Paradoxical Intention and Why Unbelief Should Lead to Spirituality

hands holding the sun at dawnHere’s my Sunday thought. According to Wikipedia, “In psychotherapy, paradoxical intention is the deliberate practice of a neurotic habit or thought, undertaken to identify and remove it.” Founded by the German psychologist Viktor Frankl, the idea is that if you’re suffering from insomnia, rather than trying to sleep, which will most likely backfire, you should try to stay awake as long as possible. In trying not to sleep, you’ll naturally tire yourself out, and the body’s the sleep mechanism will automatically kick in with no further effort. Trying to sleep is like trying to forget: it’s indistinguishable from remembering.

If we believe that there’s no afterlife, it’s reasonable for a philosophy of nihilism to follow. Believing that it doesn’t matter what we do, it’s then reasonable for a life of hedonism to follow. As we inevitably fear the impending termination of our being, it’s reasonable to try to distract our senses with entertainment, sensations, and stimulants. But if all this is in response to a meaningless life, does it succeed in adding meaning, or, like trying to sleep in response to insomnia, does it exacerbate the problem?

Dr. Frankl demonstrates that when it comes to solving psychological challenges, our intuitions are often wrong. What if, in response to concluding that there is no God, instead of rebelling against the idea of God, we tried to become as godlike as possible?

For the vast majority of human history and cultures, the idea of deity played a central role in every day life, because while people lied, it was believe that God could not be deceived. Beneath pragmatic social contracts was an underlying contract between individuals and a transcendent ideology. For every action, word, and possibly even thought, individuals would be held accountable. And how could such accountability not improve individuals and societies? Anyone who’s tried to transform their body through exercise or healthy eating knows self-destructive temptations are a real thing, and accountability is crucial. One needs a friend, a deadline, or a beach party by which to gauge his salvation or damnation.

But if one honestly doesn’t believe in God, how can one feel accountable for his actions? Perhaps the French philosopher Voltaire had the answer: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” I interpret this to mean that, when we see God as an ideal to strive for, the question of whether or not God actually exists is, at least in some ways, irrelevant. To allude back to the fitness metaphor, while it would be nice to see pictures of ripped muscle men for inspiration, whether they actually exist or are Photoshopped illusions should have no bearing on the progress of one’s bodybuilding.

If we believe that there’s no God to overlook the affairs of humanity, then we must become the gods, because the world desperately needs goodness, love, knowledge, power, and principle. Ironically, atheism really shouldn’t lead to hedonism but a more astute sense of purpose, accountability, and even spirituality, because with atheism should come a realization that everything depends on us.

Far from deluding one’s mind with dogma, it is my belief that everyone should choose to believe in the principles of God because of the inherent value in so doing. And who knows, one might actually discover God in the process.

2 thoughts on “Paradoxical Intention and Why Unbelief Should Lead to Spirituality

  1. The logical extrapolation of your philosophy is that goodness, love, knowledge, and power are independent of the existence of God. In your previous post, you equate faith in God with acting, presumably to embrace these same principles. So, if an atheist acts to advance his or her goodness, love, knowledge, and power, is he or she acting in faith?

    If so, could we call it faith in good, rather than faith in God, since the atheist lacks belief in God? To put it another way, who is your real god, God, or the principles of God?

    1. Yes. The principles. I reject the idea that good is good because God wills it. God is good because God wills good. The latter concept justifies faith. The former does not. Believing that there is a God, I know nothing whatsoever of his nature and personality except by extrapolating him from the principles he’s supposed to embody. Thus, while I don’t reject the idea of a literal or tangible God, as far as we’re able to exercise faith in such a being, I believe he is synonymous with his principles.

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