Comfortable Belief

I almost made this first post about wine, partly to emphasize that this blog is not confined entirely to spiritual matters. Of course, there might be some peripheral relation between wine and spirituality, but mostly I think wine is simply a joy of life and good company. It happens that it can be indulged in not only by drinking but by travel to great wine growing areas near where I live. I have, however, resisted wine because this is the very first post to the blog. Wine will be saved until later. Since, in fact, the idea of a spiritual journey is the main theme here, I should start with that.

So… Let’s begin with some fundamentals. Here is a paragraph I wrote Jan. 8, 2002.
1. About the time I got out of college I came up with some ground rules for a spiritual-religious quest. A basic idea is that one should try as hard as possible to be free of superstition in the spiritual quest. This is much more important for religion than for science simply because science has a built in mechanism for eliminating error that works pretty well most of the time. (The basis for this idea of a superstition free spirituality is the ancient idea that one should not worship false gods. Idolatry is perhaps the most serious religious sin. We are seeking the truth at any cost.) A rule that follows from this idea is that we should never try to believe something simply because it offers comfort.

This theme of rejecting beliefs of comfort began for me back in college days during a ride from the Bay Area to Yosemite to go climbing. It was dark and we were riding along in the Sierra foothills on the way to Camp 4 when somehow the talk turned to religious beliefs. One young woman said that she didn’t have any idea whether one survived after death. However, she found that idea comforting so that is what she believed. I was totally amazed and appalled by her remark. I don’t remember saying anything, being too polite in those days, nor do I recall that there was much if any discussion on the part of anyone else. This incident made a big impression on me and led to the idea that pursuing the “truth” at all costs as a basic spiritual postulate. All of this occurred back in the early 1950’s as I was just beginning to realize the importance of spiritual answers in my life. Back now to Jan 8, 2002.

2. This morning I had the thought that one should expand the rule. Rather than using it merely to reject ideas that have no basis but their “comfort”, one can use it to choose between competing possibilities about spiritual matters. One should base ones religious ideas on the seemingly “bleakest” possibility.

At first blush this idea seems somewhat perverse. Why go out of the way to consider what seems worst to one? I suppose the idea is to guard against the seduction of attractive ideas. We humans have a great capacity for rationalizing emotionally attractive ideas into the “truth”. If one cuts through what one thinks is the worst possibility and finds comfort anyway, the loss of the worst possibility isn’t likely to be too devastating. I note as a sideline that the comfort is the theme here, not the ideas themselves. I could imagine, for example, that immortality might get to be monumentally boring after a few thousand years, especially if one knew there was no escape. The saying “after the first death there is no other” might carry an appalling meaning in these circumstances. At the risk of being repetitive I’ll close this post from a note from Feb. 19, 2003.

7. One might ask, “Isn’t the whole point of religion to offer spiritual comfort?” “If so, choosing bleakness seems perverse.” My answer to this idea is first, I am unable to find any comfort in an idea that seems false on its face. Or to put it bluntly: Truth is more important than comfort. In seeking truth we hope that comfort might come as a by-product, but finding spiritual meaning is a more important goal.

2 thoughts on “Comfortable Belief

  1. Your speculation on immortality brings to mind Virginia Wolf’s ‘Orlando’. Interesting that you have a Trump add at the bottom…


  2. You’re way ahead of me on Virginia Woolf since I’m remarkably unread. As for the ad, all I get is the statement “Occasionally, some of your visitors may see an advertisement here
    You can hide these ads completely by upgrading to one of our paid plans.” I’m too much of a cheapskate to upgrade, at least for now, so I will just say that I do not endorse Mr. Trump for president.


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