Beliefs are one of the most fascinating, and some would say, the most significant component of the ideas that a human being holds. It wouldn’t be wrong to say, there is always some emotional connection to any idea that forms a part of the beliefs of any human being. When a wife believes her husband to be loyal to her, she has an emotional investment in the belief and the person it is about. When a father believes his son to be honest and hardworking at his work, there is another kind of emotional attachment to the believed idea; a sense of pride and confidence that those other than the father simply cannot have. When someone is convinced of the love of God toward him or the hate of God toward another, yes, there is a strong emotional power behind such a belief too. Beliefs should ideally have a foundation in reality, but we so well know, there are beliefs that keep standing for years and even beyond the lifetimes of entire generations of similar believers.
Why are beliefs important?
Even before one takes up the question of which beliefs are important to someone personally, it is worthwhile to recognize the importance of beliefs in themselves. It is not about what you believe and what you don’t believe, but that there is a human need to believe. When a person loses all belief or some belief very important to himself, it fundamentally changes the mind. It hurts and injures the mind. Maybe it causes the start of a renewal! It changes behaviors and even the spirit within man. Beliefs are not merely existing in the realm of ideas, but also in the emotions and in places deeper than where it is possible for words and examinations to delve into.
One would say, it is better to keep one’s belief safe in a private place. Beliefs are not to be shared, but one should simply live as one believes. The power of the belief and its expression would itself provide the evidence of its existence, and of its legitimacy.
As has happened throughout human history, no belief has remained secret forever. A belief is a cause, and it never fails to have an effect. Belief is the underlying mechanism that keeps ideas working. Even if a belief is confined to a single individual human, within that person his belief is having an effect. If for instance, there is a hope within this individual that no matter how bad things get it will eventually turn out alright for himself and other deserving humans, this hope will have a positive effect. It will alleviate anxieties regarding the future. On the other hand, if one hopes to cause evil to innocent ones, the restlessness will eventually consume the veneer of calmness. A time will come when it will spread beyond this individual and affect others.
A belief is a cause, and it never fails to have an effect. Belief is the underlying mechanism that keeps ideas working.
Beliefs are very important. It isn’t always that we believe because the evidence was given to us. There are also situations and achievements we prove because we first believed in their possibility. This is where choice and decision manifest themselves as uniquely human abilities. These can be a reason for great arrogance, but it is better that these abilities be a reason for satisfaction. The creative ability of God himself is seen at work when, a man or a group of men out of their belief give actual form to a perceivable, tangible reality. Is it not amazing – the transformation of a belief into something that our spiritual and physical senses can perceive? It lets us understand, that humans interact with reality at various levels.
Responding to the beliefs of others
Humans live in communities and in societies. This is natural, as it is necessary. Our needs cannot be met in isolation. When even two people or a few can come together, the needs of each one are met better.
The future unity of any community or a society basically depends upon 2 things – shared objectives and common beliefs. From a community as small as a family to as large as a nation, the objectives and beliefs continue coexisting in a certain balance. It is important to remember this: objectives and beliefs are coexisting in a balance. This is what keeps a society together in a dynamic, structured interplay.
Objectives keep people together, even when beliefs are pulling them apart.
Human beings are inclined to keep a mutually tolerant existence if, the compulsion produced by objectives forces them into such a situation. In other words, this is a compromise. As long as the needs of the community or group are simple, it is easier to align the objectives. This happens even at the level of a family. The most basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter have kept people together out of a sense of meeting those necessities. As the group grows and things like competition, self-interest, and ambition start to play a role, objectives cease to be defined in the most simple terms as they used to be. People can even lose sight of what is really important to them; the importance of their wants seem to exceed the value of their needs. When this happens, there is also an adjoining lack of patience that unbalances the thinking. People, then, are willing to do what they wouldn’t even consider if they had the advantage of a calm reconsideration.
So, already, a difference in beliefs has started to make inroads into human relations. Each individual is capable of holding his own beliefs. With a sufficiency of courage, the ability to be independent, a concern about the future and the desire to exercise one’s rights, the balance starts to shift toward beliefs from objectives in a society of individuals. It is quite unreasonable to expect humans, once they are aware of the possibilities and have the energy to reach out to fulfill them, to remain dormant forever. Yes, it is quite reminiscent of the human desire to fly. The possibility of a man being able to fly became a reality in the mind of man when he saw a bird take off and fly away. “Why can’t I?”, asked the man, and relentlessly stayed in pursuit. Had birds not existed, perhaps men would never even have thought of a concept like flying.
Human defiance is stirred more strongly when he sees a multitude of naysayers telling him that something cannot be done. It is a response of the human spirit, the individual that is seeking to express himself. When people are divided by beliefs, objectives succeed in holding them together both, at a basic but also a more superficial level. There isn’t a real depth of relationship among the people when they continue to be connected only through common needs, but do not share a strong confidence in their common beliefs.
It can be said, one can see the decline of society even when it has gone far beyond just meeting the needs of its members and actually has achieved a state of material prosperity; however, the members are not joined together to fulfill the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs. This should fundamentally help us to understand the nature of what a human being is. If a human being was simply a physical creature like other animals, meeting the physical needs would suffice. However, we find it to be the case that humans have complex needs arising out of their nature – mental, emotional, and spiritual. The success of society and its longevity will depend upon maintaining a correct understanding of what human beings fundamentally are!
There are times when intangible objectives need to be remembered and given a place in one’s beliefs. An excessive bent toward materialism will do harm to society and its individual members. Peace, kindness, hope, happiness, and love – even though these are intangible – are the very attributes that combine objectives with beliefs. Not just in terms of possessing these as objectives and beliefs, but when real believers form a society, the energy it possesses is able to overcome many seemingly insurmountable problems.
