A while ago I wrote a post about Harmful Opinions (which you can find here). It was about going off half-cocked without knowing the whole story, and it concentrated on family and personal relationships. Misunderstanding results, bad choices are made, and people’s feelings are hurt.
This is true enough, but recently I’ve come to realize that taking the opinions of others as your own beliefs can have much more serious consequences.
Opinions Feed Us
Many things in life start as opinions. That’s okay, because that’s how we come to understand the world. But problems can begin when opinions solidify into beliefs, which become convictions—even certainty—without a shred of proof. Then we have the seeds of bigotry, hatred, and fear, which we have fought over, and even gone to war over, many, many times.
Our beliefs lock us into tunnel realities, usually without realizing they have done so. “Of course I’m right, and the other guy is wrong.” And so we might ask, what are the dangers of beliefs?
- After a while, it’s very hard to admit we might be wrong, so it’s easier to double-down on what we’ve chosen to believe, rather than change it.
- To hold a strong belief means having to defend it, even to ourselves, and sometimes at any cost, so we don’t have to admit we’re wrong.
- Our beliefs divide us from those who hold opposing opinions. Here, “divide” is a mild word. The North and South were divided about slavery, which started the American Civil War. Many more examples could be cited. Sunni vs. Shia. Jews vs. Muslims. (Shalom vs. salaam. C’mon, really?)
- Our opinions keep us captive. We are not free to get outside the boxes our beliefs put us in.
- Strong beliefs can often lead to hatred of those holding opposing views. We fear what we don’t understand. We fear what is different. Too often, hatred is not far behind.
- Our beliefs can prevent us from attaining true understanding and wisdom in many areas of life.
It is common now to feel we have to defend our beliefs against all comers, even from those who leave us alone. Indeed, we often want to press, or even force, our beliefs on others. The early Catholic Church started this, as they spared no effort to stamp out heresy at all costs, and force everyone to believe their party line. Communist regimes were no different during the last century. There’s even a special word for this intolerance: Proselytizing. It means trying to convince—or force, in the extreme—others to believe what we want them to. Advertising is a mild version of it. Religious, ethnic and political persecution are extreme versions.
A Few Examples
Here’s one example: I believe Indiana exists. I’ve been there, and I’m sure it’s still there now. I believe Antarctica exists, too, although I’ve never been there. But these sorts of things aren’t what I’m talking about, although they get close when we’re talking about what sorts of things exist, and what sorts don’t. I’ll come back to that idea below. For now though, let’s look at some other examples.
- Gossip, rumor, and innuendo. We hear something juicy and don’t bother to confirm it. We believe it and pass it on. This used to happen over the back fence or at a luncheon, say. Now it happens on Facebook and Twitter 24/7. Romantic comedies couldn’t do without this sort of thing.
- Marketing! Billions and billions of dollars are spent every year to make us believe we want or need some product or service. No need to belabor this one.
- American politics. In our country it’s the Republicans vs. the Democrats. Before President Obama was elected, there was actual compromise between the two parties. Now there is virtually none, and the cause is plain old racial bigotry, which has become a national shame. The recent uproars over the Confederate flag and police shootings are only the latest examples.
- The media. We want our beliefs constantly reinforced, so we listen to those “in the know” to tell us. The Fox “News” channel is the foremost example of blatant lying a recent poll has shown, but all the media—especially those outlets owned by big business (which is nearly all of them)—are guilty of shading or omitting the truth.
- Science. Here, most of us don’t know what to believe, so we side with various “experts,” who may be people who know the truth of things, or may just be people who are repeating what they heard from other “experts.” The most glaring, and consequential example is the fact that the universe isn’t really expanding. Edwin Hubble, who was first responsible for this idea in 1929, later in 1942 said he was wrong, and admitted the universe wasn’t expanding after all. But by then it was too late, for all the astronomers, etc. had run with the idea and refused to change their minds. Nearly everybody believed it. But this means there was no Big Bang, and there is no physical evolution of the universe as we are all taught now. Nearly everyone, even the “experts,” are wrong. (For more information on this startling news see The Static Universe by Hilton Ratcliffe.)
- Religion, Examples here are too well-known and too numerous to mention. One sect believes everyone not belonging to that sect will go to Hell. Note that the existence of Hell is another opinion-become-belief for many Fundamentalists.
- Evolution vs. Creationism. We’re still fighting this one in State Houses and school classrooms and textbooks. On the one hand, there is not one shred of unequivocal evidence that Darwinian evolution is real, and on the other hand, Archbishop Ussher’s idea in the seventeenth century that the universe was created in 4004 bce is untenable today. Or at least it should be, were the beliefs of so many not so certain. (Look at how our media pushes the evolution side of this one! As if there were no alternatives.)
- The gloss of simplicity. We’re sure that very complex ideas are really very simple—especially in politics, but this is a dangerous belief. The term “sound bite” goes along with short attention spans, and leads to snap decisions: We adopt or are pushed into beliefs without proof, and all too often, without understanding.
- World view. This last one is more subtle, but underlies everything else. What exists, and what doesn’t? What is possible in the world and in our lives, and what isn’t? This covers everything from the existence of “God” to physical, mental, and emotional self-healing and self-image. Our beliefs—often unexamined and accepted without proof—limit our ideas about what may be possible for us.
Why We Have Beliefs
- A seemingly coherent set of beliefs puts us in a group with all the other people who have them. Now we belong to something. We’re not left out. Now we’re important—and our group has a name and an image we can identify with.
- By belonging to something the emptiness of life is a little—or a lot—less. At least for a while.
