*this post is a part of the Assuming the Supernatural series*
I've spent a lot of time talking about what I don't believe, and what I find difficult to believe in other religions. It only seems fair that I talk about what I do believe (at this point), as we can't just go along defeating other people's beliefs forever.
In one sense, these beliefs are not very scientific. In another, they quite are. They are the synthesis of my moral sensibilities and my observations about reality as a rational moral agent (and a substantial amount of modern Western culture that has found it's way in as well). They are (for the most part) distinct from my axioms of belief, but rather are the conclusions I draw from the application of my axioms to my life experience. Basically, these are the things that I would be looking for a metaphysical system to support if I'm to buy into it.
I believe in Reason- mostly because it seems to work. The universe is orderly, not out of necessity, but out of observation. And we can codify good methods of defining, discovering, and extrapolating that order to make predictions. Reality agreeing with a belief system's predictions is a necessary condition for me accepting that belief system.
I believe in Right and Wrong- that they are real and objective things. I believe that when societies or groups don't recognize the objective moral right and wrong (which is a historical reality), it is out of ignorance. It is because they don't fully understand their actions, or the effect their actions have on other people.
I believe in Love- I believe its more than hormones and herd instinct.
I believe in free will- I don't think we are destined to do anything. We make our own choices. If the world was any other way, I see no reason for this physical reality to exist at all. If the end is already set, why bother with this charade?
I don't care if there's an afterlife- Seriously, it seems really secondary to me. First, this reality is the only one I can be sure of. Second, I just don't see ceasing to exist as such a great evil. I'm not saying I reject the idea of an afterlife out-of-hand, just that any claim about the afterlife makes me suspicious, because it's a great method of control (not to mention being totally unverifiable).
I believe in freedom- personal, political, and economic. We ought to be be free to determine the outcome of our own lives. (obviously we can't live in a vaccuum, free from outside influences, but we can and should give as much autonomy as possible to the individual)
I believe everyone has the right to decide for themselves what they believe- I reject any religion or epistemology that threatens the non-believer or disallows interpretation and honest disagreements by its adherents
I believe in accepting and loving everyone, even those we disagree with- I'm not sure yet whether I agree with "loving your enemies", because I'm not even really sure what that means. But I am pretty sure we ought not make enemies with anyone if we can help it. Those that differ from us are still human, and worthy of human dignity and love. I like the way C.S. Lewis puts it- "But whenever we do good to another self, just because it is a self, made (like us) by God, and desiring its own happiness as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love it a little more or, at least, to dislike it less." Once you see another human as a moral agent just trying to maximize his own happiness, you begin to forgive that which would previously be unforgivable.
I believe in justice- Wrongdoers should be punished. This is not diametrically opposed to the "loving and accepting everyone" point. Justice is devoid of emotion. It is a recognition that actions have consequences, and that to encourage correct behavior we need to discourage incorrect behavior. "Men are not hanged for stealing horses, but that horses may not be stolen". But justice is more than this. I think, even if incentivizing people to not do bad things didn't work, I would still believe that wrongdoing should be punished.
I do not believe in faith- Here's the problem with faith: if we believe something on any strength other than the evidence, then we lose the grounding of our belief in reality. There are several definitions of faith, but I think they basically fall into two categories- blind faith and contingent faith. Contingent faith is not really "faith" at all- it's weak bayesian belief. I have "faith" in those I trust, because the evidence says they are trustworthy. If they continually fail at that standard, I will lose my faith in them. I cannot justify believing in any other conception of faith. (This is a topic that deserves a more considered discussion. I'll be writing a post on Faith soon)
I do not think humans are basically good. I do not think humans are basically bad. I think humans are basically free- it seems to me that we all have a great capacity for both. It is equally hard to be all-good as it is to be all-bad. It seems to be a common claim in religion that humans are all bad, and anything good we do is God, and anything bad we do is us. I think humans, with or without God, are capable of choosing to do the right thing.
I do not believe in the authority of tradition- Tradition is useful because smart people have been thinking hard for thousands of years about the same problems we encounter today. But tradition cannot be authoritative- those who created tradition were no different, no better or worse, than we are today. If anything, they had fewer resources, had been exposed to fewer diverse belief systems, and had less scientific and historical knowledge of the world than we do. Moreover, adhering to tradition for the sake of tradition almost inherently slows down or outright prevents progress. I cannot and will not cede the authority to determine my beliefs to anyone other than myself. I am ultimately responsible for both my beliefs and my actions, so I need to take responsibility for verifying my beliefs against reality. There is obviously something more to be said if God has revealed something to specific people- those who had direct interaction with God do have a great deal more authority. But the standard of proof for me to believe this is astronomically high. I will cover my full view of tradition in a later post.
I don't believe any human is infallible- I cannot accept any claims of infallibility for living humans, because infallibility removes my right to question, criticize, and argue- those are some of our fundamental rights (and indeed, obligations) as humans. I'm suspicious of any religion that elevates its leader to "unquestionable" status for the same reason I'm suspicious of any country that has a president but no elections. (note that this doesn't disqualify Christianity, because Jesus was not really human in the sense that all the rest of us are- he was "all God and all Man". Whatever that means, its something fundamentally different than us)