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Friday, September 25, 2009

The Nature of Belief

What do you believe? Why do you believe that? What is the fundamental nature of belief?

Is a belief a perception of the five senses or is it a perception of emotional feeling? Is it better to say "I sense" and/or "I feel"? Is it better to say " I know" than "I believe"? Is belief based on experience or on a idea? My thinking is that belief/believing is a very missed used word.
- Anonymous

These are BIG questions with several facets...

Language: Before we can get down to true thoughts and feelings, we have to deal with language. We may call it "English," but we don't speak the same language. We have regional differences and cultural differences as well as personal differences. In addition, our language is changing rapidly. We may agree on words like "door" and "walk," but words like "belief" and "God" call up different images for each of us.

Some words are "trigger" words. "Liar" is certainly a trigger word for many people. It creates an emotional reaction that is way beyond the literal meaning of the word. I once discovered to my dismay that the word "scapegoat" is that kind of trigger word for a few people. It is very easy to use someone else's trigger word in a completely innocent way, as I did, and then be accused of making a racial, religious, gender, or personal slur.

Getting back to "belief," when one is having a deep one-on-one conversation, it is worthwhile to create a mutual working definition of the key terms of the conversation, such as "belief." In public speaking or writing, sometimes it is important to state one's own definition of key terms, as I do in my book Simply An Inspired Life.

On a day-to-day basis, however, just be clear with yourself about what you mean in conversations with others and especially with yourself.

In everyday conversation, I seldom attempt to be truly precise in my speaking. Like most people, I say "It's a beautiful day." and "The cheesecake is terrible." and "He shouldn't talk to her like that." I KNOW those are merely my opinions, but it's impractical to label everything I say as being my opinion. Everything I and everyone else ever says or thinks is merely an opinion, whether it regards the nature of God or the state of the cheesecake.

So how do we form our opinions? Our opinions (or our beliefs, feelings, prejudices, or knowledge, if you prefer) come from only two sources, our genetics and our history. "Prejudice" is another trigger word, but it describes an often-valid practice. Our ancestors wouldn't have survived without prejudice. If I watched my father being eaten by a lion, I become prejudiced against all lions. Perhaps the next lion would be friendly, but ... NO, of course I don't think religious, racial, or similar prejudices are acceptable, but I do understand that they are based on instinctive generalizations.

Whether we say "It is my opinion," "I believe," "I feel," "I sense," "I know," or just state something as if it were a fact (such as "The cheesecake is terrible."), we are speaking about our perception of the world as we relate to it, and cannot with any validity imagine how others perceive their worlds. Moreover, I contend that it is presumptuous for us to think we know how others SHOULD perceive their worlds.

Further reading: Suggestions for Reading Daily Inspiration - Daily Quote

Meddling - 5 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Offering Helpful Advice

Friedrich Nietzsche: There are no facts, only interpretations

Perspectives on the Nature of God - Which of these Five Views Matches Yours?

Oscar Wilde quote: Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.

3 comments:

  1. An excellent book, "The Race Myth" written by Joseph Graves, who is an evolutionary biologist shows that race is a man-made concept. Regardless where an individual is born, or the shade of their skin, the fact remains that only one species exist - homo sapien, which is the human race. Going beyond to opinions and beliefs; are just that: opinions and beliefs. Regardless of what any person believes is responsible for the existence of their being; the fact of their existence is based on "current knowledge of genetics and evolution." This knowledge may change in the future; but currently it is the prevailing understanding or explanation. Beyond that, are clones and test-tube babies. One could argue about the essence of their existence, but I'm not ging to judge or try to explain such phenomena. Some things are better left untouched. The miracle of Life, like Einstein says, is a miracle. I'd prefer to remain humble and let a greater intelligence remain the miracle, without man-made projections, I believe that it is be what it is.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I appreciate this article more than you know. I am a Humanist, but I strongly believe in many of Jesus' (as a human being) teachings and other Biblical precepts as vital, in order for society to work. It should be clear to everyone, for example, that society will not work if we lie, cheat, steal, covet, etc. It is also clear the society will not work if we do not love, help, and provide for one another. Accordingly, I live a very humble and modest life, giving of my time, energies, efforts, and the money I can to those in need. Yet, I have often been accosted by fundamentalists, who ask me if I know Jesus as my savior - and this has occurred through strangers, in department stores,and even grocery stores. That behavior is wholly rude and certainly not evidence of acceptance, love, or tolerance. If anything, these encounters are oppressive and persecuting, the very behavior, which caused the first settlers here to flee their homelands and make the hazardous ocean voyage to escape to this raw country, to start a new life with their own beliefs and to be left alone. This oppressive behavior has caused me to avoid religious types, and that includes my oldest friends and best of over 50 years. Many of the fundamentalists I know have come over the years to develop cult-like behavior, in which the only things they read, watch, listen to, or discuss are Biblical things. Some rarely deal in reality any more, refusing even to discuss or acknowledge personal health problems. They have bought into greed, which is cloaked in the churches as "prosperity theology" and which I believe Jesus would have abhorred. Some have accepted "the law of attraction" as a Biblical premise, which it is not. I see pop psychology, greed, and "performances" offered by many so-called preachers as similar to "feel good" conferences given by Tony Robbins, instead of preaching the Word and convicting people of sin, allowing them to leave their church meetings with ideas as to how to become better people. 2 Timothy said that there will come a day when men will no longer endure sound doctrine. I think that day is here. THANK GOODNESS, I can still get daily reminders as to how to live decently and kindly in this world from you. Even a Humanist like I am would feel very lonely without your daily e-mails and other articles. Thank you very, very much for the work you do and for not having given in to the desire for greed as a diet to feed your readers. Hopefully, that will be heard over the widespread clamor for more and more money and things among so many of today's Christians".

    ReplyDelete
  3. To the writer of the "I am a Humanist" comment just above: Thank You! I really appreciate your thoughts and your willingness to share them. I highly recommend others read and contemplate what you write.

    ReplyDelete

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