Much has been written about believers, the minds of believers, True Believers, the problems of beliefs, and beliefs themselves. Not much seems to be available about actual nonbelievers or the cognitive experience of not believing or trying to not believe.
I find it interesting that many philosophies, teaching methods, and even religions such as Taoism and Buddhism, begin with values of not believing, then degenerate into belief(s) themselves. Ironically, what little is written about nonbelief tends to devolve into some sort of belief.
The reasons and circumstances behind the degeneration of intelligence into belief seem to derive from an antinomy of both common and intricate causes. Most involve the two-dimensional aspects of belief thinking (i.e., thinking in dichotomies of right/wrong, good/evil, them/us, god exists/god doesn’t exist, etc.) which, in turn, make the mind easily controlled by belief. After all, mind control is the nature of belief. Then there is expedience. Belief seems to be easy-thinking for those who are too busy to think. People will kill and die to take the thinking shortcut of belief rather than do even the simplest of thinking exercises.
Though it may appear incredible, the people considered the most intelligent in history and science seem to have used belief to relax and close their minds once they came to believe they had found “the answers.”
But this is not about believers. This is about nonbelievers. One reason there does not seem to be a fair share of writing about nonbelievers may be that there are not very many nonbelievers. Nonbelievers appear to be neither nihilists nor atheists because individuals in those categories are, in essence, believers in nothingness and no gods respectively. Some atheists do appear to be nonbelievers, but believing in nonexistence is still belief. Indeed, there may not really be any nonbelievers, at least not in the absolute sense. So let us say we are talking about people who try not to allow their mind to be controlled by belief, any belief. This difficult description may be another reason there do not appear to be very many nonbelievers.
I have only known a few people whom I would identify as nonbelievers and, in retrospect, they may be the most special people I have ever known. Certainly they are the most aware, empathic and insightful people I have ever known, if not the most intelligent, for, in my own dealings with the human species, I define intelligence as awareness, empathic ability, and creative insight. Most humans, on the other hand, seem to define intelligence for humans much the way I define intelligence for dogs, by how quickly they learn to follow the rules and do tricks within the parameters of the rules.
The nonbeliever usually knows the rules (derived from beliefs) but only follows them well enough to get along while s/he constantly seeks different and more desirable perspectives. The nonbeliever seems to be able to transcend belief in order to view the world from multilateral perspectives.
The nonbeliever may find it difficult to perform in vocations that require two-dimensional perspectives. For example, a nonbeliever might find it difficult to function adequately as a judge, an infantry soldier, or a politician because those vocations tend to demand the right vs. wrong, two-dimensional thinking of belief in order for an individual to perform adequately. Yet nonbelievers could be quite adept as legal theorists, creative military commanders, or royal rulers. Therein lie some of the problems and possibilities for the intelligent nonbeliever.
One historical example of a royal ruler who may have transcended belief was Philip of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great. I’m certainly not an aficionado, but from what I’ve read it seems that it was Philip, not Alexander, who was the real genius. Philip created, by the hair of his chin through political and military maneuvering, the dynasty from which Alexander would launch his world conquest. Philip then set the empire up for Alexander to inherit. Philip had the insight to have Alexander educated by Aristotle, the brightest teacher of the age. Philip was the creator of the “phalanx,” a tactical military system which became the standard of warfare for both Grecian and Roman Legions for centuries afterward, and the system which Alexander used to conquer the world. It was Philip who, at the battle of Chaeronea, designed the very strategy that made Alexander a star.
Philip did all of these things by breaking with conventional beliefs and using creative insight. Alexander was very bright, but most of his accomplishments came from his egocentric willingness to use men and energy through force in order to get what he wanted. Alexander was called ‘Great’ because he took the biggest chunk of land to date. If he was a genius then so was Adolf Hitler. Both Adolf and Alex believed they were blessed by gods. Philip seemed to have no such belief blocking his thinking. He sensed his days were numbered and had the insight to make sure his son would be king.
The nonbeliever tends to be rational even about life’s crap, and tries to retain the ability to think multilaterally in the midst of it.
Another nonbeliever that I knew personally was also a soldier (but not an infantryman) with whom I served in the Army. He was an Okie from a dirt poor family. His nickname was Flys because he reminded us of the philosophical character in Dick Tracy Comics that always had flies buzzing around his head. Flys had a genuine knack for seeing through the facades of people and into the real motives behind their words and behaviors.
Flys was pragmatic in that he joined the Army and our military intelligence outfit (oxymoron aside) because it was two steps up from his low socioeconomic background. One of the first clues to Flys’ intelligence was that, considering his background, he had no Okie accent. Another clue was his sense of humor, which was priceless. The greatest evidence of his intelligence was his almost psychic ability to induce and deduce probable behaviors. He could do this not only about the enemy Viet Cong’s activity, but about the behaviors of our own leadership and commanders.
It was amazing to see how Flys understood the misunderstandings and stupid assumptions of both sides in tactical situations as well as his ability to predict occurrences such as the Tet Offensive. As the rest of the entire US military seemed to be in some massive state of denial, Flys transcended the beliefs and simply took into account things such as the strange behavior of bar whores, the local laundry not taking our dirty clothes because they didn’t think we would live to pay for washing them, our own gathered intelligence (which was ignored by superiors), and the apparent disappearance of our house boys (they cleaned our living quarters called “hooches” and some were later found dead as VC insurgents). In hindsight, the evidence was obvious. Yet when minds are blocked by belief, evidence can be hidden in plain sight from everyone except a nonbeliever.
