Web of Beliefs

Supporting_our_LifeThe diagram below is one I used to discuss my view of “Many Selves, No Self“.  The dots are modules of mind and the lines are the ways they interconnect and operate together.  The connected dots form a self — in this case, let’s make it a web of beliefs.  It is this web analogy that aids me in thinking about our beliefs.  The web is how we hold our lives in our hands.

Slide5Our beliefs are woven together to support our lives.  When we focus on the literal beliefs themselves, we often miss the function of the web because we forget about the complex interconnections of our beliefs, others and our environment.

For instance, it is possible to have two individuals with very different beliefs but woven in such a way that their webs are incredibly similar in function — they hold their lives together in very similar ways in spite of holding contradictory beliefs.

This is the problem with simple reductionist thinking.  It tends to look at the smallest components of a system but forgets that what makes a system work is the interconnection and interaction of all these components.

It is our web of beliefs that gives us meaning and helps us move in life.  It is not the individual beliefs themselves but the manner in which they interact with our other beliefs and our environment that give meaning.  Beliefs are clothing, they are functional and can take different forms while serving the same purpose.  Our beliefs are not as substantial as we imagine. Depending on a Christian’s web of beliefs, for instance, she may be closer to a Buddhist or even closer to some atheists than she is to her fellow Christians. We can not judge a person by their beliefs alone, we must watch how they are woven into their lives and the lives of those to whom they relate.

Now I will agree that some beliefs are almost impossible to weave well into one’s life, like: “It is good to kill others to obtain your desires”, or “Those who differ from me should be punished” or several others.  I am not pointing toward total relativism.  But I hope the reader sees the possible benefits of my limited analogy.


Filed under Cognitive Science, Consciousness, Philosophy & Religion

12 responses to “Web of Beliefs

  1. Jedi's Bane


    You and I have mapped this out physically on paper a couple times before. Like you, I tend to be a bit more visually oriented. My question to you is this: are the dots on your simple diagram arranged randomly, not given precident to location on the diagram, or is there a hierarchical order to the diagram? For instance, are the dots toward the center less important and therefore less contected to other beliefs and the periphery are ‘core’ values that have a broder implication in our lives? In your model, is it possible to hold the same value, but in different modules. And besides being interconnected, can they overlap? And would you consider this a 3D diagram, that is to say the simple diagram you use here is 2D, presumably not accounting for values that may have foundation rooted in childhood, which now have been eroded or reinforced.

    Lastly, I know that you are not a classic cultural or personal relativist. So if we are to judge (a nasty un-buddhist habit) a persons character, how better than to examine ones values, beliefs and subsequent actions. Afterall, Right Thought, Right Action…

    Peace Brother,


  2. Poison-to-Jedi
    Yes, your model modifications would be fine. A model is just a metaphor. I was using it to capture some relationships and concepts. Hopefully, you see these.
    Why do you have a need to “judge a person’s character”?
    By this model, couldn’t a person have more than one character?

  3. Jedi's Bane

    Sure, many characters. Just like you, however, I have been burnt many times by people that I have trusted to be decent and at the least, tolerable folks. Not to say that I have never betrayed one’s trust or been a bastard. But how do we trust if we can not judge? What is the measure of a person who you have not taken the time to inventory. I Love your model, I am working on my own personal version, but not many people carry these diagrams.

    I think the answer is the critical use of stereotypes. Or maybe ‘generous’ stereotypes. If we meet a Christian we have a rough idea immediately where they stand with regard to cosmology.

  4. But how do we trust if we can not judge?

    I never said “don’t judge”, I just wondered why you were trying to assume a person has ONE character. If you understood that we all have many characters you may take your time trusting others and likewise not be surprised when you find yourself untrustworthy.

  5. “Depending on a Christian’s web of beliefs, for instance, she may be closer to a Buddhist or even closer to some atheists than she is to her fellow Christians. We can not judge a person by their beliefs alone, we must watch how they are woven into their lives and the lives of those to whom they relate.”

