It was perhaps 11:00 at night. Late spring, and I was driving down a country road in Illinois. This was seventeen years ago. I think I remember the circumstances so clearly today because my mind has wondered since then what, if anything, prompted the thoughts I had that night. Was it anything in the circumstances?
Driving along, I abruptly recognized that it no longer mattered to me whether god existed. Moreover, I felt it had not mattered to me for a while. But oddly enough, I couldn’t think of any reasons why it no longer mattered to me whether god existed.
I also recognized I felt the same way about heaven and hell. It no longer mattered to me whether or not they existed, and hadn’t for some time, yet I couldn’t think of any reasons why it no longer mattered.
I wasn’t arriving at these thoughts by any effort of reasoning that I was aware of. Instead, they were surfacing as “givens”. In a way, it was more like I was simply seeing my thoughts than I was thinking them.
Until that night, I had sometimes believed in a god and sometimes not. But whether I believed or not, it had always been important to me whether I believed or not.
That is, it had always been a part of my self-identity, of my sense of who I was, and thus important to me.
So, when I believed in a god, I thought of myself as someone who believes in a god, and I thought that was something important about me. And likewise, when I didn’t believe in a god, I thought of myself as someone who didn’t believe in a god, and I thought that was important about me. Yet, that night, I saw none of that was me. And so, something that had been important to my self-identity — something that had once been me — simply slipped away as if it had never once been a part of me.
It strikes me as weird that we can think what we believe is us, that we can identify self with belief.
For one thing, to do so makes the belief a possession. And, although a belief is intangible, it can in every psychological sense be just as much of a possession as that large, very tangible and even cumbersome pumpkin that you recently scooped out, carved, and then stuck on your front porch.
Are we really our beliefs, though? Yes, we can think what we believe is us, but is it really us?