God Without Religion CoverAmazon Barnes & Nobles
Book of the Year
IP Award
IP Award
IP Award
IP Award

Belief: The Contagious Insanity

Beliefs are strange things. Considering the beliefs human beings have held in the past, and hold today, it is not unlikely that our descendants will consider large swaths of their ancestors to be insane. To believe without evidence is one thing, but to believe without evidence in that thing which precisely places the believer at the center of purpose of the cosmos, defines the believer as chosen or blessed in a world of uncalled and damned heretics, and/or results in divisiveness and violence is madness.

As much as I’ve tried in my professional life to reason with belief, reasoning with madness is unfruitful. The mad, it seems, are actually mad, as in angry, about something, which is precisely where and why their beliefs enter the picture. Reasoning with those who may nearly be defined as ‘passionate by degrees’ largely serves to anger believers further. Only the suffering that comes from madness, assuming believers are not so mad as to interpret harsh suffering as a sign of the validity of belief, seems to break the maddening spell. Alas, this suffering is usually not limited to their persons, but includes their communities and the whole world.

It is one thing to say, "I believe in myself," "I believe in you," I believe we can make it," I believe in the value of discussion." Belief in this case is an affirmation or a hope, meaning to highly consider some object or issue. Belief as the object itself is another matter entirely. Instead of the subject in possession of the belief, the belief is in possession of the subject. No wonder believers are often concerned with possession by spirits: the spirit of madness possesses them. While one form of belief embodies trust or perhaps worry, confidence, or value, the other points to a system of thoughtlessness.

Beliefs as systems of anti-thought are often the codifications of outlandish hopes that are firstly concerned with defending against thoughts, especially those thoughts that conclude with the questioning tone or mark. Those tones or marks at the end of sentences are considered rude in circles of belief; hence questioners are responded to as if they are personally attacking believers.

Since losing hope is painful, and losing absurd hopes is absurdly painful, the false virtue of religious tolerance was invented by the wildly sensitive believer to help those who congregate under the auspices of madness to avoid sane criticism of their beliefs.

Tolerance of ignorance, labeled the Word of God by the insane believers who have taken a turn toward megalomania, is irresponsible, perhaps egregiously so. It turns the tolerant into accomplices to the crimes committed by mad parents and priests. To not speak out against ignorance for fear of offending others is cowardice. The so-called tolerant don’t realize that it is easy to offend insane people, and it gets easier the less they are offended.

Whatever a belief is called by a believer, it is still madness lurking in the mind. The cure is questions, but it is a cure that can only be self-administered.

Most people aren’t claiming they have the whole truth - except for insane people, of course - and neither am I, but just knowing the value of reason, the scientific method, and the unbridled spirit of questioning is plenty to undermine the psychopathological lies sanctimoniously repeated for thousands of years.

Thousands of years ago, Emperor Asoka ordered that in his empire it is forbidden to decry other sects. It would have been wiser for him to decree that his subjects are obliged to question sectarianism. Asoka’s decree could not prevent the bickering of lunatics then or now, but for all the conflicts between religions and within them due to centuries of blindly accepted truths, the world has seen far too little discussion between believers before the tribunal of reason. Few believers wish to be subject to such strict rules, for under them their gods - which is to say their special place under the sun - would vanish without a trace.

Ignatius of Loyola, canonized into an imaginary special place in heaven, said with no regard for reason, "We should always be disposed to believe that that which appears white is really black, if the hierarchy of the Church so decides." And where did he stand in relation to that hierarchical nut house? Very close, of course, and so the Church let other mad people know with little subtlety that those who think, or rather refuse to think, as he did are on the path to beatitude. In short, you must be mad if you want to be a saint.

It has ever been the believer, not the questioner, who exhibited the most intolerance of differing views. And the punishments earned by disbelief have historically been inhuman to the proportion of the believer’s insanity.

Robert Bellarmine, a famous punisher later canonized, once said, "Freedom of belief is pernicious, it is nothing but the freedom to be wrong." In a way, he is right, though for the wrong reasons. He meant human beings are not free to believe anything other than his insane beliefs, but in fact we are not free to believe whatever we want to believe. Belief comes with a steep price in the form of its implications for the believer and all of humanity. Believing we are free to believe what we want to believe is akin to believing we are free to murder for our beliefs, for if beliefs condone violence then violence will be the result. Beliefs are informed by and reflect the sense of self, and that idea of self is the springboard for action. Saying we are free to believe anything is like saying we are free to do anything without consequence.

Bellarmine wrongly punished Galileo, and he is also wrong because we are indeed free to believe wrongly and make mistakes so long as we are willing to pay for our beliefs and mistakes by continually challenging ourselves and taking responsibility for ourselves. Eventually, this road of self-correction leads to neither belief nor disbelief, but to knowledge.

But until knowledge is widely held above belief, the human race has had to deal with organized insanity - such as the Catholic Church - perpetually glorifying ignorance.