- Some beliefs seem to make life easier. They give vent to our pains, our lacks and fears, and the seeming unfairness of life. Whether they really do make life easier in the end is not so clear.
- In our lives, we may have never been exposed to any alternative ideas, although this is harder in the Internet age. Remember, though, the map is not the territory. There are roads that aren’t on any map.
- Peer pressure. If all your friends believe something, you have to have a very good reason not to believe it, too.
- Actual physical pressure. “Adopt our beliefs, or else.”
- Programming by parents, teachers, religious and governmental authorities, media advertising and propaganda. We are constantly bombarded by opinion programming.
- Beliefs may be formed by seeming economic necessity. “I can’t afford to quit my job. How would I pay my bills?” Beliefs can easily preclude other, better possibilities.
- Opinions are hard to get rid of. Think of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. They’re pretty sticky.
Regarding beliefs and habits, you must ask yourself, “Who benefits from them?” Idris Shah in The Sufis said this:
It is not the rules or the precedents, it is what people make of them. If a rule becomes a way of self-deception, it is not a rule, but a shackle. Habits are no use unless the person with the habit is such as to benefit from it, and to benefit others with it. More often we have merely servile imitation grafted onto undesirable inwardness.
First-Hand Knowledge Is the Alternative to Belief
There are two types of knowledge. There is first-hand knowledge and second-hand knowledge. The latter is subject to opinion and belief; you don’t know for sure, so you have to guess or make a choice, which often depends on how others before you have decided. Here is where a guess can turn to certainty or conviction—without real proof.
The other kind of knowledge comes first-hand. It is something you have experienced, lived through. Here no belief is involved. The experience is its own proof. You may choose to believe certain things about it to gain greater understanding, but this always comes later. No one can gainsay your experience.
So an alternative to a raft of perhaps burdensome beliefs, or at least constricting ones, might be to seek direct experiences in certain areas that interest you. No, I’m not talking about base jumping, drug taking, or bank robbing just for a novel experience. I’m talking specifically about discovering what exists and what doesn’t exist, what is important in your life and what isn’t, and how you run your life henceforth based on what you learn from your experiences.
Of course, you will need a completely trustworthy source from which to gain such knowledge and understanding. Where might you find it? Books? On the TV? Your buddies? A guru? No, because again these are all methods of second-hand knowledge.
It turns out that your own inner guidance is the only reliable way to obtain first-hand knowledge. The problem is how to access that inner wisdom? Fortunately, this is a problem with a solution.
What We Can Do About Our Beliefs
To understand this problem, it might be best to repeat the words in the graphic:
Opinions feed you, so choose your food wisely, lest you get sick and not even know it.
Finding out what you actually believe isn’t always easy. One give-away is that beliefs are always about the past or the future. You adopted some belief in the past, and still believe it. This is often something about what may or may not happen to you in the future. You worry and sometimes obsess about this. You make choices based on it. You seek others who share the same belief, and shun those who do not.
The problem with all this is, you are barred from the present moment. You are hooked to some idea, fear, conviction, and so on which you’re not ready or able to let go of, and it keeps pulling you backwards or forwards into it. But really, you have several choices about these things:
- You can continue with your belief. But then nothing will change. This only applies to people who are not ready to change their lives—but these people are not my audience.
- You can change your belief to a different one. This sometimes happens. Republicans become Democrats; Protestants convert to Catholicism. But this just switches one set of beliefs for the other-nother.
- You can withhold or suspend your belief pending more information. Maybe you’ll just throw it out because you see it no longer serves you.
It is only this third way that frees you for the possibilities of the present moment.
Opinions that have become beliefs have tremendous power, but this is the power to control you, to “force” you to follow someone else’s instructions, fears, orders, desires, whims and prejudices.
We have gone to war over opinions that turned into beliefs. American involvement in the Middle East is the chief case in point these days.
If you want to become free for other possibilities in life—possibilities you may not even imagine exist—you will have to sacrifice some or all of your beliefs. You will have to fight back against all those who fight for your attention and your choices, for your time, your money, and your life.
You must be willing to adopt the attitude that more in life—and more of a better life—might become available to you. Assistance might be at hand from quarters you never knew existed.
Assistance from the Few
If you’re at all familiar with my writings, you already know about the existence of the Few—a group of spiritual-level beings who are desperately trying to reestablish communication with us humans. I have variously described them as
- Conspirators for the greater good
- Colluders of joy and comfort
- Dancers of delight
- A co-op of contingency disrupters
- An alliance of awakeners
- A league of levity
- Hierophants for half-understanders
- Recruiters of ridiculous feasibility
- Purveyors of whimsical possibilities
- Lords and Ladies of Wisdom
Perhaps this gives you some idea of who they are.
If you nullify your past/future beliefs, you may come into conscious contact with these beings in the present moment, and seek their help. It is possible to align with them and gain their assistance. By so doing, they may arrange events in the Universe for your benefit.
(One great esoteric secret: All you need do is sincerely desire to come in contact with them by your actions. If you do this, they will subtly contact you, so you must be alert for the many forms this contact will take.)
If your alignment is successful, you may eventually become their Companion and Agent, and play the game of life at a much higher level—a level that isn’t run by your current ego-mind. This can—and does, if rarely—happen spontaneously, but there are definite practices you can do that make the process easier and more sure.
Next time I’ll talk about some of these practices. In the meantime, practice on your own by observing your thoughts and emotions as they occur, if you can. Don’t relive past events; just observe them as if through a camera lens. Do you know the why of them, or are you just acting from habit? Observing yourself is extremely important in identifying your beliefs, and deciding whether or not to keep them.
Living a life without so many convictions and certainties opens many doors.