Tuesday, June 9, 2015


First, let’s make it clear what we mean by the word ‘belief’.

A belief is a mental construct together with an emotional acceptance that something exists or is true where the matter believed is one without proof. In many cases, no proof of the truth or otherwise of the matter believed is possible. Ordinarily, that which is believed is in the nature of something that is hoped for or expected or simply promised by others.

All that I have just said is certainly the case with almost all religious beliefs---where rigorous proof is impossible---but I am not restricting myself to only religious beliefs. Many other types of beliefs are incapable of proof, such as beliefs based purely on racial, cultural, political, tribal and nationalistic grounds. Etymologically, the word ‘believe’ means to hold dear, valuable, or satisfactory’ and ‘to approve of’. Yes, we tend to believe that which we hold dear and value, and that of which we approve. Funny, that. It’s so very true, isn’t it?

Now, there is nothing wrong with affirmations and convictions that are supported by and grounded in facts that are sufficiently probative to support the affirmation or conviction in question, but to believe something without proof … now that is downright silly and even dangerous!

Yes, beliefs are bad things. Very bad things. Here’s why:

1.    Beliefs divide and separate people. They never unite. More than any other thing (eg race, skin colour, ethnicity, nationality) beliefs create deep divisions and separate people one from the other, creating conflict and antagonism in their wake. Catholics are separated from Baptists. Muslims are separated from Jews and Buddhists. Communists are separated from believers in capitalism. With separation and division comes conflict, turmoil, strife and fear (itself the foundation of belief). Beliefs can never unite because one person or group of persons believes one thing, and another person or group of persons some other thing. We can never be one family of humanity while there are different belief-systems that divide us so hopelessly.

2.  Beliefs prevent knowledge and understanding. We believe when we don’t know or understand something. If we know something to be true there is no need to believe it. So, the important thing for us is to know and understand, and when we do not know something it is inappropriate to accept it on faith.

3.    Beliefs fetter and cage the mind. Beliefs, by their very nature, take the form of second or third-hand prejudices, or biases, of various kinds. Beliefs stifle original thought and critical thinking. They prevent freedom of thought and encourage mental laziness. Beliefs, being largely impervious to reason and facts, are a form of collective thinking and conditioning, and in such a conditioned state of mind, there is no ability to think freely. Eventually, even the desire to think freely is lost. Any 'true' (ha!) believer is constantly exhorted by those in authority to believe more deeply and fully, to have more faith. The result? You build a bigger cage---or prison---for your brain and thus for yourself.

4.   Beliefs make us sick—spiritually sick, and perhaps in other ways as well. Since every belief is some other person or group’s collective thinking and conditioning, when we believe we take onboard that other person or group’s thinking and conditioning. This is a pernicious form of mind control. The result? An infected mind. Beliefs are almost always based on fear---for example, fear of loneliness and isolation, fear of emptiness and insecurity, fear of existential annihilation, or fear of eternal damnation.

5.    Beliefs lock us into the past. Beliefs are conditioning, and conditioning is a product of the past. Beliefs are also the result of memory. They are inherently reactionary, as are the narrative and worldview created by beliefs. There is a happening or an occurrence, and belief immediately sets to work to formulate our reaction to that happening or occurrence. When we take on a belief system, we cease to be choicelessly aware of life as it unfolds from one moment to the next. We remain locked into the past, and other people’s ways of thinking.

6.   Beliefs distort our understanding of reality. When we believe something about some aspect of reality, a thought covering or veil is placed between us and reality, blocking off the latter. Using a different metaphor, beliefs are like distorting lenses which filter and distort reality as it tries to pass through the lens.

‘There is hope for whoever does not know what to believe. Human belief is a combination of superstition, gullibility and mental laziness. We need not believe anything; we need to find, to see, to know.’ 

     Those words come from the American spiritual teacher Vernon Howard [pictured left]. Got that. We need to find, see, and know. And I might add to that three—understand. When you know and understand, there is absolutely no need to believe.

In my own search for truth---actually, there is no need to search for truth, for truth is all that is---I came to a point where I gave up all my beliefs. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, and it took place over time. When I gave up all beliefs—religious, political, and all the rest---I experienced a great joy and a sense of freedom that I have never experienced before. I affirm the truth of certain propositions, most of which are in the nature of self-evident truths. There is no need to believe that which is true, for that which is true is true whether or not I believe it to be true, and the truth would not become any truer if I were to believe it to be true. I now live with reason and also with what Bertrand Russell called 'liberating doubt,' and it is so much better than living with beliefs.

So, as I say, why believe?


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