My neighbor casually tells me, “Dan, some people are believers and some people aren’t.” Neurologist Robert Burton, likewise, says “some people are naturally doubters, and nothing feels as though it’s certain.” Burton, unlike my neighbor, sees the gap between believers and skeptics as more as a spectrum; a continuum.
|I’ve been listening to a fascinating interview with Robert Burton on KQED’s Forum. Give it a listen. Burton appears to be suggesting that faith is a physiological impulse. This may sound reductionistic, and perhaps it is. Less reductionistically, you might say that faith is a “feeling”. I find it interesting because I have such a hard time—how should I put it—believing that believers really believe. This doubt is so strong that I often wonder whether believers are just lying about their belief. It sounds rather like a paranoid fantasy, doesn’t it? Well, so be it.
You see, I used to be a believer. That is, I was raised as a believer. When I was young, I suppose it might have been that I accepted my indoctrination as a factual education. It’s hard to tell, but I do remember having a sense of faith being a willful effort to conform to my upbringing. I considered myself a believer, in a doubtful sort of way. Maybe in an envious sort of way.
Thanks to the testimony of Dostoevsky and others, science has come up with the notion that many mystical experiences are related to epileptic seizures. Can I try one of those? I feel quite deprived. Honest! I wonder what it feels like.
What’s peculiar in my case is that my mother is an epileptic, and she had some bad seizures back around the time she became a Baha’i and married the man who spoke at the first Baha’i meeting that she attended. I wonder how different the world feels to her. Does she really have a sense of certainty about the faith that she seems so overly confident about?
I must admit that this gives me a new sense of tolerance for believers, as obnoxiously overbearing as they can be. Maybe believers aren’t a load of liars. Maybe they really do believe. Maybe belief is just part of being human; or rather, maybe belief is just part of being mammalian?