Did you ever wonder....
Now don’t get all defensive, I’m not necessarily talking about Orthodox Judaism, though to most people, the beliefs upon which orthodoxy is based are quite far fetched. Maybe I was talking about Mormon, or Scientology. Or maybe I was talking about some of the fundamentalist beliefs in some of the Christian sects. Or perhaps I was talking about Native American Religions, which holds that man was formed from mud (hmm, actually that sounds familiar). Regardless of what your own perspective is, you must admit that there are other belief systems which have many adherents, and which are based on some pretty far out notions.
Each of these faiths have the normal spectrum of intelligent people. All have brilliant, gifted thinkers who are educated, inquisitive and truth-seeking. There is a tendency to deny that people who believe these things are intelligent and open. But, regardless of the religion, those people are there. And, certainly, OJ has many frighteningly brilliant minds.
So how do all of these people live their lives holding on to beliefs which seem starkly irrational. Part of the answer has to do with the reasoning tools which we use to deal with these beliefs. All believers have a system of thought which helps them reconcile their ideas with science, history, etc.. The smarter a person is, the more sophisticated their reasoning processes. This may reduce the level of incongruity of the beliefs to a more manageable level, and may even provide some logical arguments to substantiate religious claims.
But, obviously, there is more going on here than cognitive reasoning. To understand what is happening, we must look past the sphere of conscious reason and look at what is going on in our subconscious minds.
Our subconscious brain is, among other things, a full time self-defense system. It is the invisible fence which gives us visceral jolts each time we come close to a danger zone, or each time a threat is perceived. The subconscious is not the absolute ruler of our selves, but to not be controlled by it, we must be aware of what is going on. If you have a fear of heights, your psyche has identified high places as containing immediate danger, and will let your emotions know loud and clear that you are in peril. You can still climb the ladder, (and it will become easier if you can be aware that you’re subconscious reaction is not always in line with the objective level of danger), but it won’t be easy.
Changing our long held religious beliefs is enormously dangerous to our emotional wellbeing. Consider this; all you need to do is conclude that the Torah does not reflect the word of God, and, instantly, you are in a very bad place. You’ve just lost your road map for what is and is not a priority in life, for how you evaluate moral and life choices. You don’t know what God or the universe wants from you, or what your life will ultimately mean. You are disappointing and betraying your role models, your parents, your teachers, your friends, and your children. This can add up to complete self-annihilation, ‘Psychic suicide’, the very thing which you subconscious is working overtime to avoid.
Regardless of how clear and objective a thinker you are, your mind will go to whatever extremes it must to prevent you from putting all of this together. You can circle around the perimeter of disbelief all you want, but something in your subconscious mind will simply NOT let you really go all the way there. You will always get caught somewhere in the process and side tracked to an alternate route. Your mind may shift to contemplation of all of the reasons why you do believe what you do. It may wander to your emotional and spiritual feelings. It may re-route you to thinking about what you find flawed in non-belief. But you will have a very hard time keeping yourself focused on the basic, objective evaluation of your beliefs.
If you are an OJ, try the following little experiment: Say to yourself, (and try to imagine believing) “There is no covenant between God and the Jews. The Torah is a work of fictional mythology. God, if he exists at all, could not care less about any of our religious practices.” Notice that as you say it, your brain is coming up with reasons why these statements are wrong – even absurd, or why they don’t work for you. Notice how uncomfortable this feels.
Your subconscious is interfering with your conscious thought process. And it will not let you give up these ideas without a fight.
Unless you’re life has taken a turn in which these self-annihilation elements no longer apply as much or, unless there are very strong emotional incentives to change. This can be caused by many, many things, both internal and external. Perhaps the beliefs that you have are causing more psychic anguish than not believing. Perhaps you have created a strong enough foundation of alternate moral and ethical principles, so that you will not be without a compass. Perhaps you have established a new support system of friends, role models, communities who will help you deal with the losses and alienation from your old world, or perhaps you have developed enough confidence in key people in your old support group that they will not abandon you if you change your beliefs.
Whatever the cause, when these offsetting forces come into play and gain enough strength to counter your self defense system, then, and only then, will your subconscious mind allow your conscious mind to begin to fully explore those beliefs upon which your life choices are based. Only then will you be able to change the ideas which you have held for your life. The process can be slow or fast, it can lead you away from faith or towards faith. Perhaps religious ideas always seemed untenable to you, but as you gain an emotional attachment to those ideas and to the people who practice them, they gradually seem less outlandish.
Understanding all of this doesn’t lessen the legitimacy of belief. On the contrary, knowing this is the crux of truly respecting the belief system of another, even if these beliefs are beyond what you consider rationally possible. The process of believing is a very personal thing, and has criteria which differ from one person to another. In this respect, believing and not believing are pure equals.
Only you can know which way is best for your path in life, and only you have the right to choose.