Friday, March 06, 2009


#7 belief

Sadly, it reaped such undistinguished reviews that, on my recent trip to Las Vegas, I was dissuaded from seeing Cirque du Soleil's much-touted production at the splendid Luxor featuring magician Criss Angel; though as scant consolation to Mr. Angel, I did much admire his ubiquitous publicity posters. What I found particularly cute, other than the decidedly fine-looking masked wench, is the typographic word play within BeLieve betraying, as it does, the metasignificance of the notion of belief.

People, and naturally I include myself within that grouping, all have complex belief systems regarding ourselves and the world around us, and this worldview tends to become pretty entrenched from adolescence onwards. Consistency and continuity of beliefs have been argued as a measure of a person's sanity - note for example how the accusation of flip-flopping, often levelled at politicians, is so hard to counter (is it really so wrong to change one's mind, or admit fault?). Thus, in addition to also forming an integral part of the illusion of identity, there's powerful social pressure to maintain and reinforce these beliefs whatever their configuration, rigidly and absolutely, much of which takes the form of ritual and ritualised behaviour.

I see belief as essentially superstition, something I already touched upon in a previous entry in this series (apologies for some repetition here) - and I mean superstition in the sense of being neither useful nor helpful. Upon hearing myself or others using expressions such as 'I (don't) think' and 'I believe' and so on, alarm bells inform me that a superstition is about to be communicated. Of course, it should also be said that many utterances may not utilise this languaging at all yet still contain the implicit notion of belief within.

To me, a person's attractiveness and likeability can be measured by their degree of unattachment to their own beliefs: the less attached, the more attractive, and vice versa. Personally, I don't believe in beliefs, especially my own - yes, I have all sorts of preposterous opinions and things to say about all sorts of things, yet I don't claim them to be true, nor do I seek anyone's agreement nor approval, nor disagreement nor disapproval. And I say that to remove the burden from you of that responsibility. My words merely function as a flimsy disposable rope-bridge leading to a domain where any thing is possible and permitted - they have no more meaningful purpose than that.


SYpHA_69 said...

Recently I realized that I've spent the better part of my twenties investigating many different so-called "belief systems" (be they spiritual or philosophical) in what was most likely a pointless attempt to try to make some sort of sense of the universe (or perhaps in an attempt to find meaning)? Though I wonder if maybe I should have spent said time doing something more constructive, and perhaps would have been spared unnecessary inner turmoil. Recently read Peter Zapffe's essay "The Last messiah" in which he mentions how humanity suffers from a need that cannot be satisfied, and that the universe cannot answer our existential questions.

Also recently looked into Kierkegaard but I didn't like the negative judgment he seemed to cast on the "schizoid aesthete" (that is, one who refuses to assume a solid identity, or doesn't choose one self to follow). Besides the aforementioned existential questions, I've also agonized about sexual orientation; seeing as so many people appear to be so utterly confident that they're straight or gay, whereas I always feel like I'm ping-ponging between the two extremes, unable to settle on anything. I just hate the idea of having to choose between one or the other, when I'd rather have it all! But I'm rambling now...

Shonx said...

I found this quite interesting regarding superstition -

where there is a distinct evolutionary advantage to evading non-existent predators, than thinking a predator is the wind in the trees.

It may be that these beliefs serve a similar purpose to more challenging ideas that threaten the believer's construct of self, giving the illusion of something concrete to mask ethereal and fluid concepts, thus evading any potential psychic threat.

Oh and Sypha, a friend of mine went through your situation a few years back - go with both and enjoy ;)

William Bennett said...

Shonx, thanks for that most interesting article; I wish it didn't mimic Dawkins' wholly unappealing habit of employing ridicule as a rhetorical device (cf. Virgin Mary on pieces of toast and 9/11 conspiracy theories) - the author, through not being able to resist subjectivising 'weird', probably undermines a very good point

Shonx said...

The original document is there, featuring a bit on Skinner's look at superstitious behaviour in pigeons (and they say the religoids are insane, tsk).

I ran into this whilst researching a college project on video noise and spontaneous optical illusions - human perception is imperfect but does throw up some fascinating artifacts.

SenzuriChampion said...

so in your own words you think that thinking is neither useful nor helpful

i think i agree

William Bennett said...

in my own words? what quote are you referring to specifically?

Rob said...

I believe that god exists,but the way that i believe does not follow church doctrine or anything as ritualistic.
I feel god is more of a watcher looking at what we do and not intervening. And than once we leave this mortal coil judgement is passed based on decisions we've made and our actions.
Not so much from a moral standpoint,but more of a general one.
Of course i don't "talk" to god per se or any such foolishness but the existence is definitely acknowledged. This isn't based on anything that i was taught to believe but based on what i've read and making my own mind up. The bible has been re-written through so many centuries for the church's and individuals own gains that i don't really follow that either it's more instinct of the soul really.
Don't get me wrong i feel the bible has a lot of's just buried under human muck and selfishness.

Odile Lee said...

Did you ever consider you anthromorphize your "beliefs?" = to Human. To make them palpable.
( As my sibling said," The perplexing tangibility of ones being." )

This is why I have enjoyed "The Holy Books of Thelema." If we must have a container, to carry our water from the Eternal Sea, at least we may be taught that the container- is our choice. Be it humble or of great Beauty.

The contents of that container, let us call it a cup for simple sake- is our draught of the Eternal Sea ( or Universe, as I like to see mine. )

William- I think we drink of that cup, when we go beyond belief. The Grail- perhaps, the Draught of Ecstasy ( as one Holy Madman, found and wrote.)
The wine of Dionysus and Bacchus, and all the cup carriers, perhaps.

The cups themselves, useful objects but not alive? Unless we give them what we posses, to make them more than a object, into symbolic icons.

In the castle of the Grail- it is asked, to Parsifal " Whom does the Grail serve?"

On the edge of the cliff, it may be flight or falling...

In the centre it is all time, and all place, and timelessness, and nowhere.
As the fool said to the wiseman, "Stuck in the Middle. With You." ;)