Doubt Is The Worth Of Belief

Back in January, sparked by a documentary marking Martin Luther King day, I wrote an entry about the strong beliefs of those who opposed his social justice movement. I closed on a deliberately provoking question: “of what value is belief when it can lead us so catastrophically astray?”
Carla echoed the question in a comment on the perspective she found in the wake of the Iraq war: “[I found myself] wondering whether there is something inherantly wrong with actions motivated by passionate belief.”
Matt‘s reply: “A great many actions that have transformed society in wonderful ways have been motivated by passionate belief… Belief as a phenomenon itself isn’t the problem. It’s *what* people belief that can cause trouble.”
(There were a bunch of other amazing responses, also from Jamie and Billy. Go check ’em out. The comments continue to be the best bit of the serious stuff on this blog.)
The keystone of my understanding of the world is this: we misconceive what it is to be human.
We overestimate our self-authority, the reliability of our memory, our ability to think rationally, our ability to evaluate others, the robustness of our health.
We misunderstand how we fit within our cultural context, how we are governed by the laws of probability, how our bodies interact with the environment both short- and long-term, how our experience of consciousness relates to our experience of emotion and vice versa.
Many of us don’t even understand what makes us happy.
We do not know what we are. I studied psychology and anthropology to get at these issues, and in all my study I only scratched the barest surface of our failure to comprehend ourselves. I learned humility, there, I think. The sheer breadth of our failure – it astonishes me still.
I also learned that knowledge is not power. My awareness of these misconceptions does not give my the power to escape them.
The best I can do to is to strive towards mindfulness. To question, always, what I see of myself, and to fail over and over again but carry on regardless. Once I thought that journey into myself might some day have an ending – but no. It never will, nor does it need to. That journey is its own purpose.
We do not understand what we are – but how does this relate to belief?
On one level, it addresses belief through direct example. Our beliefs about our selves are pervasive, fundamental, and frequently incorrect. The process of ongoing interrogation, however, itself serves as some measure of correction – not the outcome, mind, but the process itself. Belief interrogated by doubt.
On a deeper level, it raises the possibility of adopting a different way of thinking about reality. Belief (as it usually is) requires a coherent self. Take that away, and all belief becomes subject to doubt.
Or, rather, belief becomes replaced by something new – an ongoing internal relationship between doubt and faith. An internal suspension.
I believe this would be a better way to live. I believe aspects of this are at the heart of the spiritual paths alluded to by Matt and Jamie.
Doubt is the worth of belief.
Matt: “Ecclesiaties 3:11 says that all men have eternity in their hearts. But then it goes on to say that they have not understood it…”
Jamie: “This is how to change belief – by not changing others, but allowing them to wake up.”

8 thoughts on “Doubt Is The Worth Of Belief”

  1. Jeepers. Welcome to my parlour. We can take this one to mail if you want.
    John Lilly: “In the province of mind, what is believed to be true either is true or becomes true, within certain limits to be established experientially and experimentally. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended. In the mind there are no limits.”
    Think about this for a while. It’s pretty damn succinct.
    Lilly would suit your temperament. A hard core scientist exploring consciousness. Check out Programming and Metapropgramming in the Human Biocomputer, or The Center of the Cyclone.
    “I also learned that knowledge is not power. My awareness of these misconceptions does not give my the power to escape them.”
    In one sense of “power as force” yes, in another sense, of “power as knowledge”, no. As Gurdjieff said, a man will not try to escape from prison until he is aware he is in prison.
    “The keystone of my understanding of the world is this: we misconceive what it is to be human.”
    Yup. Hey, read my novel. 🙂
    And also, buy, just flat out trust me and BUY this book: Of Water and the Spirit by Malidoma Patrice Some. Ho-ly shi-et.

  2. LOL
    You have very succintly defined a Christian doctrine in secular terms.
    Essentially the idea is that people are fallen. Basically this means we are no perfect (and are not going to become perfect by ourselves).
    This is pretty obvious to anyone who thinks about it for a second.
    This “fallenness” messes with everything about us, including our ability to base our thinking on true premises. We are still fundamentally capable of logical thought, but our “fallenness” makes it hard for us to apprehend true outside of ourselves. We inherently want to exalt ourselves (both individually and collectively) over everything else.
    Again, IMO, it doesn’t take much thought to work this out. What the Christian doctrine does is tell why this state of affairs exists.
    See, one of the ironic things about our state of affairs, is that while we want to exalt ourselves (individually and collectively) we are also deeply aware of our limitations and inability to truly comprehend anything significant (as you outlined in your post).
    Obviously I am biased, but I have found that Christian beleif is remarkbly good at explaining the why of things. Like the inability to form coherant belief that you talk about in your post. We keep struggling and failing, as you also mention, and we are doomed to always struggle and fail.
    In the end, the best solution is to give up the struggle and go to the source of everything, including ourselves, and let it enlighten us.
    You have actually stumbled across one of the deep truths about the state of affiars of humanity. The question is, what will you do with this newfound insight?

  3. Morgue, I have some questions. You say that the “best thing” you can do is strive towards mindfulness. Now, I certainly won’t disagree with you, but I would like to know what this is the best thing for. Is there somewhere/something you are aiming for, and if so, what is it? What is the problem?
    If I may answer based on what you’ve written so far, it’s that people do things you don’t like/don’t think are right. So my next question is: do you think that is your problem or their problem?

  4. Billy: we’ve always been in the same parlour I think, just at different ends. Lilly is interesting, I’ve only read articles here and there though. Re: Gurdjeff quote, awareness of the prison isn’t sufficient to escape it. Which was my only point really – there’s more to the process of rising above restraints than being aware of them.

  5. Matt: I don’t know if I should be affronted by the words ‘stumbled’ and ‘newfound’… 😉 This has been a very conscious journey, and what I’ve written above is old stuff, figured out to my satisfaction a long time back. The crossover with a Christian ethos isn’t surprising since that’s where I started this journey.
    As for what I’ll do with this insight? I’m working on it.

  6. Jamie: the problem I’m trying to answer with mindfulness isn’t that other people do things I don’t think are right – it is that I myself do things I don’t think are right, or at least I have the capacity to.
    Although the problem as you phrase it does come into play as a second level – I have some understanding and expectation that if I am mindful about myself, it will propagate, slowly, a similar mindfulness in others, which in turn will limit the fact that others do things I don’t think are right.
    There are other things I want to do that will get to the ‘unright actions’ sooner though, such as challenging preconceptions and finding ways to educate people about how their conception of self is misleading them.
    Which leads us then into your other question. The actions I oppose are the person acting’s problem, but also the world’s – because they exist, by definition, as the link between person and world.
    This becomes my problem precisely inasmuch as I identify with “the world”.
    And I do. That’s part of my definition of mindfulness, in fact.

  7. Morgue, didn’t mean to offend, the way I wrote it made it sound like it was something you came too recently.

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