Choosing to Believe 2012

I am taking a short break from posting but I thought I’d repost a few favorites from the days when I only had a half a dozen views a day.  This post from August of 2009 talks about my approach to being a rational scientist who is also a spiritual seeker.
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For years, I’ve used the fractured saying, If wishes were fishes, beggars would ride.   It makes no sense but it amuses me and is sure to make my wife shake her head.    When I said it again Monday night, she asked me if I knew the real saying.   Naturally, I rushed to my trusty laptop and Googled If wishes were fishes.  To my surprise, I found a blog post titled If Wishes Were Fishes that provided the answer to my inquiry*, as well as repeating my fractured version.   More interesting, though, was the subject of the post, a lengthy, very rational defense of the poster’s atheism.   He systematically discussed each of the arguments offered by those who would evangelize him and why their arguments failed.

Some years ago when my father was suffering from a brain tumor, I picked up Harold Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People which addresses the question of why there is so much suffering in a world created and governed by a beneficent and omnipotent God.    This was no mere philosophical exercise, however.    It was the Rabbi’s search for a way to deal with the death of his 14 year old son, Aaron, of the incurable genetic disease progeria.  Rather than give up on God, he chose to believe that there are certain aspects of the universe – chaos, the random part – that God cannot control, contrary to conventional Judaic belief.

On one hand, we have the determined atheist, resistant to evangelism and on the other, the Rabbi, unwilling to give up his belief in God, even in the face of despair over his son’s illness.  To some degree, I’ve been in both positions, and as unpopular as this might be with evangelists and atheists alike, I’ve finally accepted that belief in God is a choice.   Since we can’t really prove our beliefs (especially to someone of a different spiritual persuasion), we have to decide how to protect those beliefs from the Doubters, whether they be inside or outside our heads.  For some, the bible says it, I believe it, that settles it seems to work.    That certainly turns away the external Doubters and such people would probably say that they have no internal ones.   I’m willing to accept that this may be true for them but beating my internal Doubters into submission doesn’t work for me … they still sneak out at odd times, like the middle of the night.

I’d also suggest that being an atheist is a choice.    For years, in spite of wanting a spiritual component to my life, I listened only to the machinations of my rational mind and remained a non-believer at heart.   Just as Harold Kushner was able to adjust his God-concept in order to continue belief, by deciding that there were certain matters that were beyond my rational thinking, I was able to choose to believe in God.  In a way, this makes sense because my arguments in favor of believing are emotional and spiritual, not rational.   I feel better when I believe in a God that has a purpose for me in the continuing act of creation.   I feel better about the passing of a loved one or about my own mortality when I believe that we go on in some way after death.   As I said in Soul Music, sometimes certain things make me aware of my soul in ways that are  not rational.  Certain spiritual concepts just feel right.   I can no more convince the determined atheist to give belief a chance than his pages of reasoned arguments can convince me to overturn my decision to believe.

* If wishes were horses, beggars would ride and If wishes were fishes, I’d cast my net in the sea.  I also found If  wishes were fishes, the sea would be full which makes a little more sense to me.

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2 Comments on “Choosing to Believe 2012”


  1. enjoy you time off!


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