Irrational beliefs about life :
– Life is predictable.
– Life is under our control.
– Life is fair.
– Life is adequate to our objectives.
Make a copy of these lines and keep it somewhere safe. Every time you have a problem with this life, read these 4 lines again and again, until you come to terms with them. You will see that they are always right. They are part of my existentialist training and they exclude anything emotional or mystical. They are purely logical. Every time you fail to take them into consideration, you suffer. Period.
During childhood, it is vital for the development of the child to thrive on these truths. How could we have the courage to get out in the big world knowing that it is unpredictable and uncontrollable? It would be impossible. Again, how could a child be raised properly if all that childhood fairy-tales would end randomly, and truth would win 5 cases out of 10 or even worse, just like in Murphy’s Laws, 3 out of 10? What kind of stories would be those in which the good guy is defeated over and over again by the evil forces? It is essential that the positive side wins. So, we lie to our children, and teach them that “everything is going to be just fine“.
Most people remain at this stage for the rest of their lifetime.
However, there are people who wake up, either because of a deep shock, or because of mental health issues, or because they work in the psy field. Mentally, they move from the emotional childhood to the emotional adulthood, where those 4 lines are the main pillars. Once begun, the process gives birth to a lot of emotional struggle, the task being to integrate those truths into a coherent new way of seeing life. Step one is awareness that those lines are true, step two is acceptance of the fact that life is this way and not otherwise, step three is negotiating with oneself and finding a solution leading to a new paradigm organizing life differently. This may take a lot of time.
Some would say that we can predict or forecast life. Well, we might be tempted to do this in a closed system, with few variables. But life is far more complex. Plus, knowing the past is not enough to predict the future, as there is a lot of creativity going on, and being creative sometimes means creating something that is more/different than the sum of the parts that were put together. Knowing some patterns is comforting, but too many people break the rules. And then, a lot of unpredictability comes from our profound lack of control.
Every day, tens of cells in our body go malignant, and are killed by our immune system. However, our immune system is not perfect; someday, it may fail. Can you say when? Everyday, there are coagulation problems in our blood, but we don’t know this. Someday we might experience a transitory stroke or a silent heart infarct. We might fail to notice this, or that event could repeat at some time afterwards, and it might not be temporary. Can you control it? You drive your car and someone jumps in front of it or a car crosses your path. How much control do you have? On your car yes, you have control, supposing its engine is fine (which again, is out of your control), but on others’ behavior you don’t have control at all… And examples can continue.
You have been taught that if you’re ok, the others will treat you ok. After several failures of verifying this in real life, you will surely come to the conclusion that fairness is an exception. If you live in poor corrupt countries, you lose this illusion of fair-play really fast; you grow wise but often unhappy…
What many fail to see is that they are not the center of the world. The world does not revolve around us, but we’re rather elements of a giant puzzle. Some narcissistic psychopaths could argue that it isn’t so, but in fact they are horribly blinded. Life on Earth existed long before you and will continue after your death, and it is unlikely that everything will change so as to fulfill your desires or fit in your objectives. You have your agenda, life has its agenda, these 2 agendas can be common in some aspects, but every single human being in this world failed at least once in their life. Even the most powerful men in history had their share of defeat, and this is just a simple reminder of the fact that we are essentially powerless.
People react violently against these 4 truths, employing defensive mechanisms. Pretty much any defense can be used to deny these irrational beliefs. Religious fantasies or rationalizations, dissociative behavior, denial, are rather frequent. Despite this, powerful shocks partly destroy the defensive mechanisms that have been carefully built. The illness or the death of a loved one is, in my practice, a bitter confrontation with the vulnerability of the human being. It echoes wildly in one’s mind, and perhaps one of the most embarrassing situations are those in which the one in front of you struggles with the absurdity of life, with the lack of rules and predictability, and you can say nothing to ease their pain. Gradually, that person either develops stronger defense mechanisms (lying to themselves or seeking meaning in their religious belief, for instance), or, quite rarely, accepts the absurd as part of our life and moves on to a newer understanding of our earthly existence.
The quote in the image of this article haunts me for some time. It belongs to Matt Dillahunty, a well-known atheist. I’ve seen several times people in deep crisis who gave up their religious faith. While losing someone dear or experiencing severe trauma, they asked themselves “Where is God?” They were caught in that childhood paradigm and were under the spell of those 4 irrational beliefs. Suddenly, they came to an abrupt awareness that they believed in something unreal, but the abruptness of their experience completely destroyed their previous convictions. It’s dramatic. And they are seeking answers from me. And it is both unethical and impossible for me to give them the slightest landmark or solid point to balance their philosophical system. They end up not having “an imaginary friend” (God), and more, some of them begin to despise those who have one.
I think that here we have that old problem of belief versus reason. The Divine is perceived exclusively through faith, through emotion, or through intuition. You have it or you don’t have it. Then, if your peel the concept of Divinity from notions like “kindness”, “fairness”, love”, you actually manage to perceive the Divine as a mysterious force, unpredictable and uncontrollable, acting on unknown laws and following an unknown agenda. But then, we come to the quote in the image: how can we know there is a God somewhere if that God is unpredictable, uncontrollable, etc.? A random God is indistinguishable from random events! If we lose the 4 irrational beliefs from the beginning of the article… we begin to live is a world where there is no place for a God, or there is no need for a God… why pray if everything is random? It becomes a matter of preference to believe in some sort of God or believe in nothing or no one! It might be subjectively important, but it is of no practical, objective, importance.
Did you pray to God and God answered to your prayers?
Did you pray to God and God remained silent and motionless?
Did you find out why God listened to your prayer sometimes and remained deaf some other times?
Could you find a pattern?
Can you rely on God’s help?
One of my limitations as a rational thinker is that I find it hard to believe on insufficient evidence. To put it differently, my emotional side is (currently) too small to generate that trust in God I see in people with other psychological profiles. It’s cozy and warm to believe there is somebody somewhere watching you and protecting you… So where does my belief in God comes from? From my intuition. I look around me, I look at this world and at all the people, buildings, the society in general… and I often whisper for myself: this can’t be random! It’s too organized to be random! As a result, I believe there is an omnipresent force around us and inside us, but its agenda remains mysterious. I have no expectations (the 4 lines from the beginning) and find this world rather fragile and stressful, since God’s manifestations are so random and lack coherence or they have a coherence that I cannot comprehend. Understanding the ocean by looking into a glass of water is truly an impossible task.