A definition of belief is something that we accept and believe to be true, but that is not necessarily something that can be proven to be true.
The whole realm of spirituality is fraught with conflict over endless circular arguments about beliefs and truth.
As Pontius Pilate was alleged to have said: "What is truth?".
Correct beliefs and polarised positions
In the field of religious beliefs there has been much argument, conflict and suffering over "correct" beliefs, or orthodoxy throughout history.
beliefs and core doctrines are reinforced with public declarations of
belief in credes and propositional statements of faith such as the
This is not limited to religion but applies to political beliefs and societal beliefs such as those about gender and sexuality, "woke" beliefs about social equality, beliefs to do with political correctness and so on.
Then there is the tribalism of political beliefs such as Democrats vs. Republicans in the US and Conservatives v. Labour in the UK, and the tribalism of pressure groups such as the American NRA with their staunch defence of Americans' inalienable rights to bear arms.
The tyranny of beliefs
I can recall standing in the living room at my widowed Mother's house, shortly after my Father's death, and my Mother who held deeply felt conservative Christian views shouting at me:
"Stephen, but you do belief in the Virgin Birth, the resurrection of Christ and the Holy Trinity don't you..?"
The argument raged backwards and forward, and eventually I shouted back at her:
"Mother I am a 51 year old man, I am intelligent and well educated, and knowledgeable about Christian theology and church history...I am entitled to my own opinions!!"
"But you DO believe, don't you...? She implored me.
"Mother", I said, "whether I say that I do or do not agree with these things doesn't matter...
...what does matter to me is my inner spiritual experience and at that level you and I are on common ground...
...we are divided in our heads but united in our hearts."
This incident crystallised a lifetime of dissent and division in my family over questions of faith and definition of belief, and as I looked at her anguished face and felt my anger and frustration I realised in a very personal way the tyranny of beliefs.
[The post-script to this anecdote is that a few weeks later, we made our peace and never again discussed matters of religious belief for the remaining 15 years of her life, and we enjoyed many happy times together.]
Countless millions have been killed over the past century, and genocides have been committed,
in the name of various political beliefs: the Stalinist and Maoist purges, the killing fields of Cambodia, Armenia, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and in the
southern States of the USA the appalling legacy of the lynchings by the Klu Klux Klan .
In previous centuries there has been the religious persecution by state supported majorities over non believing minorities such the persecution of the Cathars by the Catholic church and the burning of Catholics by Protestants and vice versa.
The list is endless, and in all cases:
Believing themselves to be right, clinging to their beliefs, to the point of killing to defend their view of the rightness of their position.
Let's start by asking: What actually is a belief, and what is the structure of a belief?
A useful model suggests that every belief has the same basic three-part structure and that can be stated as this:
Cause –> Effect –> Meaning
So, if THIS causes ...
Then, the effect is...
And THAT means...
So to take a simple example: I am feeling miserable and unhappy [cause] I have a few beers [effect] and it makes me happy [meaning].
Here's where it gets interesting...
Beliefs have power because of:
# The energy they invoke
We are energetic beings living in an energetic universe and our words, the words that define and express our beliefs, have power.# The results they create in our life experience
In The Power of Framing we talked about the causal link between inner states and external events:
are energetic beings. The inner associations that we make and the
meanings that we ascribe to those associations are all energy based.
By changing the words we use to reframe an experience we change the underlying energetic state.
This change in energetic state changes the results that we create.”
Beliefs are the shortcut keys to our energetic states
By reframing our beliefs we change our energetic states and thus we change the results they create in our life experiences.
 Conditioned belief
Conditioned beliefs are the thinking patterns developed at a young age. They become the foundation for your future beliefs and thus form the basis of decision-making and problem-solving. These conditioned beliefs, are largely unconscious.
The only way you identify them is by guaging your resistance to an idea or an action.
 Empowering belief
An empowering belief explores and releases potential, and has the positive energy of possibility with sufficient references of success.
 Self-limiting belief
A self limiting belief controls and restricts your potential. It is heavily dependent on various forms of social proof and group belief.
To conclude, I want to suggest a framing for our understanding and use of beliefs that helps us avoid the tyranny of certainty and rigidity whilst retaining the resourcefulness of flexibility.
This view is based on a recognition and acceptance of impermanence as a basic condition of the nature of all things, and thus to handle beliefs as a necessary means to fulfill a purpose and/or reach an objective.
This is to adopt a utilitarian approach that sees:
A belief as there to serve a purpose and to be released when that purpose is served.
A belief as a guidance rather than an immutable certainty.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Return to: What Is Spirituality?