Nonbelievers seem to possess the awareness to distinguish when people’s words and behaviors are incongruent. They recognize that “truth” is relative to each individual’s meanings and that people’s meanings tend to be connected to their actions and interests.
Flys’ only apparent mental weakness was women. It wasn’t that he didn’t know when they were going to use him and hurt him, but it was like he said: “Hormones will be hormones and when mine moan, I just can’t say no.”
But Flys was never mean or vengeful to people who hurt him or threatened him, and several did. Flys often used the magic word that makes the brain of an authoritarian or bully turn to jelly because he believes they he knows what is “right.” The magic word is, of course, “why.”
One of the greatest misconceptions (contrived beliefs) of believers is that nonbelievers are automatically and naturally evil and thus do cruel things.
First of all, no people in history have committed as many horrible, cruel acts as religious believers. Christians must be the all-time leaders in atrocities.
Secondly, the profile of people called psychotic or criminally insane is characteristically the existence of twisted beliefs dwelling in their minds which they actualize into cruel behaviors.
Thirdly, very often the perpetrators of cruelty are both psychotic and religious. The two seem to go hand in hand.
Fourthly, and most importantly, nonbelievers tend to develop a natural empathetic compassion from understanding the perspectives of other entities. That is: when you don’t believe you must think, and when you think you begin to imagine what it must be like to be in the position of other people and creatures. Once the nonbeliever begins to imagine him/herself in the existence of other entities, cruelty becomes less likely.
Indeed, I have never known a nonbeliever to be intentionally cruel unless forced into a defensive situation or involved in a situation where the cruelty of another was emotionally overwhelming. Nonbelievers will often be curmudgeons and cynical but seldom try to force or insidiously manipulate others to their points of view.
I have known nonbelievers who sometimes became so compassionate with empathy that they tended to be consumed with the plight of others. I don’t mean Mother Teresa or believers like her who seem to lack genuine compassion but rather seem obsessed with their beliefs to the point that they often do more to cause harm than they do to actually relieve suffering.
A friend of mine is a nonbeliever who also seems psychic in an empathic way. She could even be called an eideteker, which is a person who can actualize the point of view and feelings of others. Sometimes she has feelings that have no explanation other than that she is experiencing what another is feeling. She claims that until she unlearned believing as a habit and understood the role that compassion takes as one thinks in multilateral perspectives, she thought she was having hallucinations or mind-reading.
She still feels the genuine compassion from the perspectives of others, but she can recognize the feelings as those belonging to others and not make them as much her own or believe they are supernatural. She recognizes the phenomenon as empathic insight rather than telepathy.
The mind of the nonbeliever is free from the bonds and boundaries of dogma, but like a marvelous wild animal who escapes its cage, it must realize why it wants to be free and remember where it came from so it won’t be captured again.
The newly-born mind free from belief seems a wonderment to the self and others. The freedom of the nonbeliever’s mind is best preserved by steering clear of situations that may cause desperation. Desperation is a state of mind which tends to make people seek and cling to gods and external forces that require belief thinking and demand submission.
Another dangerous phenomenon seems to occur after the natural evolvement of empathic understanding. Probably because of the compassion which empathic understanding exudes, people may be lured into some form of humanistic belief. Some New-Age beliefs exist as examples of various forms of humanistic belief. Humanism usually appears rational until it becomes blind belief. When that happens, humanist believers tend to step on those who do not believe just as other believers would.
Being rational as habitual behavior can, in itself, very well be taken to the point of belief, which often appears irrational. At one time it was considered rational to believe that the earth was flat. Einstein’s initial dogmatic denial about extra dimensions seemed rational to him, and he was embarrassed about that belief later. Acute awareness and insight which occur in the mind of the nonbeliever may lead the mind into rational beliefs. Scientific beliefs, political beliefs, and the belief that one is an intellectual visionary with all the answers are some of the examples of rational beliefs. When one views it from a certain perspective, the term “rational belief” may be seen as an oxymoron.
The nonbeliever must remember that belief is belief, and whether it is the belief in an invisible god or that two plus two equals four, belief still has the same characteristics: two-dimensional thinking (i.e., right or wrong, them or us, good or evil), blocking contradicting and controversial possibilities out of the mind, dogmatic premises and prejudicial decisions, assimilation and affirmation biases, as well as other critical thinking-errors.
Be aware, two plus two seems to equal four in elementary math but not in nature. (In nature two rabbits + two rabbits generally equals more than four rabbits, and in quantum math who knows?) Truth itself seems to exist only within the meanings of each individual. Belief seems to affect those meanings. The nature of belief itself is to control the mind. (“Belief itself” defined as: A firm habit of trust in a concept, fact, or person. To have hope and faith by trusting with or without some quality or quantity of proof and questioning. To conform to a fact. A revered and/or excessively followed concept, fact or person.)
Belief itself is neither bad nor good, but by its nature and definition, belief seeks to control thinking.
In summary: The nonbeliever seems to think differently than most people. That capability can allow the nonbeliever to excel in many ways and many endeavors. Thinking differently than the majority can also be dangerous to the nonbeliever in a world controlled by believers.
Learning to unlearn the habit of believing safely, even as the nonbeliever becomes intellectually superior, seems to be a delicate art.