This I Believe!
By Dervaish Lashkari,
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org)