive envy when I talk to people who truly believe they will meet up with their loved ones again after their own death. I have no sense that one’s identity (ego-apparatus) lives on without the body, so in my mind, there is no “me” after bodily death. I’ve long found the notion that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed, to be reassuring. My molecules and atoms continue to exist after the destruction of my body; I somehow remain part of “everything”. But now it seems physicists can’t even agree on this notion.
I like to think of the body simply disappearing at death and the spirit traveling off into another realm. Good science fiction maybe, but empirically this is not the case. So I’ve settled for the idea that the spirit, that energy that is not of the body, enters what Jung has called the collective unconscious. This is our shared inheritance. As a place or as perhaps a time in timelessness. Existing. When I die, I think that all of my undigested, unconscious contents will seep through matter into that reservoir of energy that other living beings will drink from.
If this be the case, then my task while on earth is to digest the rotten stuff in me and release it consciously while I live in this body. And to build up that store of unconscious content, stuff that I hope is drawn from human compassion and authenticity. There really is no reason for hope if we take even a peek at history (or watch the news, or gaze at violent images) that we have been on any sort of upward slope of human compassion. But I want to believe that I change the balance in that pool by what elemental stuff I drop into it. If by daily behaviors and intentions I try my best to add some sweetness to that stockpot, or remove a drop of the bitterness, that may be the best, only, thing I can do.