Thursday, September 19, 2013

THE STUBBORNNESS OF BELIEF


When I began this blog a while back, I had two primary goals.  First, I was looking simply for an outlet to express myself regarding my beliefs, particularly concerning skepticism and religion.  Second, I wanted to explore the reasons that I arrived at those beliefs.  I felt that by writing about my beliefs and my personal journey, I would come to understand better what it is that I believe and the events that led to my adopting those beliefs.  I was also hoping that others would find reason to comment on my little essays and that those comments would help to clarify what I believed and perhaps even lead to refinements to those beliefs.  At the least, I was hopeful that the overall process would help me to be more articulate in saying what I was thinking.  My tertiary goal, if you will, was that I would have the pleasure of discussing my views with others, whether or not we were in agreement.  And, finally, I had the (perhaps fond) notion that on occasion someone would actually acknowledge that I had expressed one or more valid points.  Hmmm . . . .

So how have things gone? 
On the positive side, I feel that the simple act of putting my thoughts on public display has helped me to clarify to myself more precisely just where I stand on certain matters.  Although it may sound strange, I don’t believe that I ordinarily think in words.  Rather, I think in ideas, and, generally, I feel I am clear as to the substance of those ideas.  It is in trying to convert those thoughts into words that I struggle.  The fact that I am placing those ideas and words in the public domain where they could be read by virtually anyone has forced me to work even harder than usual to express myself clearly.  I think the challenge has been good for me.  

On the other hand, I have been surprised by how much inertia there is in the belief process.  It just becomes very difficult for our beliefs to change, especially the older we get.  This is a function of something that goes by the name of “confirmation bias.”  If you buy a new car, you are more likely afterward to continue reading positive reports about that car and to avoid reading positive reports regarding cars that you considered buying but didn’t.  No one wants to hear that they made the wrong decision.  By the same token, conservatives are more likely to watch FOX news and liberals MSNBC.  I find myself doing the same thing.  If I start reading something that is contrary to what I believe, my first tendency is simply to stop reading.  If I keep reading, I find myself hunting for arguments to refute the writer’s point of view.  I will argue that at least I am sufficiently introspective to realize what’s happening, but I can see what an uphill battle it is.  Having said that, I know that my point of view has and still does change--even at my advanced age.

Another reason why belief change is so difficult is that individuals are reluctant to  be open to new ideas out of fear of where that may lead.  I recognize that there is enormous psychological comfort in having faith in a higher power.  There may be a fear that without faith one would not be able to handle the disappointments that life deals.  We like where we are and don’t want to jeopardize the support system that faith provides, not just in terms of personal beliefs but in terms of those who share those beliefs and that are there to provide additional support.  Plus, we may be comfortable with the rationale for our current beliefs, and frankly it’s a lot of work to be open to different ideas.  In addition, changing your beliefs can mean changing how you labels yourself.  It can be a challenge to your self-image.  Again, the result can be a great deal of discomfort.  Finally, the perspective that I have been describing eliminates some of the big carrots, at least of the Christian faith--belief in a personal God who is looking out for us and belief in salvation, heaven, and eternal life.

So let me summarize as follows:
  • I recognize that others do not necessarily share my point of view.  My goal is to express myself rather than to proselytize others.
  • If I reply to a comment, it is not to convert the person making the comment over to my point of view, but to clarify how our views may differ and to explain the basis for my point of view.
  • Beliefs do not change easily or on the basis of logical arguments.  And, as I have said before, an epiphany is generally not a sudden change in belief but rather a sudden realization that one’s belief has changed, a change due to a number of factors that have influenced the person’s point of view, most likely over a long period of time. 

© 2013 John M. Phillips

4 comments:

  1. Right, again...proselytizing has no real value. Telling your experience and living honestly according to your beliefs does. I think sometimes when I have expressed my views, you may have thought I was trying to convert, it is easy to be defensive...but I am just trying to tell you how I see it. And yes, belief does not change easily! I still attend the SDA church but there are belief systems within the church I do not believe in any longer. So a attend a Sabbath school outside the church held facilities. It hasn't been an easy change but is the best change I have made in all my years as a "christian"...now I don't even like that label...I think of myself more as a follower of Christ. But the "church" offers a community of people that are wanting to live unselfish, loving lives, who reach out to others and fellowship and support and I find that a real blessing...as does my study group. So there is value outside of a set of beliefs that I don't always agree with. Much like the early Christians who were there to support each other, in simple fellowship and sharing...though we could be much more like them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa,
      I understand that you are uncomfortable with labels, and I realize that this is a blog about religious belief and skepticism, but virtually all of your comments are in support of your deep faith. And frankly some of them do not have much relevance to the essay that you are commenting on. Let's say that you are evangelizing rather than proselytizing. It is a difference in connotation. On the other hand, I believe that Christians are defined as those believing in Christ's death and resurrection for our salvation. You are surely a Christian.

      Delete
  2. Even satan has the knowledge that Jesus died for our salvation...
    Yes, your blog is about religious belief and that is where I speak from...and you are the skeptic and there is where you speak from... Since I am convinced that God is real I can only be relevant in speaking from my belief system...I guess that is why it seems like evangelizing...it's just my point of view... Maybe someone with your view will comment and then you can find confirmation in your belief system.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa,

      I wouldn't have thought that you would consider "evangelizing" to be a "dirty word." I consider it simply wishing to witness for your beliefs. I guess I would consider myself as evangelizing, at least to the extent that I do want others to know what I believe. But I also wanted to write this blog to hone my thinking.

      Harking back to my essay on the stubbornness of belief, in my responses I have tried very hard both to understand alternative points of view and to consider them. I haven't always been successful, but I have tried.

      You have told me that I am the only atheist that you know. I would think you would be most interested in following my thinking and understanding my perspective, if only because the difference from your own is so great.

      Delete