Lately, I've been considering my beliefs. I thought to myself the other day, "I don't believe in anything," but that's not quite true. I do believe in lots of things. I realize that, to be more accurate, I don't have a specific belief in one particular religion or philosophy. In this discussion, to be clear, if something has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, one cannot BELIEVE in it; it simply IS SO. One cannot BELIEVE in a FACT. (I don't believe the earth is round, I know that it is so.) A belief involves faith, without evidence. A belief in a thing could easily be countered by another belief in its exact opposite – and neither thing can be shown to be true.
As a philosophy student, I am constantly forced to examine difficult issues, some moral, some psychological, some metaphysical. One might think this would lead to a firm set of beliefs. One would, however, be wrong. I find it difficult sometimes, after examining all the arguments involved in an issue, to come down firmly and clearly on one side or the other (or the other). Sometimes I find it easy to decide on a position, based on beliefs that I already hold and have stood up against other issues with some consistency.
I have come to see that most of the beliefs I have are based on one of two things: evidence, or logic. For example, I believe in the existence of "aleins". I believe that there are extra-terrestrial beings out there somewhere. Why do I hold this opinion? No conclusive evidence exists to support this idea, but in my mind, it is simply logical that somewhere else in our bigger-than-we-can-imagine universe, there is at least one other planet on which there is some form of life. Just makes sense to me.
There are other intangible things in which I believe – moral principles. I believe in freedom, equality and justice. I believe in honesty, respect, responsibility and compassion. I believe it is best to live one's life according to these principles, among others. I believe it is wrong to judge other people, and I believe it is wrong to do things to deliberately hurt others. There are also certain theories I ascribe to, such as forms of pacifism and utlitarianism. These beliefs help to form my opinions on several issues, such as the american "war on terror", the property rights of First Nations people, same-sex marriage, and abortion. (Bad, bad, evil idea, terrible abuse of power that has not been amended by any stretch of the imagination, so obvious it seems silly that people argue about it, and every woman has a right to have the option to choose it, respectively.)
This could be referred to as a set of beliefs, linguistically, but they do not quite fit my definition. There is evidence that the world operates better under moral rules such as freedom, equality, justice, honesty, respect, responsibility and compassion. Our laws certainly reflect these ideas, and more people seem happier and have better qualities of life when these ideas are upheld. So, to me, these principles come a bit closer to fact than to belief, although I'm sure some do not live their lives according to these principles and will disagree. At best, they are values, principles to which I firmly ascribe that give me a moral framework for moving about in the world. However, none of these values make it any easier for me to decide on major, metaphysical questions, such as what happens when we die. This is where I have difficulty. Nobody can conclusively tell me what it is like after death, if consciousness continues, if there is a spiritual "place" that our "souls" go to reside. There is no evidence. There is only belief.
So, this is where I have trouble. I was raised in the christian baptist religion, but it fights with my sense of logic – lots of things just don't make sense to me, and these things are not exclusive to baptist faith, but run common throughout all christian theology. For that same reason, I cannot ascribe to other major religions, such as judaism or islam. The theory of reincarnation makes sense to me, but yet I cannot put my foot firmly down on it, and so I cannot ascribe to either buddhism or hinduism, nor any other religion that uses reincarnation heavily in its moral theory. The idea of one all-powerful god does not appeal to me, and neither does the idea of several gods.
And so, I remain unsure and undevoted. It is the one area of my life in which I feel at odds, and no amount of reading or research into other theological schools seems to help. The religious idea I can come closest to ascribing to is classical Taoism, but lots of forms of Taoism do not make sense to me either. In any case, it is a struggle for me that has been going on most of my life, despite any activity in christianity in which I have participated. I don't feel I am any closer to answers, but I do feel that it is something that needs resolution. I am not sure about the existence of "soul", but if I have one, I'd like it to be at peace with this before death comes knocking.