Here’s a thought experiment that, if you conduct it honestly, will tell you a lot about yourself. What you’re looking for in life. How you comfort yourself when the wild things howl. Whether you tilt toward science or religion.
I first wrote about the Two Doors two years ago this month, back when the Church of the Churchless had just laid its cornerstone. I still often think about my thought experiment. I also try to put it into practice.
So here, extracted from my November 2004 “Just have faith” post, is a re-run of the Two Doors.
Here's how to tell the difference between true faith and false faith: Imagine that you are standing in the middle of a bare windowless room. Two doors lead out of the room. Both are closed, but can be opened with a turn of the doorknob. The doors are marked with signs that describe what awaits on the other side: (A) Reality, (B) Belief
After you open a door, you have to walk through it. The door then will shut and you never will be able to leave the place you have entered.
Choose Reality and you will know things as they really are, from top to bottom of the cosmos. You will know whether or not God exists and, if so, the nature of this ultimate divinity. You will know whether death is the final end of your existence or if it is the beginning of another form of life. You will know whether there is a meaning to the universe beyond what human beings ascribe to it.
Or, choose Belief and you will know only what lies within the confines of your current suppositions about the nature of the cosmos. For the rest of your life you will be confident that what you believe to be true, really is. Any evidence to the contrary will not make an impact on your mind. You will remain doubt-free, faithful to the beliefs you now hold about God, creation, life, death, and the purpose of human existence.
Which door would you choose to walk through?
Before answering, consider carefully the potential ramifications of your choice. Reality is an unknown, a mystery. It could be frightening or fabulous, painful or pleasurable, warmly loving or coldly uncaring. Do you want to embrace absolutely real reality? Or would you rather hold on to your beliefs about what is real?
Someone with the type of faith extolled by the Church of the Churchless would unhesitatingly choose Door A and boldly stride into Reality. For their faith is not in anything particular, but is a faith that truth can be known, should be known, and, indeed, must be known.
In short, my churchless friends, nut up.
Life is tough. Religion offers comfort. The comfort of blind faith and unproven belief. “Everything will be fine after death. God will take care of you. There is a reason you’re going through your present troubles. God has a plan for you. Rejoice.”
This morning I finished the last chapter of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. He speaks of the consolation that religion brings people. Yet, he adds:
Religion’s power to console doesn’t make it true. Even if we make a huge concession; even if it were conclusively demonstrated that belief in God’s existence is completely essential to human psychological and emotional well-being; even if all atheists were despairing neurotics driven to suicide by relentless cosmic angst—none of this would contribute the tiniest jot or tittle of evidence that religious belief is true.
…Life without your wife may very well be intolerable, barren and empty, but this unfortunately doesn’t stop her from being dead. There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else (parents in the case of children, God in the case of adults) has a responsibility to give your life meaning and purpose.
…The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as well and as wonderful as we choose to make it. And we can make it very wonderful indeed.
Nicely put. I also like Betty Fanek’s “Where Do Atheists Find Comfort in Times of Danger?” She points out the difference between false comfort and genuine comfort, the latter being distinguished by actually solving a problem. Or at least seeing it for what it is, not as how we’d like it to be.
Fanek quotes George Bernard Shaw:
The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality.Reality or belief? At every moment, we stand before two doors. In every thought and action, we approach one or the other.