By Alex Chapunoff, LMHC, TIRF
There is a big problem in the world today, and history indicates it has been causing trouble for thousands of years.
Check out any history book and you immediately notice the conflictual role political and religious beliefs have played and still play. Hence, the saying, “Never discuss politics or religion with friends.” If you want to stay friends.
But are beliefs really the problem? After all, we all have them and one of the core tenets of our country is that everyone has a right to freedom of belief. Whether our beliefs upset us or help us feel good, we may often be strongly attached to them and consider them important.
The problem, in a sense, is not our beliefs but our approach to them. We often give them a lot of credit, perhaps even thinking they are true. We tend to be so sure they are right.
This is a problem, insomuch as a belief is something you do not have certainty about, by definition. That is why it is a belief. If you had certainty about it (or evidence of it), you wouldn’t need to believe it, you would know it.
It is more fitting to be humble about our beliefs. Uncertain.
You. Do. Not. Know.
That’s what constitutes a belief.
It may happen that a belief is proven to be true. Then it’s no longer a belief. But until that moment, you just don’t know so it’s still a belief.
Belief is faith, speculation. It sounds good. It seems right. It makes sense to us. We think it is likely true or should be true. Usually, we want it to be so.
It’s okay to have beliefs. I know I have them. We all have them. It’s part of being human. Just be aware of the difference between beliefs and facts. Between faith and knowledge. Faith is about the unknown, knowledge is about the known.
You know something when you have direct perception of it. When you have perceived it with one or more of your five senses.
If I say “I went to the beach last night,” you may believe I really went or you may believe I really didn’t. Either way, you don’t know. But if you had run into me at the beach last night, you would know it as a fact. No need for belief.
The history of the world tells us there has often been violence and hurt surrounding beliefs. Spreading, enforcing, protecting, eliminating, changing, silencing, judging beliefs. To this day, bar fights, crimes of passion, crusades, wars and genocides are waged over the idea that a certain belief is “true” and another “false.”
All this anger, fear and conflict come from not knowing. Not knowing is scary. It’s uncertain. It’s the Unknown. It’s a frustrating place to be. But only if you’re against not knowing. Or if you think there’s no difference between believing and knowing and so feel your beliefs “should” or “must” be true.
There is another possibility: It’s okay. With beliefs, you’re not supposed to know, anyway. Once you realize beliefs are not about truth, they are a lot less threatening and there is much less pressure. Others can have the same, different or even contrary beliefs as you, and it’s fine because, either way, they’re all beliefs. You can even change your own beliefs as you learn new things and grow, so that the you of tomorrow might disagree with the you of today.
Beliefs are not the problem, and never have been. Taking them too seriously is the problem.
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