Belief chooses you

You don’t choose what to believe. Belief chooses you.

Steven Galloway (1975-)

This particular quote is one that speaks to me at a deep level.

I often find myself both amazed by and impressed with those who hold earnest beliefs in supernatural and/or divine forces. When I reflect upon those with true faith, I find myself torn between jealousy and bafflement. It would be profoundly comforting and lovely to believe that humankind’s existence has some inherent purpose, but I don’t.

Having dedicated years of my life to studying Judaism, I had opportunity to explore various spiritual practices and related ancient texts; but ultimately, upon serious reflection, I remain more compelled by my secular Papa’s perspective than any other. It bears noting that Papa was by far one of the most honorable and ethical people that I have ever known, regardless of his faith or lack thereof.

Absent supernatural forces, the notion of a big bang makes little sense to me, but nothing has led me to believe that any supernatural force is involved in or even interested in our lives.

Ultimately, it is my understanding that some people are simply more “wired” for faith than others – we do not choose our beliefs. Inclination towards belief is merely one of sundry character traits that one could possess.

71 thoughts on “Belief chooses you”

  1. This is something I have thought about for many years: whether belief is internal or external. Do we get to choose or does it choose us? I’ve gone back and forth between the two “sides.” I suspect the question is probably badly framed and the truth is a bit of both. Thank you for writing this. It is nice to know someone else is thinking about these things too!

    1. Now I notice you started with “belief” and then transitioned to “faith” and most of the comments here are on “faith.” Faith is part of what I’ve been thinking about — an important part — but I’m also wondering if there is a something beyond that, how we see the world, and whether we choose that or it chooses us. If we see a world with a place for faith, chosen or not, then the question becomes “what is that faith?” If we don’t, then that question doesn’t arise except, perhaps, as “why do others seem to feel the need for faith?” I’ve thought through both steps but it is primarily the first that concerns me.

      1. yes, that’s true – I found the quote, and it “spoke” to me so I shared it without giving it a great deal of thought.

        my main point was that I have found myself unable to convince myself in the long-term of beliefs or faith that I don’t intuitively believe in.

        intuitively, I believe that there is a supernatural force. I believe that it is so completely beyond our human comprehension as to render it unrelatable for us. That’s about it – anything else doesn’t sit right with me.

  2. This is an interesting topic. I grew up in a non-religious Jewish household… and I was not expecting to find Jesus in my darkest moment while alone in my backyard. Previous to that moment, I hated God and lived my life in a way that was basically sticking my middle finger up at Him… because of what i had seen of religious hypocrisy… there is a beautiful verse in the Hebrew scriptures… the Book of Jeremiah… “Seek me and you shall find Me, when you search for Me with all of your heart”… I have definitely found this to be true… always asking God to reveal Himself to me and to show me who He is… knowing Him more and more as I ask Him for truth.


    1. Yes, I think our best answer to him is to ask for him, for to indwell flesh and blood is his greatest glory. ‘Walk in the light, as he is in the light.’

  3. It’s an interesting quote, but I’m not sure I agree with it. I think my beliefs are a choice, not a natural inclination. I’ve chosen to believe in G-d. I could have just as easily looked at the available evidence and come to a different conclusion. I do not see my belief in a theistic model of G-d as inevitable fact based on the available evidence, but rather, a choice I’ve made given the evidence (and lack thereof).

      1. Could I? Sure. Do I think that is so likely? Not really, though of course, anything is possible. One benefit of recognizing that my belief is a choice and not an inevitable conclusion based on the evidence is that if a new piece of evidence comes along, eg. “scientists discover fossil of G-d from the Jurassic age” (I’m picking something intentionally ridiculous but you get the idea), that is not likely to shatter my entire belief system. I already chose to believe in G-d in spite of the lack of evidence / evidence in the opposite direction.

