Illustration: Steven L. Fornal

What does it mean to believe in something?
Ray Loring Johnson

INITIALLY, WHEN perusing this question, I found myself wanting to talk about "why" we might believe the things we believe. It's almost impossible to not think about it in those terms. But in truly looking at the question, and knowing what is being asked, it immediately brings to mind a lot more questions!

Is it simply required to "say" you believe, to "actually" believe something, in your heart of hearts? Is it possible to do that? Is something within you required to change, to go in a certain direction, in order to "believe"? Are there "requirements" that must be met, within your own psyche, within your mind, to actually believe? Is it always based on blind faith?

Do you believe that two and two is four? Are you believing it out of faith, or is it a fact? Certainly there appears to be a rather obvious difference between believing in facts or data, and something more esoteric!

Most of the time I think we believe in things empirically, in other words, originating in or based on observation or experience. For me, it used to be more about getting as many facts as possible, and then making a "judgment call". More and more I'm finding that "the facts" are not always the facts. You've heard the phrase, "you can't always believe what you read"? This is actually a "philosophy" to me, and it can go a long way, but then you are perhaps left with many more questions than answers. Do you always "check your references" on everything you come across? Don't you seem to "save time" with this process by just considering the source and it's reliability? Do you ever take the time to question the source? Are there certain sources that you discount immediately, without giving them a second chance, or a second thought? Do you consider yourself skeptical, and if so why? ... and if not, why? Do your opinions about certain topics change easily? Are you easily swayed from a certain position, or do you take a firm stance and not budge... and why might you take one position or the other? Does belief in a thing ever mean you think there is "truth" involved? What is "truth"?

When you say you believe something, does it mean you think a thing is true and correct? ...that there is a strong basis in fact, somewhere along the line? Or do you believe it is true for just you? Do you think there are certain truths that apply to us all? Perhaps the one about, "we're only human"? Or maybe that because we are human we are not perfect? How would you qualify that? Do you think we're imperfect creatures? Do you think we're "creatures"... that we're created? Or did we come from some sort of automatic cosmic process, like a "big bang"? Are any of these topics things you simply wonder about, or do you believe them? Do you ever question your beliefs? Do you have what is commonly referred to these days as "a belief system"? Does having a "belief system" give you more room to change, or have a broader sense of what you believe? Would you consider yourself to be "set in your ways", and if so, why?

Some would say this is just a lot of "hype", or meaningless conjecture. But I say it is being more honest with oneself to ask these kinds of questions. It gives rise to a lot of soul searching, self-discovery, and breaking down of barriers. It gives one the opportunity to realize that beliefs are perhaps nothing more than "ideas" that "sound good", opinions that resonate within us, vibrations that "feel" true to us, within each and every individual. It's really quite ironic to ask the question, "What does it mean to believe in something?"... because the answer to that question is always different, depending on the individual... there really isn't any universal truth involved at all! I think, I believe, it's all about "free will" and what we do with it. .. about what makes sense to us personally, about our own worlds that we've carved out for ourselves, about our individual paths that we've taken, the "feelings" that take a leading role in shaping our personalities, all along this journey we call "life".++

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