Most people don't like to be put in boxes. Meaning, categories. Hey, I'm an individual, unlike anyone else! we like to believe.
But I see nothing wrong with putting how we believe into boxes. So I've done just that -- stimulated into belief-categorizing action by a question that's been running through my mind recently:
Why do some people's proclamations irritate or please me more than other proclamations?
I'm speaking generally here, about all sorts of utterances. Verbal sayings. Blog posts and comments. Books. Magazine articles. Any way that someone communicates a belief from their brain into mine.
Sometimes I get an instant emotional rush of What the @#$%&! as soon as I register a communication that rates high on my irritation scale. Other belief messages produce a pleasant smile, and not just because I agree with what I've heard.
So what's going on here? What are the varieties of belief that generate such different reactions in me?
Here's how I've put believing into boxes. (click to enlarge the image) This isn't terribly sophisticated, but it reflects the basics of how I see people -- me included, naturally -- and their beliefs.
First, I'm assuming that everything anyone is aware of, or communicates to others, is a belief. Meaning, it isn't 100%, guaranteed, no doubt about it, Truth with a capital "T." There's always a possibility of being wrong, or at least not totally correct.
For example, our basic assumptions about reality could be off-base. This could be a computer simulation. We all could be part of a dream. Or dead and in an afterlife that seems like living. Whatever.
Regardless, we feel like we know something about what's going on. That's a belief. Which we have some reasons for believing -- as shown on the "Good Reasons for Belief" heading. I've divided those reasons into just two categories: "Few" and "A Lot."
I could discuss what a good reason is. But I won't. I think most people know the difference between a good and bad reason for believing something. Evidence is key, just like in a trial.
However, some beliefs don't require evidence. Subjective opinion is a perfectly fine manner of believing. I don't need a reason for saying "I prefer vanilla ice cream to chocolate." Or, "I can't stand to listen to rap music."
Recognizing that reason-light opinions of this sort are subjective, most people don't try to push them onto others. That's where my "Insistence on Belief" heading comes in: it divides beliefs into how strongly they're forced onto people who may not hold them.
If you don't have good reasons for a belief, as is the case with religions, yet you want it to be accepted by others, I call this a "Dogmatic Assertion." Take it or leave it; but you'd better take it.
On the other hand, well-founded beliefs that should be accepted by everyone are "Objective Facts." Like gravity and electromagnetism. Or 2 +2 = 4. Societies can't function without a general consensus about facts of this sort.
If you've got a lot of good reasons for believing something, yet you aren't out to push the belief onto other people, I call that a "Non-assertive Truth."
Examples: a talented musician who knows he can play the piano well, but doesn't rush to show off on every keyboard he comes across. Or a well-read person who could correct a misquote he hears in a conversation, but chooses to let the error go.
Here I've shown some typical language used by people operating in each belief box. Three of the four are rarely irritating.
The only one which is almost guaranteed to gall me, now that I've embraced churchlessness, is "Thou shalt..." -- frequently used by those who don't have good reasons for what they believe, but want other people to accept their beliefs nonetheless.
Lastly, this shows the types of people who frequent each category of belief. I had some trouble coming up with a term to put in the upper left corner. "Liker/disliker" is kind of lame. Suggestions welcomed.
Whatever this box is called, we all spend much time in it. Life is largely about liking and disliking, minimal reasons required.
Republican or Democrat. Football or baseball. Cats or dogs. Pickup or sports car. Blond or brunette. PBS or MTV. Christian or Buddhist. Vegetarian or meat-eater.
Make your choice. Feel free. Go for it.
Just don't claim that I need to follow in your footsteps, if all you've got is "I like" or "I dislike" to back you up. Reasons please! Good ones. If you don't have them, you're a fundamentalist who is wasting my time.
However, I'm always ready to listen to those in the "Scientist" category. I use this term loosely, meaning anyone whose beliefs are founded on solid evidence and experience. A dance instructor can be a scientist in this sense, because what they're teaching is demonstrably true.
I was thinking of "Humble sage" in a similarly broad sense. Many people know a lot yet don't broadcast it to the world. Content to tend a productive tasty garden, they don't feel a need to open up a vegetable stand.
Well, my goal here was to both better understand how I see different varieties of believing, and explain to myself and others why I react the way I do to people who come across as being in the various belief boxes.
Like I said, I rarely have a problem with anybody who isn't acting from the fundamentalist mindset. If someone says to me, "I love feeling that Jesus is by my side," I'll respond with "That's wonderful."
That statement doesn't need a reason. Love and feeling stand on their own. It's only when the sentiment is rephrased as "If you don't accept Jesus, you're headed to hell" that we have a problem.
Now you'd better come up with some damn good reasons why I should believe in my eternal damnation. So far, I haven't heard any.