This post continues the progression of the last three, and derives from comments left by a fellow blogger, SaraJoyM. Relatively new to this game, she blogs about philosophy and ethics and touches on similar themes as those explored here in recent times. In her commentary, and in a nice piece on her own site, she explores the upside of belief. Her take on this subject awakens me to a wrinkle that I hadn’t considered: belief brings benefits.

That set me thinking. The recent series of essays isn’t the first time I’ve trashed belief as unreliable and hazardous for society and individuals. One of my posts earlier this year was even titled, “The Danger of Belief.” I stand by my position that fixed beliefs (especially those about metaphysical topics) get us in trouble. On the personal level they provide precarious support for happiness. On the cultural level they lead to warfare and persecution. Bad news, certainly, but as in all things there remain positive aspects, which I will now explore.

13 Comments to
Contradiction: Get Used To It

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  1. Uninformed appeals to quantum mechanics are so often the last bastion of the failed religious or quasi-religious argument.

    There is a a difference between “illogical” and “counter-intuitive”. Quantum mechanics is rigidly, mathematically logical and holds no analog to human belief systems.

    • Isaac–

      Since my first post-graduate degree was in biophysics, I’m not as uninformed as you suppose. I stand by my statements, with the proviso that a blog post is necessarily brief and can’t explore subtleties. Yes, quantum mechanics is densely mathematical and so obeys rigid logic in its formulation. But it also destroys the quotidian form of Boolean logic, not only with the wave-particle duality but also in its implications about uncertainty. We cannot treat the subatomic world in the same simplistic, ‘yes-no’ way we habitually treat the macroscopic one, which I believe was one reason Schrodinger described his famous cat. You suggest that appealing to quantum mysteries is the ‘last bastion’ of mysticism. Perhaps. But refusing to consider that what’s true at the subatomic base of material reality might have important implications for macroscopic life shows a fixated rigidity of just the sort I’m describing in these arguments.

      –Will

  2. Couple of things… First, BAZZZINGA! “the mere holding of a metaphysical belief does not cause trouble. The difficulties arise when a person or group believes the God concept requires vigorous defense against alternate viewpoints.” Second addressing the perception that there is a “downside” to belief. It is our JUDGEMENT of anything in our existence that screws us up –not belief. (I’ll elaborate in my new post currently developing: Cells in the Body of God…) Very encouraging to see this topic discussed in the light you presented. It feels good to make a human connection based on Truth, which trumps all belief. When you know this, there is no downside to belief. Belief is a tool honed by Faith. One can weld a tool righteously or recklessly.

  3. SaraJoyM–

    Good to converse with you, too. I wonder, however, wouldn’t you consider a judgment a subspecies of belief?

    –Will

  4. No. I do not consider judgement a subspecies of belief as these are entirely different forces. The power of belief depends on one’s faith to believe it. Judging a belief limits its potential to evolve, crippling it, for better or worse. Judgement is unique to human experience. No other species passes judgement or sits so comfortably in self-righteousness save humanity. Other life forms do not require to be tested with the responsibility of judgement. Life just IS. Existence just IS. Animals and plants do not judge their condition; they live it, in the moment. Humanity must strive for discernment and resist judgement; a subtle but profound difference. Making that call is our cross to bear… our spiritual responsibility, and the price we pay for freewill.

    • SaraJoyM–

      That’s an interesting take on the topic, but I still think judgment falls into the realm of belief. For instance, belief that one religion is good and another bad. Or belief that one person’s faith is admirable and the other’s despicable. Judgement always requires that we think we understand (i.e., hold beliefs) when most of the time when we judge we don’t see the full picture, just part of it. Discernment is exactly the function of resisting easy conclusions, and expanding one’s perspective to take in more subtle fields of knowing, beyond simplistic and Boolean beliefs. I agree, life just IS. Most religious beliefs are used to make sense of our experience. They don’t capture reality, but sketch parts of it with a certain poetic license. Judgments, in this context, aren’t used to make sense of experience, but to make sense of belief systems. They are, perhaps, meta beliefs: beliefs about beliefs. I agree, however, that among species of belief, judgment is especially likely to get people into trouble. Thanks for the comment.

      –Will

  5. Hi

    I agree that the problem with beliefs arise when they engender a need in the believer to be defend them. I think it is a function of the binary nature of truth, or at least the common perception of truth in that way.