        That’s not to say belief is never challenged. At some point, I will write a post about Tisha b’Av 5778, as that was a very core-belief-challenging day for me. I suppose that if something to that level happened today, I might well stop believing. I’d still see it as a choice though, like I could no longer choose to keep believing in this model of G-d or in G-d at all.

  4. David, I do agree that you cannot choose what you believe. To me, that would be delusional. Beliefs are our response to knowledge and experience.

    I believe in the Golden Rule, which is common to almost every religion, and I live by my conscience and ethical principles. I think the most important value we should teach children is empathy.

    All religions, cultures, and philosophies are interesting to learn about. I contemplate life’s mysteries and enjoy the wonders of nature, but I have made my peace with the fact that some things may be unknowable. I do not feel compelled to live by the dictates of any particular religion or try to tell anyone else what to believe. I deeply resent and try to ignore those who attempt to impose “the truth” on others.

    Thank you, David, for this thought-provoking post! You have generated a very lively discussion! πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      I think the Bible is a physical shadow cast by the eternal word of God, Jesus Christ. His word forever expressing himself, to himself.

      I think the Psalms- the whole bible- are the thoughts, words and prayers of Christ in earth, and yet eternal. Expressed to himself, and to his glory, to his chosen children. For his word is to his chosen only.

      So, I think belief is the answer “Yes” to Emmanuel. That God ordain our sin mix with his blood, and pour out on this accursed earth, and redeem his creation. ‘Does this offend you?’

      For me, belief is the answer “Yes” to ‘Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.’ For to God’s glory, ‘it became him in bringing many sons [and daughters], to glory.’ And to his glory, I think the answer “Yes” to God resounds throughout eternity.

    1. Yes, indeed.
      Psa 27:8 KJV When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.
      And Hebrews 1.

  5. Interesting read David! I too think we are all wired to our preference of beliefs or the lack of it. Social influence plays its role, as does the literature we read, and the way our mind reasons things. The thinking and reasoning makes us keep faith in the supernatural or only on ourselves.
    Agree the ethics is something totally disassociated with faith, belief and religion. Based on personal trait, any of these are present or absent in any of us.

  6. I think you might find the Stoic or Confucian “religious” traditions interesting. In both, there’s an analogue to your “big bang” point which, it seems to me, is just a variation on the cosmological argument. There’s also a habitual treatment of this big bang entity which the Stoics call “nature” and the Confucians call “the will of heaven” – that is, we are fundamentally of a different nature than this entity and thus cannot put it in neat little boxes. As such, we should recognize nature/the will of heaven, and try to live in accordance with it, but also appreciate the fact we fundamentally can’t know much about it. Moses Maimonides said much the same.

    Thanks for the article!

    1. Yes, Ben, thank you πŸ™‚

      I’m well familiar with Maimonides’ ideas in this regard, and I agree with them completely. You seem to know a lot about various religions – have you studied them much?


      1. Negative theology is my favorite theology. It seems to thread the needle between the arrogance of dogma – WE KNOW THE WILL OF GOD – and the nihilism and despair that is the logical consequence of atheism. Though most people don’t follow their atheism to its logical conclusion and tend to remain effectively Abrahamic in their ethics.

        As for my knowledge on religions, I’m in the last semester of my PhD in Education and Philosophy. Most of my work has been about incorporating Confucianism (and Hindu/Buddhist thought to a lesser degree) with Western philosophy. Of those traditions, I’ve found I consistently prefer the philosophers and theologians of unknowable gods (Kierkegaard, Mencius, Maimonides, Seneca etc) or arbitrary gods (Aristotle, Xenophon, Heraclitus). I certainly like them more than the philosophers and theologians of specifically described, purely good gods. Stuff like Saint Augustine, the authors of the Book of Daniel or Guru Rinpoche.

        1. Wow – that’s really fascinating. I’m just a lay person with no degree(s) in these fields, but everything you’ve written here resonates with me. Based upon my limited understanding, “negative theology” also speaks to me more than any other approach that I’ve encountered.

          Shabbat Shalom,

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s