Intro to Systems of Belief
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Throughout our lives we have been building a model of ourselves and the world in our mind. When we’re young, the model is loose and easily changed. As we age, experience reinforces certain beliefs and shatter others.
Some beliefs were impressed upon us as a child. If your parents were divorced and neither of them believed in love, then perhaps this is a belief that was unconsciously impressed upon you. If your parents believed in soulmates the reverse could also be true. As you age, your life will challenge some of these beliefs. If you didn’t believe in love but then fell in love with someone, for example.
Some beliefs are never challenged because there was no one around to challenge them. These are the ones that often cause us the most problems. For example, if you lived in a state that didn’t believe in allowing women to control their bodies. The belief was impressed upon you as a child and perhaps was never challenged.
However, not just anyone can challenge your view. You must have respect for the opposing perspective in order to be influenced. If there is no respect, the other perspective is very easily dismissed.
There are certain systems that exist that can help us break some of our deepest beliefs. Some spiritual traditions take on this role. However, the beliefs that they target are deeper than political beliefs — they attempt to illuminate our deepest beliefs about ourselves, our minds, and our place in the universe.
These systems vary in efficacy. Some are transparent; meaning they understand what they are doing and they know how they will go about it. Other systems have long forgotten why they are structured in their particular way, which often leads to dogma over time. Generally, most systems become increasingly dogmatic over time — just as the individuals do. The same way your model of the world becomes more rigid as you age, so has the model held by these groups or systems.
As an individual, incorrect and unconscious beliefs can cause harm. As a system, the same is true. This is beneficial to understand because it protects the individual. If the individual approaches a new system, it is beneficial to know if the system is transparent (self-aware) or opaque.
Science is generally a self-aware system. It understands that a “theory” has simply never been proven wrong. The theory of gravity, for example, may not hold up on large scales (thus the invention of the term “dark matter” in order to maintain the theory of gravity). However, a scientist (should) be aware that it’s possible that the theory of gravity does not apply on cosmic scales and it is possible that dark matter doesn’t exist. Hence it is a theory.
Catholicism, on the other hand, is more of an opaque system. While the goal is generally to faithfully live the gospel and reach salvation, there is not much room to question the existence of God or other key tenets. Nor is Catholicism (pragmatically) transparent about why belief in a deity is necessary for salvation.
The beauty of these systems are manifold. Intelligent and transparent systems help individuals break free of deeply-rooted beliefs which impede on their development and joy. Rigid and opaque systems have the potential to cause wars and genocide. It is imperative that the individual constantly questions their personal system of belief as well as the larger systems in which they take part, in order to mitigate the harm that can arise from unchallenged dogma.
This week, we’ll try to understand how we can apply this understanding of systems of thought and belief in a way that provides benefit to ourselves and others. We’ll learn how to create transparency in any given system, by pragmatic observation and careful understanding of our personal biases.
** Thanks for reading. I apologize if ever there are typos in these posts, I often type them on my phone. My goal is to foster an open community, and for that I could use your help. Feedback on my posts is very helpful. There are so many communication styles and I want to learn how to write better for this particular audience — you. And as always, your engagement is a gift. It is so meaningful for me when these posts spark interesting discussions. **