Bursting Beliefs

We often argue with people imagining that their whole belief system is simply like a big hot air balloon (left image). We visualize their entire faith crashing if we make one small puncture in their naive thin vacuous balloon. We can almost hear the hissing of the leak as their hot air rushing out as they crash toward the ground.

But people’s beliefs aren’t built like that. Instead, our beliefs cluster together and support each other. The picture on the right is probably a better model of how to think about our belief systems. One or even several balloons could pop and we would still be floating.

I have tried to visually capture that idea in other posts too.  The picture to the left is visualizing “God” in a modular fashion. That series of posts shows how even if one of the component-Gods shrinks, the others compensate to keep the “God” intact (albeit altered a bit).

The picture on the right is from my post which illustrates compartmentalized beliefs.  This model shows our beliefs as connected but isolatable parts of a submarine.  The submarine (our belief system) is designed so that if it has a small attack or accident, it can isolate the damage and survive.

Question to Readers: Do these images help? What images do you use?

HT:  Inspired by Devin at Veil of Deceit — thanks.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

9 responses to “Bursting Beliefs

  1. In a series of videos detailing his deconversion story, youtube user Evid3nc3 uses beautiful graphics and music to illustrate his ideas.

  2. This is an excellent point about beliefs. I’ve observed it in myself, and I have been frustrated when seeing it in other people, like during a religious debate.

    I would even go one step further in simile to say that the beliefs we strongly hold are like living organisms. For one, they can change and grow and adapt. For another, and more in line with what you are discussing in this post, facts contrary to our deepest beliefs are treated like wounds in a body. They may bleed a little, or a lot, but most of the time the wounds heal, and often with no trace but a tiny scar while the rest of the body is fully intact. It often takes massive hemorrhaging, life changing events, to truly kill off a deeply held belief.

  3. Leaving the church a couple years ago punctured the first small holes in the religion section of my You-boat. Of course, at the time I thought the religion/Christianity section of the boat was by far the largest compartment – if not the only one – so I was surprised when I didn’t begin to sink.

    As I continued on my way throughout the ocean of Life, I began to realize that the religion section wasn’t really that big after all and I could function just fine without it. In fact, when I finally decided to get rid of it altogether, I realized that it had actually been filled with water my whole life and that the holes had somehow been allowing water out, not in!

    After I realized this, I pulled into dry dock, let out the rest of the water and sealed the holes. Now I’m thinking of converting the empty space into a study… (How’s that for taking a metaphor too far?)

  4. DoOrDoNot

    I once wrote a post called “Jenga” where I described the crumbling of my faith as a collapsing Jenga tower. That’s how I think of beliefs. Some beliefs are more foundational and support other beliefs. When enough of these have been jarred, collapse of a world view is possible. Many beliefs, however, can be removed without affecting the overall belief system. Usually, it does take a significant event to jar a belief out of place. Our brain seems to function by trying to maintain the status quo.

  5. Some years ago I created a diagram that addresses this issue, at least tangentially. I would share but it is a pdf file and I’m not sure how to upload it or link it.

    (PS — until my blog is “fixed,” you can rest assured that I will respond to all your comments, always within 8 hours of posting and usually much less)

  6. @ Justin:
    I watched the evid3nce video called “A Life Guided by Evidence”. Much of it is good but I have some objections too. I will try to post them in the future. But I thought you directed me there because he discusses my points — but he doesn’t, as far as I can tell. Is there a particular video you thought I should watch. (He does a great job on his videos)

    @ The Wise Fool:
    Thanks. I like the “Organic Organism” analogy — that is perfect.

    @ MichaelB:
    I think a lot of folks are surprised when their boats did not sink. Mind you, I lost a girlfriend and all my guy friends too. But I moved cities after, so that actually helped.
    Loved the “dry dock” analogy

    @ DoOrDoNot:
    Welcome. Fantastic metaphor to the “Jenga” tower. Indeed our brain, like the rest of our body, strives to maintain homeostasis (status quo).

    @ Cris:
    Send me an e-mail with the pdf and I will see what I can do at myname@gmail.com.
    We look forward to your blog update — great stuff.

  7. @Sabio

    Fortunately I haven’t lost any friends yet, but I suppose I have to *have* friends in the first place for that to mean anything…

    My one close Xian friend has always been very moderate in his faith, so he has taken my deconversion with aplomb. Same goes for my wife.

    My parents are another story, but I’m getting off-topic here so I guess I’ll save it for my personal blog at some point.

  8. @ MichaelB
    Your upcoming stories on the deconversion sound interesting. Having moderate (perhaps more universalist) Christians in your life helps.

  9. @Sabio
    Not specifically the points or arguments he was making, but you asked about other illustrations of the god concept and compartmentalized thinking, and I know that his videos make great use of illustrations and music. It’s been a while since I saw them, but I’d start with his deconversion series here:

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