THE POWER OF BELIEF

When we believe in something, it becomes truth. This is because our beliefs determine the choices we make in our lives, and our actions help shape the world we live in. This essay asks why we don't examine our beliefs critically and adopt ways of thinking that celebrate human life and dignity.

"Be careful what you believe because it's true."

Here is an amazing fact. Planets that are millions of miles away and stars that are millions of light-years away can affect human events here on earth. If you are a rational human being, you may find this difficult to believe. But it's true. Astrology is real, and it works.

Here's proof: everyday ordinary people read their horoscopes and plan their lives based on its recommendations. More than one world leader has formulated battle plans and set national policy based on advice from astrologers. Those distant celestial bodies affect human history in real ways simply because some of us believe they do.

Belief is truth. What we believe is true because we act based on our beliefs, and our actions shape the world. We make our own values. We construct the framework that our lives are built around.

Belief precedes knowledge. We learn about the world through a filter, shaping the facts to fit our pre-existing beliefs. For most of us, when new facts come to light that support our belief system, we assimilate them. When new facts call our beliefs into question, we ignore them.

Belief is powerful. What people believe is a blueprint for the kind of society they create. A society that believes humans are violent and bloodthirsty will suffer from crime and war. A society that believes in domination and control will be stratified and hierarchical. A society that believes making money is the key to happiness will be competitive and materialistic.

Power is belief. At some point in our evolution we gave up social power—the power of community—and allowed it to be seized by one person or group. This apparent usurpation is all the more startling when we realize that power is based on simple belief. By allowing ourselves to be convinced that someone else is stronger, more knowledgeable, more moral, closer to God, or just more powerful (whatever that means) than we are, we have in effect participated in our own enslavement.

Belief is irrational. Few of us examine our beliefs critically. We accept what we are taught by our parents, our teachers, our priests, our friends, the media. Since human beings seem to be largely irrational by nature, it is not surprising that we have irrational beliefs. But irrational beliefs can be positive and creative, or they can be destructive. A good example of a destructive irrational belief is the belief in God.

God is a social construct, a model for organizing society. God was invented by men to control others. Since God is perceived as a supreme being, that means all others are lesser beings. The God-model is hierarchical, and it is reflected in the structure of our society. Vertical power relationships are not the only way societies can be organized. Yet our hierarchy habit has visited untold misery and destruction on the world.

Belief entails responsibility. Because we choose our beliefs, we must be accountable for our convictions, rather than blindly accepting ideas that have been passed down to us. If we have control of our beliefs, and beliefs can shape the world, why not believe in something positive? Instead of embracing cults of sacrifice and death, why not acquire beliefs that are life affirming? Rather than adopting social models that grind us down and bleed us of dignity and self-esteem, why not choose beliefs that can bring out the best in our human nature?

Beliefs can change. Not easily, but it can happen. Beliefs change when significant events in our lives touch our hearts. Intellectual arguments rarely change beliefs.

Be careful what you believe because it's true.

May 2001

LINKS TO RELATED PAGES ON OTHER SITES

Horizontal God
A series of interesting essays that critique ideas about God and how they relate to “control, power and domination in human relationships.” Unfortunately, rationality is abandoned by article #6 when God is characterized as a benevolent participant in human affairs. But if you insist on believing in a metaphysical God, at least this approach respects human freedom and dignity.

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