We live in a nation divided. The line in the sand is a distinction between those who live out of their beliefs/ideology as opposed to being guided by a faith philosophy of knowing through evidence and experience. Alan Watts, a great philosopher, defined believing as a preconceived notion about how the world works. This process involves wearing a well protected system of armor that originates from a pattern of prior beliefs. Although the very foundations of our society have been shaken and altered, believers cling to values present during these supposed simpler times. The believer starts out with a value that is reinforced by prior feelings, which reinforces the belief – or one might say, a belief in a belief. Often, religious thinking plays a role in solidifying unwavering convictions.
Watts contends that faith (an evidence-based philosophy of thinking) is diametrically opposed to belief. Faith is an unreserved opening to the truth wherever it may be found. This state of mind requires a need to question or let go of archaic, untenable beliefs in search of authenticity. Faith opens the door to rigorous philosophical debate, conflict, ambiguity and rational thought and experience. It calls for the courage to change one’s mind.
Those who are led by their beliefs tend to suspend rational thought. Beliefs are convictions that are often activated by emotional triggers of fear and anger that protect the insulated system of the believer. Any attempt to puncture the armor of the believer is met with reactivity and resistance. There’s no room for promoting understanding. Thinking and experience are suppressed in the hope of keeping one’s dogma and self safe from harm.
Those who use faith and reason as a measuring stick are able to let their experience be the true test of credibility. The scientific method is honored, like it has for decades, and is not viewed as a threat perpetrated by the intelligentsia.
Those who believe in beliefs, don’t trust their instincts, and therefore discount experience. For example, if I walk outside my house at this moment, I will observe a pollutant haze covering the mountains. This toxic fog is mixed with dust and it burns my eyes. No denying this reality will change my experience. It seems rather easy for me to draw conclusions from what I have observed. I believe we have increased CO2 emissions that are poisonous to the earth and are affecting me. Who created this mess? It doesn’t take me long to conclude that this is a man-made phenomenon, based on years of accumulated carbon emissions spewed forth by people. If this pattern is going on world-wide with ever-increasing climate-related extremes, including massive tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, droughts and fires, there’s something seriously amiss. I’m observing this while global scientist are telling me my instincts are correct – we have a problem of epic proportions with ice caps melting and sea levels gradually rising. What I observed to be true is validated by those who know a lot more about climate issues than I do.
However, in spite of a plethora of scientific evidence and human experience, we have the believers who refuse to acknowledge the truth. Why is this? Some are led by their archaic notion that if we see things the way we want them to be, we will maintain a sense of security. It is more comfortable for many believers to maintain the status quo, suppressing or denying the reality of what we observe in the present. Beliefs are a powerful thing when they have the strength to keep others from accepting what is logically happening in the here-and-now. Beliefs are emotionally laden convictions that often out-weight the truth of our experience.
Do things only happen if we believe they are true? What if something happens and it’s inconsistent with our beliefs? Like many men of his time, my father was a racist against African-Americans. I remember him being a big George Wallace supporter during the civil rights movement. I recall my father taking me and my brother to major league baseball games. Invariably, we would be sitting next to a black father and his kids. I was always perplexed because my dad would suspend his beliefs and live out of his ethic to be kind to other people, regardless of race or ethnicity. The tension between belief and experience (cognitive dissonance) never shifted with my father. He always struggled with it.
Does it make sense, on the basis of evidence-based faith and experience, to ban immigrants who fought in this country’s wars because of our beliefs about “illegals?” What about fighting to keep people from marrying the partners they love? How about turning the Bible into a geological textbook and fostering the beliefs of creationism? In order to reinforce beliefs over faith, a system of biased information must be fostered through propaganda. The media will disseminate information that shapes public opinion and behavior. This belief about beliefs will include:
- Using misleading information
- Simplifying complex issues and ideas
- Activating emotion
- Creating a cause
- Attacking opponents
- Targeting desired believers
Those who rely on beliefs to uphold convictions are usually low information voters. Their information comes from one source and is usually simplistic in form. They rarely deviate from a road well-traveled. Conclusions are easily reinforced by a continuous bombardment of slogans and sound-bites that resonate and are internalized. Those in power often exploit the believers, so it may not be in the believer’s best interest to comply with more arbitrary values.
Faith embracers are high information voters. They seek varying sources of information to make decisions. They’re not afraid to go down a path that is uncomfortable with their prior experience. For example, my experience tells me that gays should be afforded the same rights as heterosexuals receive, including marriage. Yet, when draft pick Michael Sam was being shown on national TV with his lover, I was uncomfortable with their affection. I was uneasy, because the experience was new to me. It’s part of my learning curve to reconcile beliefs and experience to find the truth.
We live in a country where people’s way of processing reality is based on polar perspectives. The faith-based thinkers employ an open-minded, evidence-oriented process of seeking the truth, which aligns with their understanding of experience. Faith is not a religious experience, but rather a philosophical/spiritual one that takes us out of our comfort zone into the unchartered waters of truth-seeking. We are not afraid to get dirty in our pursuit of what is. Belief-based thinking is crystallized in response to our prior experience and is not open to change. The risk of seeking alternative explanations of reality is too dangerous. Thus, believers cling to their beliefs in an effort to justify and defend them.Although our world is rapidly changing on many fronts, the tension between believers and faith explorers will continue. The question is, how high will the sea levels need to rise before believers become frightened by the truth they need to deny?