This I Believe!
By Dervaish Lashkari, MD
US

For a literary party recently, I was instructed by the hostess to arrive armed with an essay on "This I Believe". The timing of this request came, with some serendipity, right around the time when Pete Stark, a California Democrat, became the first Congressman in US history to acknowledge that he doesn't believe in God.
Stark, incidentally, is the same gentleman after whom the "Stark Law" is named. Passed by Congress in 1989 to define conflict of interest situations, most physicians have since become familiar with this law.
In a country in which 83% of the population thinks that the Bible is the literal or "inspired" word of the creator of the universe, it must have taken much political courage for Stark to say what he did. I am reminded of similar proclamations by Cicero in the 1st century BC when he likened the traditional accounts of the Greco-Roman gods to the "dreams of madmen" and to the "insane mythology of Egypt."
Now while mythology may well be where all gods do belong, it seems odd that it has taken this long for a leader to display this level of intellectual honesty since the days of the consul of ancient Rome.
Stark's admission caused me a brief yet poignant moment of pause. And some introspection. And wonderment, about how what could be mere mythology causes billions of people to claim to be certain about such things. As a result, Iron Age ideas about everything high and low — sex, cosmology, gender equality, immortal souls, the end of the world, the validity of prophecy, etc. — continue to divide our world and subvert our national discourse. Many of these ideas, by their very nature, hobble science, inflame human conflict and squander scarce resources.
So what then do I believe -- at least for the purposes of this essay -- which, as per the hostess' instructions, has to be both provocative and inspirational? Tall order this. So here goes nothing.
I believe that I'm afraid of people who start their sentences with the words "I believe".
I believe I can fly?
I believe quidquid latine dictum sit, altum sonatur. Roughly translated from the Latin, that means 'Whatever is said in Latin sounds profound.'
I believe hostesses that assign homework before their little soirée and then don't even bother to serve up appropriate libations -- that could potentially facilitate creative thought and steel frayed nerves -- should be made gently to see reason!
I believe much of what I believe is none of any one's business anyway because as Confucius said, know thyself but no telly no one!
I believe I am the father of Anna Nicole's baby.
I believe in my next life I will come back as Elle McPherson's main squeeze.
I believe the reason there are 50,000 battered women in the Philadelphia region is because... they just don't listen!
I believe that if I believe, I will cease to exist. As Rene Descartes noted 400 years ago, "I doubt, therefore I am. If I did not doubt, I would not be."
I believe that stone-age superstition and ignorance eventually gelled to become belief, faith, dogma and religion -- the harsher points of view culminating in the monotheistic variety. Of note is the sad fate of the non-believers who by virtue of not fitting into the larger herd always get their rear ends handed to them by the believers. This "survival of the staunchest" leading to the domination of the gene pool by people genetically programmed to believe. And the stronger the beliefs of the tribe, the stronger the tribe. And hence the frightened "closet liberals" who until recently could not be openly heard from and perhaps more importantly, were not expected to form collective vote-banks with other non-believers.
I believe then that doubt, which is uncertainty in the context of trust or belief, is a wonderful thing. It implies challenging notions of reality, and may even involve hesitating before taking a relevant action due to concern that one might be mistaken or at fault.
In politics, ethics and law, where very important decisions are made that often influence the course of people's lives, doubt is central, and often motivates an elaborate adversarial process to carefully sort through all the evidence before coming to a conclusion.
The scientific method, and to a degree all of science, can be said to be entirely motivated by doubt, rather than simply accepting existing theories.
In such branches of philosophy as logic, much of the exercise is to distinguish what is dubious from what is probable and what is certain. Much of il-logic, on the other hand, rests on dubious assumptions or data or conclusions, with rhetoric, whitewashing, and deception used liberally to fill in the blanks.
And as fate would have it, much of what institutionalized belief is can also be traced back to rhetoric, whitewashing and deception. So while there is no question that many people do good things in the name of their faith — there are better reasons to help the poor, feed the hungry and defend the weak than the belief that a god, imagined or real, wants you to do it. Compassion is deeper than religion. As is ecstasy. It is time then that we acknowledge that human beings can be profoundly ethical — and even spiritual — without pretending to know things they do not know.
In Lewis Carroll's "Alice Through the Looking Glass", the White Queen says, "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." I quote this in mockery of the common ability of certain people to entertain beliefs that are contrary to intelligence and fact.
This then I believe; that doubt is a good thing!
(The author is a 1989 graduate of Dow Medical College, Karachi and is currently in academic medicine in Philadelphia PA. He writes under a nom de plume and can be reached at dervaishbaba@hotmail.com)


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