Sometimes, especially after conversations with religious people, I wonder what it would be like to believe that there was an all-powerful, perfect being that commanded my worship and obedience. To believe that there were texts, or prophets, or some way to achieve personal confirmation describing exactly what that being’s rules for my life were.
If I actually thought those things were true … I think I’d be one of the scariest fundies out there. I can’t imagine making time in my life for just about anything other than prayer and worship. I’d be a missionary, or a nun, or whatever my god had told me was the ultimate way to give my life to him completely. Sell all my possessions and give to the poor? Done! Make a barefoot pilgrimage through the mountains? Sure thing! I mean, if this god is the ultimate and perfect source of truth in the universe, I’d be crazy not to do whatever he said. And why would I even want to disobey him?
Yet so many of the religious people I know have or are pursuing careers in things entirely unrelated to religious worship. Probably they’ve justified it to themselves as “their calling,” or, more likely, they’ve never thought about it at all. They go see movies. They have hobbies. They play sports. They believe that their god wants our utmost praise, that he’s told us to “walk with Jesus” or what have you … and they believe that their god is perfect and loving, certainly deserving of that level of devotion … and yet somehow, they’re able to be distracted from those incredible facts long enough to enjoy an episode of Family Guy.
The reason for this difference, I think, is the way we each understand what it means to believe. When these “believers” profess their faith, they don’t necessarily mean that they are living under the assumption that it is true. It’s something more casual than that — more like a club membership. Greta Christina expressed this well in her recent AlterNet piece thoroughly demolishing Pascal’s Wager.
Believers who propose Pascal’s Wager apparently think that you can just choose what to believe, as easily as you choose what pair of shoes to buy. They seem to think that “believing” means “professing an allegiance to an opinion, regardless of whether you think it’s true.” And I am both infuriated and baffled by this notion. I literally have no idea what it means to “believe” something based entirely on what would be most convenient, without any concern for whether it’s actually true.
This is why I’ve said before that I understand fundamentalists better than the liberal religious. Religion makes claims about the supreme, the infinite, the most important truths about our existence. I don’t understand how you could say you “believe” those claims and only go halfway with your follow-through.