While I have taken an immense dislike to Yudkowsky, unsurprisingly of course, perhaps since I view all “rationalism” as the first step to self-indulgent nihilism, I find his work on the nature of beliefs fairly persuasive. He speaks of three kinds of beliefs:
- Beliefs which pay rent in anticipation
- Belief in beliefs
- Professed beliefs
The first type of belief is the “rational” belief, one which pays rent in anticipation. What he means by this is, is that the belief may be “tested”. “I believe fire is hot” is a belief which pays rent since it is a belief which can be verified by observation/experimentation.
The second type of belief is what I would characterize as the unmAda belief. The believer believes that the belief is virtuous and that it is virtuous to believe. It doesn’t matter if the belief is True or not, since it is virtuous to believe it is true. It is also virtuous to not know that you believe that your belief is belief for belief’s sake. If this is confusing here’s Yudkowsky’s original post and he explains it much better than I can in a few short sentences. But why does a Communist, or a Muslim or a Christian believe? Because it is virtuous to believe in the revolution comrade, it is important to believe in Allah infidel or you will burn in hell, it is righteous to believe in the word of god heathen or you will suffer.
The last kind is the professed belief, a belief for which there needs be no explanation. There is virtue in believing it but that is not why we believe. Yudkowsky describes it as cheering for your own team. It is the same kind of belief as when a Chennai vAsi says that the Chennai Super Kings is the best team in the IPL. Funnily enough, Yudkowsky explains this belief by taking the example of a pagan woman. I find that this belief is the Hindu belief as identified by S.N.Balagangadhara.
Tell them that you ‘keep faith with your fathers, who kept faith with their forefathers, and were blessed in so doing’. Tell them too that you need no ‘reason’ to keep your ancestral traditions alive and that the only reason to practice a tradition is the fact that what is practiced is a tradition, and that is what it means to be a ‘Hindu’.
Now while I make many utilitarian arguments on Twitter for religion, I must concede that none of those are the reasons I personally believe. That line of attack is derived from the immortal rules for Internet Hindus.
For a movement on the defensive it is instinctive to establish moral equivalence, however the aim should be at capturing the moral high ground.
Religion is superior to irreligion. The religious have better reproductive fitness and this means that from an evolutionary point of view they are superior. Religions make large groups of people coexist much better than without it. Civilization did not exist for something like 84,000 generations of human existence. It started barely 200 generations ago (perhaps it is even older in the case of Hindus) and it started when Shvetaketu instantiated a structured society of farmers. And let us not beat around the bush, it was a patriarchy. Men were the head of the family and went out to earn while women took care of the children and tended the household. Men and women have evolved to do these things.
Either way, these are not the reasons I believe. I believe because my belief is actually of the first kind. I have anticipated something on the basis of my belief and then it has come true. I anticipated that by performing rituals I would become more disciplined and my life would improve. It has. And this is an objective fact to family.
I once overheard a great sage describe the nature of man. He said that man is an animal and in his base state he is 1 karat gold. By the process of following dharma, by performing rituals and by doing his duties he purifies himself and slowly the gold becomes purer. The 1 karat gold slowly gets closer to 24 karat gold and at the point at which 24 karats is achieved, he acquires Moksha.
This perhaps is why I believe.