    I was thinking that maybe the way to square the circle is to talk of ‘values’. Maybe it is easier to recognise that one another’s values can legitimately differ from each other than to recognise the legitimacy of an opposing belief.

    I’m interested to see SaraJoyM raise the question of judgement. She makes that point that this is what screws us up. If that’s right, then I don’t think that defeats the usefulness of values.

    If your judgement of my value is unyielding, the it is the judgement rather than the value that causes the problem.

    • Martin–

      I like the shift in emphasis from beliefs to values. I suspect that although beliefs vary widely among people, values vary less. Sure, some people and cultures value material goods where others value spiritual wisdom, and some value individuality where others value community. But at heart most people would find laudable the values of love, generosity, compassion, etc. If we focused on these core values and ignored the details of belief systems, we’d be able to get along better with more people.

      I wonder, however, about the idea that we can tolerate differences in values more easily than differences in belief. For instance, we currently see great tension between those who want to ‘think globally’ and forestall climate change, and those who want to promote individual profit and pleasure. Or those who value helping the needy versus those who value of cutting taxes. Perhaps these aren’t true values, but beliefs about how to implement deeper value systems (for instance compassion and thrift in this last example). There is much to explore here.

      Thanks for the comment.

      –Will

  6. Anxious to reply but I have a head cold… my thoughts are outside myself right now swimming is a pool of mucus. TMI? Probably. Get back to this soon. A very engaging and timely discussion.

    • SaraJoyM–
      You’re right that religion is established politically. Unfortunately, despite this and lacking alternatives, many people turn to religion to satisfy spiritual hunger. So even though the founding of religion is not based on genuine mystical realization, the institution serves as the de facto source of spirituality for the masses. It’s also the case that in early phases of personal growth religion can be helpful, despite its shortcomings. I certainly have no fondness for organized religion and its excesses, but like everything else, it has redeeming qualities.
      –Will

  7. Religion is a political institution, not a spiritual endeavor. It always has been, since Constantine created the Holy Roman Church to subdue the Christians. Having beliefs does not limit one, or a people, to the throws of judgement. One can believe, for example, that judgement is wrong for the greater good and withhold judgement as part of a belief system. It’s difficult for us to imagine such a life when we are surrounded by self righteousness in our culture. Even just to ponder judgement indicates we are at its mercy. The best we can do is attempt to withhold judgement. It seems arrogant to think we can determine what is in the greater good for all when we cannot demonstrate good in our own lives. There is no right or wrong, good or bad. Each moment is a matter of discernment. Judgement is a condition of individualism, and individualism is a fairly new concept in human evolution.

  8. I get behind every word of your previous comment, with the exception of “unfortunately”. The discourse we participate in via blogs, tweets and other social media is creating a rebirth of thought. Religion and/or belief systems are being influenced in an unprecedented way using technology to bridge a space/time continuum, so to speak. Myself, I am fond of religion and its metamorphic nature. Differentiating between someone’s culture and an organized religion is an important distinction. Really, we’re actually talking about Christianity. Only Christianity has morphed into countless factions; it lacks culture. Catholicism has the most significant cultural components of all Christian religions, imprinted on Latin American and European cultures. The second most significant Christian culture is Mormonism. Religion is fascinating to me from a sociological and metaphysical perspective. There are no good or bad religions. Religions are made of groups of people. Change is the only certainty we have in life, and change we will.

    • SaraJoyM–

      You’re right, ‘unfortunately’ was the wrong word. I don’t believe it’s unfortunate that people turn to religion; rather, it’s too bad that so many of the leaders of religious institutions operate from political rather than spiritual motives, and yet people still turn to them for spiritual guidance. As a result in the USA we see important sociopolitical decisions get derailed by ‘Christian’ values that are anything but Christian. On the other hand, most people within most religions have sound ethics and genuinely seek contact with the greater spirits of life.

      It is not true, however, that only Christianity suffers from said flaws. Islam gets heavily bashed, so I hesitate to mention it in this context, but it is another obvious example of a tradition rife with factions and fanaticism. One could argue that within Israel there is a similar problem with sectarianism and oppression of those with contrary beliefs. We are talking here of a basic human flaw, not a uniquely Christian one.

      –Will

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