Are you old enough to believe, that for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows? Or, that somewhere in the darkest night, a candle glows? What about the notion that for everyone that goes astray, someone will come to show the way? Even when they were written some people didn’t accept these sentiments. They had the belief that to be true something must be proved as tangibly so. The growth of scientific culture could mean we might all end up thinking that there is a demonstrable explanation for everything and if there isn’t, well we can’t really believe in it.
We sometimes meet gullible individuals like the flat-earther’s who seem to be able to believe almost anything. This attitude is mocked in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass when the White Queen says,
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
So, what should we actually acknowledge to be true? Do beliefs have to make sense before we accept them?
Belief and open-mindedness
I guess we differ a lot in our natural makeup. Perhaps this affects the way we are inclined to think about things. For example, according to the prevailing ‘Five Factor Model of Personality’, those who are conventional and traditional in outlook prefer familiar routines to new experiences and tend to have a narrower range of interests. At the other end of the scale are those who are more open to experience, with curiosity about ideas and sensitivity to aesthetic expression, and give more attention to inner feelings and imagination. Being closed-minded or open-minded are two poles apart and most people fall somewhere along the continuum between them. However, it’s not difficult to see how this might affect the nature of one’s beliefs.
Belief and a tough-minded disposition
Many of our political beliefs and social attitudes seem to be influenced by what is called a tough-minded or tender-minded disposition. This psychological continuum was first described by William James and is part of Hans Eysenck’s two factor model of political attitude. For example some people think that more money should be spent on the justice system because more criminals should be caught and get what they deserve. On the other hand, others take the view that society should prevent crime by sharing resources more fairly and caring for people who are vulnerable.
Belief and how we make judgments
Belief can be more influenced by the heart or the head; by subjective experience or by objective rational logic. I reckon we are all inclined towards one of these two. Making sense more of our feelings or more of our thoughts. Are you more likely to believe in what you feel in your heart is valuable or is your belief more likely to be based on logical thought? The danger of the former can be a blind faith in some cause. The danger of the latter can be a cold impersonal conclusion.
Readiness to form a judgment
We all can perceive life using our bodily senses and intuitions. We also all can, if we wish, form conclusions about what we perceive. However, according to Carl Jung’s theory of Personality Typology, judging or perceiving can be the dominant mode. So, he reckoned that there are judging and perceiving types of personality. Judging types seek to order, rationalise, and structure their outer world, as they actively judge external stimuli. They prefer to make decisions quickly and to stick to their conclusions once made. On the other hand, perceiving types do not seek to impose order on the outer world, but are more adaptive, perceptive, and open, as they receive external stimuli. They have a flexible, open-ended approach to life.
Belief and religious orientation
I suspect that similar to this perceiving type is the so-called Quest religious orientation. According to Daniel Batson’s theory people with this orientation treat their spirituality not as a means or an end, but as a search for truth.
“An individual who approaches religion in this way recognizes that he or she does not know, and probably never will know, the final truth about such matters. Still the questions are deemed important, and however tentative and subject to changes, answers are sought.” (Daniel Batson, social psychologist)
Belief and personal development
I would suggest that we perceive things through a natural, moral or spiritual lens according to our personal development. At a first stage of personal development we tend to see life in terms of physical things and according to an instinctive need to be nurtured and have intimacy. And so we make sense of experiences in relation to these factors. Further development involves basing one’s belief on what is good and right in interpersonal conduct. e.g. belief to do with moral values of fairness and integrity. Further on still, one’s ideas may be illuminated by a deeper perception of what is good in life e.g. human well-being, a meaning and purpose to life and an awareness of a hidden power behind the universe. For example, that there is a life force and design within nature – not measurable by science but felt as something universal and infinite.
Belief and understanding
So far, I’ve been making out a case that individual differences in natural tendency and personal development affect how we make sense of the world and thus shape our belief. However, now I would ask could it be that there is an important additional factor. Is rational understanding inherent to being truly human? If so this is:
“Our ability to see and know, if we try, what is true and what is good” (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)
Because of this understanding, I would say we can discern between what makes sense and what doesn’t. Without this capacity how could we have self-awareness and self-reflection? Without it how could we look at the pro’s and con’s of some proposal without undue bias? And without it how could we have a conscience of what is right in the face of unwholesome desires?
In other words this rationality is present no matter what kind of temperament and tendencies we are born with, and no matter whether we are functioning at a natural, ethical or spiritual level. It enables us to evaluate what ideas we hear about independently of our desires. Consequently, I would conclude that it obliges us to form our beliefs on the basis of what makes rational sense using a higher light of understanding.
Copyright 2019 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
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