    Absolutely. You will know them by their fruit 😉

  6. Aaron, we agree. So you seem to be a pluralist Christian, my favorite kind !

  7. Well, that depends ;-). Going back to the quote I excerpted, it depends on what one means to “judge” a person. And it depends on what we mean by judging a person by their “beliefs” vis-á-vis their “lives” (or “fruit” as Jesus put it).

    So in this respect, I would clarify that I am not as far down the spectrum as pluralism. If I am an inclusivist (which I’m presently undecided on), it would be in light of Paul’s letter to Rome, in light of things said in chapter 1. And even then, it would still be redemption through the work of Christ, although mediated indirectly through a more general revelation.

    There are credible orthodox theologians who hold this position. But I still have to do more research on this particular subject to weigh exclusivism vs. inclusivism. But for the properly orthodox Christian, these are really the only true options. Some fundamentalists would say exclusivism alone, some liberal Christians would say universalism or pluralism as well. But as far as the traditional, historic, orthodox position, it would hover between exclusivism and inclusivism (albeit not quite as you framed it in your link, but rather Romans 1 et al.).

  8. Aaron, I hope you slowly wander to at least an inclusivist position, I shall be patient. Smile. But meanwhile, I do have to say something about the word, “Orthodox”:

    Buddhism is often categorized as Northern and Southern Buddhism. The Northerners call themselves “Mahayana” (“The great path”) while they call the Southerners “Hinayana” (“the lesser path”). Obviously the Southerners are not fond of the title and call themselves “Theravada” (“the way of the elders”).

    “Orthodox” is a similar loaded term. Though I know what you mean, I think those that consider themselves “Orthodox” are all too smug in the term and do not realize that “Orthodox” is simple a measure of political victory, not truth. Mormons consider themselves orthodox, Charismatics consider themselves orthodox. And Orthodoxy stamped out their enemies early in the church history and burned their texts so as to firm up their position.

  9. “‘Orthodox’ is a similar loaded term.”

    Yes, absolutely. I usually try to temper “orthodox” with the more broad “traditional, historical, ortohdox.” One could also add “catholic” with a lower-case -c.

    The church has certainly had segments of history where it has been unfaithful to its witness (not only the medieval times you mention, but even in N.America today). But I still have a high regard for orthodoxy insofar as it is a passing down of apostolic teaching.

    But yes, loaded term on its own without explanation, absolutely =).

  10. Aaron,

    I would challenge your understanding of orthodoxy a little more. You seem to give creedance to the term based upon longevity within the Christian tradition. While this is fair, it is important that orthodoxy not be confused with normativity. Orthodoxy may be normative, but it only must be dominate. For all we know normative Christianity was Marcionite, Ebionite, or even gnostic. So when you say “unfaithful to its witness” I must ask which witness. Christianities narrative has never been monolithic. Every single “christian” theology has been challenged at some point. Even during the early days of the church there seems to have been divisions among the ranks as to whose gospel to follow. This is why there were apparent divisions between Paul and Peter and between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.

  11. Every doctrine/theology has been challenged at some point, but the Patristic age was even more robust about stamping out heresy than today.

    There were definite divisions in the earliest days, but Paul’s apostolic witness explicitly combats these, and outlines a proper regula fide, rule of faith for them to follow.

  12. The whole point of being religion-free for me is to be free to watch, think, and believe whatever I want.

    To me the issue is, whether I like it or want it. If I do, then I go ahead.

    Personally, I don’t like ghost stories or sci-phi. I just don’t enjoy the stuff, but if I did, I promise you I would read it, watch it, discuss it, and even donate money for it.

    Religions, though, step on my freedom, and that I don’t like. When people try to convert me or change the “error” of my ways, that I reject.

    I’ve even known people who wanted to convince me to use certain herbs, watch certain movies, or visit certain countries, and I didn’t like such people. Because they didn’t leave me the heck alone with my wishes and intentions.

    So to me, if you want to watch this or that movie, fine, as long as you don’t want to shove it down my throat.

    [moderator note: this comment was place accidentally on the wrong post, I have moved a copy to the correct post]

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