The Belief Instinct

Many of you are aware, from reading my book that I grew up with little formal religion, something I have come to see as an advantage as it allowed me to be open-minded to all sorts of different beliefs about God, the afterlife, reincarnation and such. I was not indoctrinated with any notion of sin or hell and yet I had a clear sense that I needed to not hurt others, treat others as I wanted to be treated. I always considered myself a “good person,” someone who God, if there was such an entity would look down upon kindly. Occasionally, I would beg “God, whoever you are” for something I was desiring, like a new bike, or permission to go to a party. I felt foolish having these little “chats” with God, and refused to think of it as praying because that just brought up scary images of kneeling on hard pews in darkened cathedrals and flimsy leather covered bibles that made no sense with all their numbers and italics and 6pt type. And yet, I had this picture of some “dude” up there granting me my wishes.

In college, the very notion of God and Jesus was put into a new light by my sociology professor when he started talking about the flaw in any collective belief system that designates a “God” in the likeness of man, as being separate from man. From that time forward, I became more cognizant of what we often hear now as a “oneness with God,” that we ourselves are our own Gods. I was happy that the lines of communication to the powers that be just got a whole lot simpler. Still, when I was pregnant with my first child, I asked silently that she be healthy. I don’t know who I asked, it was just a prayer of sorts, to the universe at large. I made a similar plea after the Towers fell and there was still a tiny envelope of hope that Arron might have made it out alive. “Please,” I begged, “bring him back to me safely.”

Oddly, when he didn’t come home safely, I wasn’t angry at God, or the Universe or even Al-Qaeda. I was angry at tangible things like New York City, the buildings, George Bush, the lawnmower and sometimes, no, make that most often, my kids. How can you get angry at a Universe?

But as the anger began to clear, I found myself thinking things like “it was just his time,” or “it was his fate to go this way.” I couldn’t fathom where this idea of fate had come from, though I suppose like anyone, I had often wondered if we were free agents in this life, or if there were some invisible trajectory that we were following, more or less, towards some pre-defined destiny. Before Arron’s death, I was very much in the free-agent camp. Afterwards, I was less clear. Discovering books by psychic Sylvia Brown provided another solution to the problem – a pre-destined fate that we each had a hand in creating before we arrived in this lifetime. Now this idea was fun. Possibilities abounded. I ran with it.

As I attempt to wrangle sense out of my curious life of psychics and “signs” as provided by Arron in his cozy afterlife, I find myself butting heads with this slithery notion of belief. As I sit in sessions with Lisa receiving amazing messages from another world, I can’t help but wonder about the need to believe, to trust that what is coming through is from a world that we don’t really understand, can’t scientifically prove even exists. In my curiosity to know more about belief, I found a book called “The Belief Instinct” by Jesse Bering, a Belfast based “evolutionary psychologist.” Although I have no idea what an evolutionary psychologist is, I am curious. His main hypothesis is that, as humans we are hardwired to believe in God and other unknowable forces. He theorizes that all belief stems from a distinctly human trait known as “Theory of Mind” which enables us to guess at the thoughts and intentions of others.

I have only just received this book, but I suspect that Bering’s hypothesis will put a bit of a stake into the heart of my paranormal wanderings. Yet still I’m curious. I want to be able to include in (what I hope will be) my book, all sorts of viewpoints. Already my agent has poo-pooed my interest in psychics, insisting that they are just people who are well tuned in to others’ minds, and who simply tell people what they want to hear.

All very well and good, but I’ve had enough readings from psychics now to know that they often find the weirdest details to tell you about, things that were the furthest from my mind when I was having the reading.

So off I go down another rabbit hole. How fun is this?

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  1. annie June 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    I’ve actually heard about this theory. I don’t think it negates what I have come to believe – that we are eternal, some kind of energy that has the ability to take shape,and that our destinies might be plotted- with our input- but are never quite so firmly fixed that free will is off the table. There will always be those who need to and will find explanations for things that others will always believe are matters of faith (or just magic). In the end we sort things out for ourselves and probably no one is even close to the reality anyway. And what does it matter? We believe or not and find out the truth later (and forget it again should we come back again). Go for it.

  2. Jen June 20, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I recently read “Why We Believe in God(s)” by J. Anderson Thomson, which covers the Theory of the Mind and other psychological concepts. Fascinating, enlightening, and fundamentally didn’t change my perspective much. Yes, we’re hard-wired to find it easy to believe in and attach to a “higher power”. So go for it!

  3. Debra June 20, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    It is VERY fun indeed…and now I think I need to read this book as well.

  4. sunny lockwood June 25, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Loved reading about your intellectual/spiritual/personal journey. As I grow older, I’m amazed at the way we humans dart to and from various ideas concerning the Big Picture, yet we haven’t the slightest notion of how the Big Picture comes into being. What I mean is, we don’t know how life comes into existence. We know the mechanics (sperm & ovum) but can’t begin to imagine how those bits of tissue become alive and grow into a living being with self awareness, emotions, intelligence, and (yes) beliefs. We focus on the mechanics, which we can explain, but the Bigger Picture–how bits of tissue combine to become a “living soul”– is beyond us.

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