Professional proselytizers may not know it, but beliefs at bottom only deceive believers. At the same time, belief is a contagious form of insanity. As with other diseases, it infects only those with a low immunity, which in this case takes the form of low-self esteem, vulnerability, poor education, fear of death, poverty, and loneliness. We believe whatever we want to believe because beliefs justify our desires, and the desire to be free of insecurity is one of the strongest and most universal desires humans entertain. Belief is the quickest and cheapest short-term way to empower the ego and protect the little self.

The more knowledge in the mind, the less belief resides; and the more belief, the less knowledge. The more absurd a belief, the more likely one is capable of crimes against humanity, for the believer has already committed the greatest crime against the self: self-imposed ignorance. The more vitality is given to a belief, the more the spirit of truth seeking is destroyed. The more one believes in a virtue, the less one embodies or practices it. Belief is a sound psychological substitute for implementation.

Beliefs are habits of the mind that pervert the intellect's reason in order to make reason worthlessly unable to defend belief. Speaking to a group of ascetics, the Buddha is recorded to have said, "Believe nothing, O monks, merely because you have been told it ... or because it is traditional, or because you yourselves imagined it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings - that doctrine believe and cling to it, and take it as your guide." Sage counsel, but I would have then add, “Keep questioning that doctrine as well.”

Otherwise, what is "due examination and analysis," when does it end, and how can one totally trust the intellect doing the examining? Whatever it may be, it seems that it must be tireless and relentless during one's entire life, incorporating the ideas of others of varying backgrounds so as to minimize self-deception.

Belief tries to find its way in, using the weakest links in our character, crippling to the human intellect and by extension the human race. Humans insult their own intelligence with their beliefs, often unable to overcome the beliefs formed from childhood conditioning. Insane by cultivation, it is exceedingly difficult to cease seeing events through the old cracked lens of belief.

Nothing is absurd enough to not be believed because the believing part of the brain can't tell the difference between rational and irrational. The R-complex is cannot even be called irrational, as that would give it too much credit. So long as the rational/irrational thinking part of the brain does not trespass on the primitive R-complex, a belief will survive and thrive.

But to say that the believer in all of us can never be free from the dictates of the R-complex ignores the fact that beliefs are merely habits of thought and energy; and we can be free of habits by redirecting the flow of energy. Whether a believer will consciously redirect the flow of energy and awareness in the body, spine, and brain, is another matter. If the believer won’t, then we are left with the price in suffering demanded by belief. Crises can shift patterns away from beliefs, changing the character and even identity as well.

Combating belief is not easy when it is assumed that cultural diversity and diversity of belief are directly connected, creating a million fronts for battling it. While the details of beliefs are near infinite in possibility, all beliefs fall into a few categories: one's mortality, one's survival, one's pleasure, and one's social standing - all the interests of the R-complex. In short, beliefs address death, rationalize actions that secure our needs and fulfill our wants, and grant us a facade of authority or at least social standing. Beliefs are tools concerned with wealth, power, and death, simply put, and with power, belief spreads far and wide, hiding ignorance from millions of vulnerable people.

It is easy to believe, impossible to prove beliefs; easier to assume something is true than actively doubt it; easier to entertain bias when questions are shunned; easier to ignore the origins of our beliefs than investigate them; easy to resent the one that challenges our beliefs; easier to silence the doubter than ever silence our own self-doubt. The universal ease of belief is a warning.

The minute the believer ventures forth from the organ of belief, self-doubt is there waiting in ambush. Everywhere believers go, they are afraid people might be looking down on them. Or, they surely believe people are looking up. The Reptilian-complex doesn't know equity; it only knows strata of authority. If believers voice their beliefs in intelligent company, an argument may erupt. It is a tortured life. It is no wonder people of the same superficial beliefs flock together.

George Bernard Shaw turned the idea of belief on itself, saying that all the so-called believers in Christ were not believers at all, and if one truly believed in Christ, one would have to be very cautious. He wrote: "It is not disbelief that is dangerous to society: it is belief. The moment it strikes you (as it may any day) that Christ is not the lifeless harmless image he has hitherto been to you, but a rallying centre for revolutionary influences which all established States and Churches fight, you must look to yourselves; for you have brought the image to life; and the mob may not be able to bear that horror."

Though a revolutionary drive need not be associated with any particular mythic image of god, that revolutionary myths are turned into impotent inspirations for the insanity of domesticated, commercialized complacence speaks volumes. Today's believers are the disbelievers, disbelieving in themselves and humanity, maintaining the status quo like good little lizards.

Perhaps believing in humanity and ourselves is harder than we imagine, and we are all believers, by degrees, under the skin. That would explain a lot, but it might also be the subtle influence of belief over the centuries, giving people little reason to hope that humanity is up to the challenge of coping with human faculties, especially the one that brings awareness of death and the urgency to forget the same.

Can humans take responsibility for human capabilities? Can we resist believing in things outside ourselves? Without even asking it, this is the question that haunts us.