Belief/Believers

For some secularists, a belief is a subjective commitment to a position or claim that is suspect because it is devoid of empirical evidence. In this view, the word “belief” is synonymous with illusion or even delusion. “Sure, I get what you’re saying,” they might say, “but that’s just a belief.” Along these lines, belief is often cast in opposition to science, as if embracing science excludes belief.

Although beliefs can be misplaced and potentially harmful, people of faith across the political spectrum defend belief as a healthy (and universal) part of human experience - and one to be celebrated, not derided. As something embraced as an assurance and healthy commitment to trust when "perfect knowledge" is unavailable, belief is experienced as a kind of evidence by many believers (see Williams, 2000).

If one does not believe in a religious worldview, another perspective asserts that human beings must put their trust in something - even if it is science and reason. In this view, those who maintain that all beliefs are illusions are simply blind to their own guiding beliefs. In this sense “believer” includes everyone - with the main difference being not whether people believe, but what exactly it is they place their belief and trust in.

QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:

-Think of something you believe in to the extent that the word “belief” is an insult, because you simply know it to be true. Was there a time before you believed that thing? If there was, what would happen if you went back in time and talked to the person who didn’t believe it? If there never was a time when you didn’t believe in that thing, imagine a you from an alternate universe who never believed it. How would you be different if you didn’t believe in that thing? Would you still be you?

-Think of someone you know who believes something you think is ridiculous. Maybe it’s a conspiracy theory, or a religious tenet, or a belief that beliefs are ridiculous. Ask that person to explain to you what it is they believe, and hear them out. Really listen to them this time. What can you learn about their belief that you didn’t know before?

-Choose a belief you hold. Now think about where it came from. What is it based on? What is its story? Now ask someone else about the story of a belief they hold. What can you learn by thinking about what led to different beliefs?

Conversation Catalysts: 

Richard N. Williams 2000 Faith, Reason, Knowledge, and Truth

Contributors: 

Cynthia Kurtz, Jacob Hess

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