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Excerpt from "Why The World Doesn't Seem To Make Sense"

An Inquiry into Science, Philosophy and Perception

by Steve Hagen


The Trouble with Believing

When I was a child I lived on the side of a hill. It was a broad, grassy es­carpment, furrowed by wooded gullies and pierced by outcrops of gab­bro, and it rose high behind the houses of my neighborhood. I was told by adults that unicorns romped in those hills.

I don’t think I ever believed this, however. My friends and I often hiked there, and we never saw any unicorns. Besides, there was some­thing in the eyes of the adults—a bit of glee, perhaps—that made them seem less than convinced of their own story.

The question of unicorns, of course, was never a serious one. But I was told other things—things that, even to the adults, were clearly not meant to be far-fetched. These stories were not so easily dispelled, for many people believed them. And I used to wonder, what was required for me to believe?

I was raised in a strict Christian home where religion was a daily mat­ter of serious concern. I was brought up to believe that Christ was my personal Savior. This belief was of extreme importance to me as a child, because I was told that in order to be saved from eternal damnation, all I had to do was to believe in Jesus.

Well, I certainly did not want to be damned for eternity, so I was very motivated to believe what I had been told. But there was something enigmatic about the proposition. I wasn’t sure just what it was I was supposed to do—that is, will myself to do. What was my responsibility? If belief was, as it seemed to be, a moral question, what was I to be held accountable for? As it was presented to me it seemed rather easy. “Just believe,” I was told, “and you’ll be saved.” Just believe—but what could this possibly mean? Surely not just to say that I believed.

The incident that brought this matter to a head occurred when I dis­covered that my church frowned on the idea of evolution. I had, by the age of twelve, become convinced through my readings that the theory of evolution explained clearly how life occurred and developed on this planet. Suddenly, I discovered that my belief regarding evolution was in direct conflict with my religious instruction. I was in a quandary, for I did not wish to be damned, yet I could not choose to believe as my church would have me believe. I didn’t know what to do.

I knew, I was to be honest with myself (and I was taught, and believed in, the importance of being honest), that deep down I truly did not believe. To believe in creationism, I would have had to dismiss other things from my mind that I already knew (believed, really) and understood as valid. I was not at liberty to simply start believing any notion that others happened to declare was true, correct, proper or necessary. In other words, I was powerless to make myself believe what I—or others—would want me to believe.

Steve Hagen has been a student of Buddhist thought and practice since 1967. He was ordained by Dainin Katagiri Roshi in 1979. He has studied with teachers in the U.S., Asia, and Europe, and in 1989 received Dharma transmission (the endorsement to teach) from Katagiri Roshi. Hagen founded Dharma Field Zen Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1997. He is the author of four books, including the best-selling Buddhism Plain and Simple.

Price: USA $18.95

Format: 6 X 9 Paperback

ISBN: 9781591811800

Excerpted from the book Why the World Doesn’t Seem to Make Sense ©2012 by Steve Hagen. Published with permission of Sentient Publications http://www.sentientpublications.com


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