“I don’t believe in belief. I think belief is a tremendously stultifying force. What I’m interested in is freedom, and I noticed very early that a belief absolutely precludes the possibility of holding to its opposite, and therefore if you believe something you have… limited yourself.”―Terence McKenna (“Under the Teaching Tree,” 1985)
My own personal skepticism with “belief” first revealed itself to me at an early age. I was seven years old, attending Catholic school, and my class was preparing for our First Communion.
For those unfamiliar, “Communion,” aka the “Eucharist,” is a ritual at Sunday services in which the Last Supper story from the Bible is reenacted. This is when the Jesus character famously shared bread and wine with his disciples the night before he was hauled away by Roman officials to be tried and executed. “This is my body,” he said, as he broke the bread, and “This is my blood,” as raised the wine cup.
According to Middle Age-era Catholic doctrine, when a priest playing the role of Jesus intones these words during Mass, the bread and wine on the altar undergo a process known as “transubstantiation” in which they literally become the actual body and blood of Jesus. You read that right. These products of wheat and grapes do not merely symbolize flesh and blood in this ceremony; they are flesh and blood, in everything but their form. Quite the concept.
Seven year old me tried to wrap my mind around this, but I couldn’t understand it, let alone believe it. What was clear, though, was that all the grown-ups around me wanted me to do this thing, so I went ahead and did it. Maybe, I thought, it would make sense later; maybe “faith” would grow.
It never did. I left the Church as a teenager over sexual/guilt issues but that’s a topic for another day.
Belief is not monopolized by religion, though. Hardly. Throughout all of society, nearly everyone bases their lives on beliefs. Indeed, our notions of what constitutes “life” itself are steeped in belief. So many arguments are only battles between beliefs. So much that’s supposedly factual is merely belief by another name.