The fault of living life as a skeptic or just as an observer
We are in search of a belief that can make a believer out of everyone, are we not? We are perhaps convinced of certain things, and see those as valid reasons for everyone to believe as we do. It becomes a cause for surprise and disappointment, when, despite all the favorable conditions and evidence we find there are ones who will not believe as we do.
Now imagine a person who has been absolutely convinced, and has spent his life practicing and proclaiming what he has believed. There are examples of such from matters as small as which color better suits a garment to which soldier in a battle died for the right cause. Convictions are needed to turn a belief into a meaningful action. It is also true that beliefs held for a long time start to appear as convictions to oneself, and at times, to others too. The time when beliefs prove less than worthy of absolute conviction is a time of great disappointment. People have been known to find disappointment both, in God and in men.
There are those who, to avoid disappointment or due to seemingly have become wiser by it, turn cynical. If there is somehow the quality of kindness left after great disappointment, a person becomes a distant observer; helping where it is possible, but always keeping a safe distance from becoming engrossed with a belief, even a set of beliefs. Now, it might seem like less than a useful way to live, but smoldering beliefs could find the conditions to rekindle and burn as bright as they ever did in the past.
Even cynicism and distanced minds of observers can be awakened, if there is just the reason to believe. People naturally want to believe, and they want to believe that something better is yet to be found in the future.
The nature of reality itself seems to be such, that if one has the ability to look at all the many different facets of existing reality, then beyond a level of ability to maintain equilibrium, a sense of disbelief and doubt naturally arises. This disbelief and doubt melt away when one limits himself to the physical world only. Gravity works in India as it does it China, or as it works in Mexico. It gives a sense of peace because there is no room for doubt or even for a surprise. On the other hand, when one talks of cultures and behaviors produced from beliefs, the differences branch out in several different directions. Would it not be wiser to simply accept the fact, it is is not possible to have the same certainty in matters of beliefs about ideas as it is for physical matters?
The challenge regarding beliefs in our time
Never before in human history has there been a re-examination of existing beliefs AND the expression of the results one arrives upon. The desire for certainty does not seem to exist in all persons in the same way, but for some, it becomes an obsession. Not everyone develops the mind that is content with keeping a level of uncertainty regarding past beliefs, or about how those beliefs will have an effect on individuals and societies. A problem often emerges when someone seeks to change the nature of some general belief to make it more specific and certain than warranted by reason. For example, if one speaks of a belief in peace, it cannot be made into a specific failure to punish a wilful, unrepentant wrongdoer.
There have been beliefs regarding politics, religion, the economy, society, law etc. which haven’t led to the expected results. When those results don’t come about, it is then that a person awakens to the need to re-examine his beliefs. We would like to believe that, there are among us such individuals who really do know what to believe and what to do about it. What we find instead is, people continue to pretend with an air of certainty, even when they are themselves in doubt. This projection of a confident self is of great worth, but in the end, any such person is only carrying on a pretense. It is the need of the objective – the objective keep the peace, perhaps – that keeps beliefs from becoming the all-important occupation.
A society which has members in infinite concern over beliefs has possibly these conditions:
- Where the members have reached a level of satisfaction, they can engage in a deep examination of beliefs.
- Or, where the members have reached a level of dissatisfaction, they must urgently find solutions through their beliefs.
- And finally, where the members have come to the end of their patience, but the beliefs have not yielded anticipated results; the hopes and expectations have not been met.
We have in today’s world, all these 3 criteria met, depending on where one finds himself. Even in the same society, there is enough inequality to cause some members to be enjoying plenty while others are suffering from material want. What all this reveals is the flaws in human beings themselves. While humans resist change, humans also keep hoping for something better. This hope could be for communal betterment, or it could be purely selfish. Nonetheless, this capacity for hope continues to linger under the surface of individual and social existence. A time finally comes when frustrations emerge in society and threaten to shake all or most of its members.
It might be altogether naive to hope for peace – continuation of patience, if not an active pursuit of good relations – during such times of turmoil. One can look at Catalonia as an example, or the case of Brexit. People are willing to secede and take big risks rather than continue the way things have been. Why? In one word – hope! Despite having the arrangements to address the objectives, dissatisfaction has grown to the point when people have felt compelled at the individual level to reconsider their beliefs, and also the reasons for their beliefs. At the other extreme are those, who have simply lost the strength to care anymore.
Conclusion regarding beliefs
It is not humanly possible to not have beliefs as a response. The very words we use as tools of thought and expression are the language we had to learn from those around us. Contained in each word and sets of words is the potential for a belief. Waterfall, forest, sky, sun, friend, enemy, brick, rice, sparrow – does not each word convey an idea, and even a specific belief connected with that idea? For example, we expect the sparrow to fly, but we don’t expect it from a brick. We think of rice as food, but not the sky.
The only beliefs we can have as original are the result of inspiration, or from a revelation. These are the only two ways. Everything else falls under deduction, inference, observation etc. The kind of information that has come from beyond the mind and heart of humans would obviously be a special knowledge. The beliefs it creates would be beyond human thinking. For this reason, we have to consider God, Devil, angels, aliens as sources of such information. It cannot all have emerged from the human mind. Even if it did, how did it find fellow believers who adhere to these beliefs even at great cost to themselves? What makes a belief or set of beliefs expand from one human mind, and spread to a society? What causes specific beliefs to prove to be true despite the greatest opposition to them? These are important questions, and we have not conclusively answered them…yet.