One of the most important things I’ve ever learned, is to not get lost in the symbols and metaphors of belief.
Before you dismiss beliefs in God or gods or faeries or elves or spirits or a belief in a mechanistic universe devoid of any supernatural entities — before dismissing the beliefs of others, recognize that all human perceptions are illusory and false, all of them. Pretty much by definition they are not real. They only exist in your head and have no external reality. They are abstract metaphors attempting to make sense of a world outside of your senses.
If you’re going to dismiss false beliefs, then start with your favorite color, your favorite music, the beauty of a sunset. These are false beliefs. The sun doesn’t set. Color and music exist only in your mind. They have no external reality and there is no scientific basis for what is known as the qualia of these experiences. There is mathematical beauty to the frequencies and wavelengths of visible light, but that is not what people experience when the sky burns red during a sunset.
We pretend science is mechanistic and yet every scientific breakthrough happened through a creative and playful insight, a creation of a new metaphor that while useful is still as false as all the others. All of our ambitions and our every “will to power” is as natural and as false as believing in tree spirits. We devise these symbols and metaphors in attempt to make sense of the world and ourselves. We are the creators of these perceptions and there is no difference between you as the perceiver and that which you perceive.
To the skeptics and the materialists, can you stop believing in music and color? Can you truly stop believing in magic? Can you truly not believe in free will, or the existence of evil? Is it even possible not to embrace false beliefs?
Every time you think about “a life worth living” or “doing the right thing”, you are under the delusion of a false belief.
It is impossible to be human without these experiential beliefs.
It is however possible to know that a belief is false and still be uplifted by the power of that false belief. We do this all the time with silent prayers or meditation, or even our stubborn belief that the sun sets. It profoundly doesn’t matter that there is no mechanistic reality to the beauty you experience listening to music. To be human is to live by these experiences. It is the nature of human consciousness and it cannot be meaningfully deconstructed into mechanistic parts. We could say that these phenomena emerge as a consequence of an underlying mechanistic reality, but that thought is itself also magical thinking. We can measure the underlying mechanistic reality, but we fumble through metaphors and symbols in our efforts to make sense of the infinite expanse of reality as such.
The problem with beliefs is not that they are false, all beliefs are false. You may claim some beliefs are useful and others are not — but even that conjecture is a false belief (useful to whom? and to what end?). The problem exists primarily when we get lost in the metaphors and symbols. The moment you see your beliefs as real, as true, that is the problem. The moment you forget that your perceptions are only perceptions, that is the problem. This is what leads to religious and political fanaticism; and while it’s natural to hold false beliefs, it is wise to live with the power of beliefs, even as you embrace that they are false. Your perception of beauty is not the source of beauty. Your perception and symbol of God is not God. Many religions even make this point explicit. Recognize the transcendent for what it is. Believe in music as if it harmonizes with your soul. Believe in art as if it is a gift from the muses. Believe in tree spirits as if it connects you with nature. Believe in God as if it inspires you to redemption. Just don’t get lost in the symbols and metaphors. Most are there to help guide you, not for you to possess (or be possessed by).