Chapter 2: What is “Belief”

Okay, so I want you to  believe there’s a reason to continue reading.  I claim that use of the word “belief” or “believe” is rather loose.

Is there a common definition of “belief” that can be applied to all of these propositions?

  • I believe the sun will rise tomorrow.
  • I believe I’ll order the chicken.
  • I believe women are equal to men.
  • I believe 2+2 = 4.
  • I believe you are writing a book about belief.
  • I believe I can make a difference in the world by walking across the country wearing a pink ribbon.
  • I believe Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God.
  • I believe our best option is to jump clear of the oncoming train… NOW!!
  • I believe evolution is true.
  • I believe the bible is true.
  • I believe you.
  • Believe me, I know the way!
  • I believe in “Crystal Light” ‘cuz I believe in me!”
  • “Believe in something better” (US Cellular ad campaign, “The Belief Project” circa 2012)
  • Then I saw her face…. Yeah, I’m a believer. “The Monkees”

It’s really very sloppy and messy to treat all of these situations with the same “B” word.  The term “belief” gets applied to situations both long and short term; verifiable and unverifiable; opinion vs. fact; real or potential; requiring immediate action, or requiring no action at all.

But perhaps most important of all, the EXPRESSION of a belief… telling others what you believe, professing your “faith”… is too often equated with what you actually DO when you “believe” something.

"Who doesn't want to wear the ribbon?"   What does Kramer believe?  What does he DO?

“Who doesn’t want to wear the ribbon?”
What does Kramer believe? What does he DO? (courtesy Seinfeld.  Fair Use)

Professions  of belief are made to affect others.  

Beliefs are acted upon by you, with the intended effect being on you and for you… i.e. getting you where you desire to be. 

I recently discovered another person sharing my obsession with belief.  Again, that is not surprising… philosophers through the ages have run this race before.  But if you’re interested in a detailed philosophical analysis and some similar musings, please see Matthew Rave’s thoughts. (I wanted to say “Ravings” but that would be an injustice.)

So which of these “ARE” beliefs?  Well, they all are, if we keep using the existing framework.   But, what if…???  What if we try to break free of those constraints and do a little art; a little jazz riff on belief?

What if we reshape what it means, and limit how freely we apply “belief”?  What would we find hiding beneath the misclassifications, and equivocations that such a reformulation reveals?  What “there” would we find there, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein?  What does it mean to “have” a belief?  What exactly is involved in “holding” a belief?   What is really meant when I say “Yes” after someone asks me, “Do you believe <insert proposition here>?”

Onward.  I’d like you to believe it’s worth it.  😉

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