After that rather dodgy story I fed you last post, here is a return to my general waffling. I said I’d have a later post about my idea of ‘Notions’. So here it is.
You know when people say: ‘I believe in…God/Christianity/mermaids, etc’? You know how they often ‘passionately believe in [whatever]’ – especially politicians, they love to use the passionately prefix? It really annoys me.
It really annoys me, because people usually mean, when they say they believe in something, that they had some information a long while ago, liked it, it felt right (note I’m not saying they thought about it a lot, though they may have, its true). Then they decided that this bit of information on this particular subject was it. The last word. The only other bits of information that would subsequently be given air time, were those that supported (in whatever way) the original information that led to the believing. Other information would be rejected/attacked/mocked/ignored. It isn’t always the case that this is how things go. But it is quite often. If you speak to anyone much who is habitually of the inclination to say they ‘believe’ in things…the chances are, you are speaking to someone who hasn’t thought any of these things through at length, for possibly quite some time.
This is how the Cambridge British English Dictionary online defines belief:
the feeling of being certain that something exists or is true:
E.G. All non-violent religious and political beliefs should be respected equally.
E.G. [+ that ] It is my (firm) belief that nuclear weapons are immoral.
E.G. His belief in God gave him hope during difficult times.
E.G. Recent revelations about corruption have shaken many people's belief in (= caused people to have doubts about) the police.
E.G. He called at her house in the belief that (= confident that) she would lend him the money.
That’s all fair enough, right? Being certain that something exists or is true? I don’t think it is, when it comes to non-checkable things. I can check why the sky is blue; I can check why it rains and when its likely to. I can check lots of material world things. A lot of other things – matters of religion, of conscience, of political slant, of like or dislike – all these things are matters of opinion, cultural bias/input and personal taste.
So, when we disagree about the Good Thingness of puffball skirts, or that fashion for wearing your jeans halfway down your arse, for teenage men; we can feel free to disagree about their merits, as we know it’s a matter of opinion – we aren’t going to end up hearing on the news about a stabbing that occurred over in St Martins College of Fashion that happened because a disagreement over whether the colour shade deep fuchsia pink goes with the other shade hot orange got out of hand. I hope. (I think it does, by the way; very nice sunset type combination.)
On the other hand, when people disagree about politics and especially religion, it tends to get violent sooner or later. Because despite God, or god or goddesses being an uncheckable thing, and therefore in the realms of opinion, people forget that opinion isn’t fact. Or they forget that belief is only opinion. (And therefore just personal to them.) People start to want to apply their personal opinions about which they are FEELING so CERTAIN, to everyone else. The opinions clash. There is trouble. My parents met in missionary school. I was shocked when my mother told me this, when I was 12 or so. She had always told me about the importance of good manners and being polite. And yet…she and my father were training to Go and Be Really Rude, Globally, by charging about and telling far away peoples that their way of life and opinions were all wrong, and should be replaced with my parents’ views. This was when I really started thinking about belief, and what a dangerous thing I thought it was. What a divisive thing, often used like a weapon.
The thing is, I quite liked to believe in things. I crave certainty, like everyone else. Every thing less I have to think about is a bit more room for my brain to feel mellow, right? True. But it’s a sacrifice of good brain cells. Over the years I have realised that I have started to react really strongly to the word ‘belief’. I try never to use it, except about purely personal things (‘I believe my back would improve again if I could go back to the osteopath’). Even then, I’ve realised these things can be equally substituted for the word ‘think’. I don’t adopt anything much without thinking it through, and like I said in an earlier post – things don’t remain adopted indefinitely (remember the poor Loch Ness Monster and the evil Stanley?!). (So: ‘I think my back would get better if I could go to the osteopath regularly again, for a while; because when I did last time, and I had exactly the same trouble, it did improve.’ Better thought, more thought out – but it’s a thought, not a belief.)
This isn’t a Things That Really Annoy Me post, because I sorted out my own personal solution to this. I really liked the Loch Ness Monster, remember? I have Notions now. ‘I have a Notion that the Loch Ness Monster is a ghost of a dinosaur’, I told you before. Yes! I like that idea. That’s what a notion is, to me. Own personal terminology: A Notion is an Idea. (I heard an Irish comedian use the word notion in this way ages ago and never forgot it, though very annoyingly indeed, I clean forgot who the comedian was, or what he was talking about – but that’s where I got this idea of using Notion in purely this way.) But an Idea is all it is.
