“Beliefs matter”. Sure, most of us believe some version of that sentence. We all know that people with bizarre beliefs may do bizarre or dangerous things. Bad self-images (beliefs) can do us horrible harm. And if you believe the wrong thing about lots of things from car engines to medicine, you can also harm both yourself and others.
But the sentence, “beliefs matter”, is certainly not equally true for all things at all times. For instance, I am sure that if I have the wrong beliefs about Harry Potter that it wouldn’t matter unless I write about Harry Potter for a living or some such thing. I feel the same way about most religious beliefs — since they are often contrived, parochial, made-up or worse, why should I care about getting my beliefs about them correct? Well, maybe when dealing with these folks it would help to understand their beliefs accurately.
Some religions put “right belief” as a core principle in their qualifications for belonging, if not for eternal salvation. I have coined this religious phenomena as “Beliefism”. “Beliefism” it is not a dictionary word but should be. But as I search the web, I see others have coined it too — I am not sure how they use it and don’t care because it doesn’t even appear on google ngram yet. You get my point.
Beliefism is powerful and useful, thus it evolved as one of religion’s many tricks. Many versions of Christianity have components of Beliefism — let’s call that “Beliefianty”. Beliefiantiy is harmful and destructive and should be fought. But Christianity is not the only one that uses Beliefianty — we see it clearly in many flavors of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and more.
Many Christians — especially religious ‘professionals’ and religious bloggers spend a lot of time polishing up their theology – primping their beliefs so as to be the best-looking, right-headed believer out there. Other Christians, my favorite Christians, belief in the primacy of practice over belief and are not exclusivists — they try to focus on inclusive action instead of damning doctrines. These are some of my favorite Christians. Now do these Christians still inadvertently reinforce Beliefianity or practice it unconsciously — I think they often do. But more on that later.
So, do beliefs matter? Well, it depends on what beliefs we are talking about, who has them, when they use them and how they use them. I also convinced that our common-sense notions of belief are largely self-deceptive — but more on that in my next post.