Reflections on the Nature of Belief

Article last modified on 23 May 2011
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This has been appearing over and over in my field of awareness, in all kinds of forms, so I’m going to take it as a nudge to write about it. For the purpose of this essay, I am defining “belief” as a thought that you think over and over again, investing emotional, mental, and spiritual energy into the thought, until the pattern becomes a habit so ingrained that it’s part of the structure of your worldview framework, and therefore your reality.

More and more, I am coming to see that, most of the time, “I believe” essentially boils down to “I don’t know, but I reckon,” or “I don’t know, but I’ve been told,” or “I don’t know, but I hope” or “I don’t know, but [some other expression of justification]“.

Occasionally, beliefs are grounded in what appears to be “experience”, i.e., “I believe that all cats are aloof because I’ve never known a cat that wasn’t,” or “I believe that my sports team is superior to your sports team because they’re winning,” or similar. In cases like this, these beliefs are conclusions drawn on insufficient evidence (and often an unwillingness to look beyond what you already think you know).

Generally, the “I don’t know, but I reckon” sort of “belief”, it’s just wishful thinking. It’s what your ego-self wants to be true. Sometimes, this is referred to as “faith” if it’s got certain contexts. Or, sometimes, it’s just something that managed to get into your system, possibly by having been taught it, and which you have never bothered to examine, or maybe never even recognised at all. It still ultimately comes down to “I don’t know, but I’m clinging fiercely to this idea, anyway”.

In the latter case, it’s a classic error in logic and reasoning. And example might be “I am in Scotland. I see white sheep. Therefore, Scottish sheep are white.” When, in fact, there are many other possibilities, including the idea that every other sheep in Scotland (other than the ones you can see) are some colour other than white, or that the sheep you can see are only white on the side you’re looking at, among many other options, some more likely than others. In other words, it’s a conclusion drawn on too little evidence, without considering other possibilities.

In the case of a sport team being “better” than another, there are many, many factors involved in determining “better” or “worse”, and many variations and definitions involved. The belief that your team is “better” is pure value judgement. This is similar to the belief that this political party is inherently superior, or that race is inherently inferior, and so forth. Pure context, pure judgement, frequently based on insufficient or skewed supporting information.

You can choose to adopt beliefs, at will, although most people do it without conscious thought. Most people do this day in and day out, without ever questioning it. Religious, political, social, in all ways.

Some beliefs are stronger and deeper than others (I’ve never been able to shake my belief in gravity, or that fire is hot, just to mention two rather obvious ones that are profoundly ingrained in the human experience). Some beliefs easier to recognise and release, some are more difficult. Some are considered sacred or cherished or are so interwoven into our “identity” (i.e., that ego-created self image, the story about who we are and what we’re like) that to forsake them may seem unthinkable and, for some, even blasphemous.

It’s also probably worth noting that simply holding beliefs counter to the mainstream doesn’t mean someone has really considered any of them or chosen them consciously. It’s very possible to adopt “alternative” beliefs, even to be raised with them, and to cling to them as tenaciously as any other kind of belief, without ever having examined them, questioned them, or otherwise considered why they’re present at all.

Now, before you say, “But I believe a lot of things that are based on experience!” I would argue that if you have experiential knowledge of something, no belief (faith) is required. I could say, “I believe yellow is an unflattering colour on me,” but I don’t have to believe it. I can just put something yellow near my face and see and experience it firsthand. No belief, no faith necessary (though memory could come into play here, I suppose). I can say, “I believe I hate liver,” but, again, that’s not a belief, it’s experiential knowledge.

Another thing to keep in mind is that disbelief is still belief, just with a different orientation. If someone professes that they “don’t believe in” this or that, what does that mean? In most cases it means, “I’m against it,” or it means “I believe in something which opposes this”. The belief in Thing P is exactly the same shape, energetically and emotionally, as active disbelief in (opposition to) Thing P which is the same as belief in Thing M, which is a counter or opposite or resistance to Thing P. Belief is belief, no matter the orientation or flavour of it.

Now, this point may be controversial, but (in my current assessment and from my current point of view and experience) there is no instance of belief/faith which is based on experiential knowledge, not even mystical experiences. If you know something, you know it, and you don’t need to believe or disbelieve it. about seeing auras (because you can see them) or about divine healing (because it has happened to you) or about dreams that come to pass (because you’ve had them), then you know about these things because of experience, not faith.

These days, I appear to have very few actual beliefs, though I suspect there are a few still lurking around (I don’t worry; they will be found, exposed to the light of Awareness, and dissolved). In fact, I find now that I can’t even really parse a phrase like “I don’t believe in Thing X”. What don’t you believe? Which aspect of Thing X do you disbelieve? What does it even mean to believe or not believe “in” Thing X (or anything else). And while we’re at it, who is this “I” of whom you speak?

Beliefs are that which shape our experience of reality. There are those who perceive that our beliefs are that which actually cause or direct the manifestations of reality which we experience. I am one who perceives this, and I have direct experiential knowledge of the adage that if you change your beliefs you change your reality. I can’t say that I believe this, because, well, it’s just what I’ve perceived from that which I’ve experienced. No belief required…

I will say that I have tried to use the word “believe” much more carefully than I once did. Now, I try to reserve it for things like, “I believe…. I’ll have a piece of cake.” Now there’s a reality manifestation I think most people can support. ;-)

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