As far as we know, beliefs about the nature of existence are unique to humans. Although it is possible that we are wrong, it is hard to imagine that a porpoise wonders if its sense of self is an illusion, if a gorilla ponders that nature of God, or an amoeba practices meditation to get in touch with its inner being. The continuum of belief that I want to explore here is the belief in an entity that exists outside of the rules of Reality, i.e., God. We will begin at one end of this spectrum of belief and move toward the other, with the understanding that no matter where you fall on this spectrum, the belief could be fixed or squishy. In other words, you could determine that you are going to cling to your particular viewpoint no matter what, or you may take the position that if something crosses your path of discovery, you are willing to modify your belief structure to move in one direction or another. Of course if you are on either extreme end, there is only on direction to move. After a coin flip, I’m starting at the end that says there is one particular book, or set of writings, that is literally true and anything else ever written is false, or even blasphemy. This is the end of the spectrum that tells people the Universe is seven thousand years old, or if you don’t follow certain strict beliefs or taboos you need to be killed. Or, it could mean you believe that we were visited by aliens that know the truth about God and the only way to salvation is to give them all your money. Such a view speaks of a petty and vengeful God who gives no quarter to his creations, even though those creations may simply be disillusioned and confused. The God of this view is all-powerful, but seems to have used His/Her power to put his creation into an impossible dilemma, allowing many voices to be heard in many writings throughout the years, and then punishing that creation for not believing in the right one, sort of like creating an infinitely complex maze and then killing the rat that makes wrong turn.
Next up is the belief in the same set of writings, even though you can pick and choose which of the words are strictly true and which ones are metaphor. So you might accept the findings of science when it comes to the age of the Universe, but you will absolutely defend the belief that God made a virgin pregnant with His/Her child and walked around in the flesh of a normal human being for one reason or another. The virgin birth is a phenomena that cuts across traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and others. At any rate, this category of belief states that there is a single God creator that is somehow removed from the Reality in which he exists, although he/she might embed himself into it for one reason or another. This, or course, is where things get a little muddy. Rather than going from here into the idea of many gods, we will take the view that the next position along the continuum is the idea the Reality collapses down to a single entity that is a larger Reality than the we can touch. This is the Tao, the Unconditioned, or non-dual reality. This larger Reality exists outside of the reality that we can see and touch on a day-to-day basis, and so shares commonality with the single God creator, but it is an impersonal force rather than an larger image of ourselves. Next up is polytheism, which is the belief in many gods. These Gods tend to be a bit closer to our day-to-day reality. The classic case is the Gods of ancient Greece, which were so subject to petty jealousies, hang-ups, and other foibles that they make reality TV shows look like the Garden of Eden without the snake. Egyptian Gods had a lot of the same issues and were more enmeshed in their sexual proclivities. Then there are the Norse and Aztec Gods as well. This type of belief merges into pantheism, in which each individual thing becomes a god, although the basis of this godlike quality exists within reality, not as some divine element outside of the reality we experience. Celtic spirituality is an ancient example and Gaia theory is a more modern and “scientific” version of this belief. Science itself entails the belief that the natural world reflects a set of rules and principles that drive everything. Although it does not necessarily conflict with the belief that there is some reality outside of that which we can measure and understand, it tends in that direction. Some scientists find it more tenable to believe that there is nothing outside of physical reality. In this view, all of our thoughts, ideas, and even our beliefs are merely a result of chemical processes in the brain, and eventually we will be able to understand it all. The idea that reality consists of the natural world is shared by atheists,who do not believe there is a God, and secular humanists, who believe that there is nothing but the natural world, and that humans are an accident of nature that arose through evolution. Although some in this category would argue that this is really the opposite end of the spectrum to the first category, I disagree. Rejecting a belief in the reality of a spiritual world is still a belief, in that it believes in a negative proof. It says if we can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist. Instead, I have reserved the other end of the spectrum for those who profess no believe at all. The agnostic says, “I don’t know if there is a God.” But there is one other position, which I will call Reality Skepticism, that takes the position that no one can possibly know what ultimate reality looks like because, by definition, anyone who, exists, exists within that reality. Since none of us can step outside of reality to actually see the whole thing, none of us can claim to fully understand it. Enrico Fermi famously said, “If you think you understand quantum physics, you don’t understand quantum physics.” Our final statement echoes that sentiment: If you think you understand Reality, you don’t understand Reality.