See: I have current religious and philosophical Notions I like to live with. (Despite also living with an atheist and reading lots of science books, I would irritate Mr Dawkins with my desire to have it all and the fairies at the end of the garden too. He was being sarcastic about the fairies.) I think, and like the Notion of modern neo-paganism. I like lots of things about it, and a few of the things clash, and it’s all very hard to explain as its more or less dogma free. I can’t quote you a Bible of ‘the movement’ as there isn’t one. If there becomes one in the future, I may well leave.
I like the notion of Animism. I like the Notion of Pantheism. I like the Notion of Reincarnation. I like the general pluralism of Gods/Goddesses; the duality of the Female/Male principle. I love the Notion of Balance as a major goal. I like the Notion of Magic (and have experienced it for myself, so am on board with this concept also – go ahead and laugh, its really quite ok). I like the Notions of Personal Responsibility and taking care of others I find in paganism. I love the Notion of honouring, reverencing and taking care of Earth as much as we can (I’ll unhippify that for you: don’t shit where you eat – sound more sensical now?). I’m no particular neo-pagan strand, I’m drawn to several. I like the Notions of many different strands in paganism, and I unselfconsciously read lots about each thing and take from them what I find useful and leave the rest to anyone else who may find it useful for them instead. I’m eclectic and unashamed of this. I have personal truths for now, and they may stay, they may change. I have personal morality, and that moves too, dependent on experience and further learning.
There are Creator myths in paganism, plenty of them - but I adopt none of them, and I am so utterly unfussed about the Notion of Who Created All This I can't quite express it to you. I feel its completely irrelevant to how we live our lives here. Lets try and do some good, have some fun, learn some things. I also find the Big Bang a perfectly reasonable explanation; I have no argument with science at all. Science people tend to argue with me, till they realise I am quite agreeing with them about having no proof for anything I Notion about, and these things are purely for me to think with, act with, experiment with. I tend to look at science as finding out the processes, and labelling things for which I have Notions about [E.G. - this!]. Sometimes my views change altogether after reading or talking some Science. Treehugger and Proud of it (but not loud about it, generally).
The most important thing about any of it, is that absolutely no one has to agree with me. No one has to come and join with me and have my Notions. It doesn’t bother me at all. This is all quite personal to me. (Note me not going into great detail about my Notions – if you ask, and you’re interested, I’d tell you and we’d talk about it – till then, why would I talk about it uninvited, and at great length? A lot of the trouble we have with people’s 'beliefs' is that they think everyone should hear, at any time, what moves them to do what they do how they do it. They don’t ask if people are interested; they stridently assume the role of teacher and by extension: corrector. How presumptuous. Arrogant. Rude.)
Note: I would stand up for my right to have the free speech to say any of my Notions should I want to, to not be persecuted for having these Notions and being public about them (as I am here). Also, I would stand up for the right to gather with others who thought similarly and talk or act with them (the funny thing with the pagans I’ve met and talked to, corresponded with, is they think similarly but never really the same, so endless disagreements prevail and are accepted as the norm – and very healthy too, I think).
So if you hear me say I have a Notion unicorns may well be real but in another dimension which we rarely get access to – you feel free to laugh if you want. Totally your right. (Of course, having Notions which other people find funny is ANNOYING, don’t get me wrong. I’m a sensitive flower, and being laughed at hurts my feelings. I wish people wouldn’t mock; but they do. I wish my mother wouldn’t think I may well be going to Hell [it’s rude of her!], but she does, so that’s that.) And I will laugh at your views if I find them equally outlandish.
What – you think there’s only one way to enlightenment, and despite all the varied experiences of people over thousands of years, only this one way and one God exists???? Everyone else is doomed, and damned…? That makes no sense to me. I do not hold with this unfriendly and oddly childlike Notion.
And that’s all it is; an uncheckable personal Notion that got out of its box and started bullying other Notions.
Actually, not funny. Worrying.
 (A form of evangelical Christianity, unnamed in father’s case: he was a bit of a backward-looking maverick in terms of belief, he never found a church that felt right for him, he wanted to run his own, I think; my mother was brought up strongly Pentecostal and rebelled down to a gentler from of C of E, where she remains very happy).