I have beliefs.
I have strong beliefs.
I have some very strong beliefs.
However, I don’t have any certainties.
Here’s a random list of some of my more critical beliefs:
My most important “possessions” are my family and friends.
Gods do not exist. The only “life after death” for me will be the length of time I’m still remembered.
We are all born with the power to change our lives. Sometimes that power is stolen from us and sometimes we give it away.
Children are the world’s greatest natural resource.
True education may help to alleviate many of the world’s problems.
In Australia, schooling is only a part of the education process.
Educating children is the world’s most important job.
Parents are a child’s first and most effective teachers.
Some parents do a shit job of educating their children, usually because they weren’t effectively educated themselves.
Birds don’t shit in their own nests. Neither should we.
Most politicians lie when it suits them.
For most politicians it’s about the power, not about the dreams.
The Australian political system if fundamentally screwed by party politics.
In our legal system, justice is a commodity. S/he who has the most money, buys the most justice.
In our school system there should be three key areas of learning – Communication, which includes reading, writing, listening and speaking, Science and Technology, which includes maths, science and computer tech, and Personal Development, which includes history, comparative religious studies, physical health, and social education or “how to be a physically and mentally healthy individual in an increasingly stuffed up world”.
It’s immoral for me to brainwash my children to believe what I believe. They should be encouraged to examine a range of differing beliefs, which may influence their own choice of beliefs.
Bigoted cultures, and organised religions, present the greatest obstacle to peace in our world, and have always done so.
Totalitarianism is a deadly sin. Rampant communism is as damaging as rampant capitalism. The fact that the bulk of the world’s wealth resides in the bank accounts of so few individuals, is an obscenity.
War is a growth industry.
Every choice results in consequences, some of which are unforeseen.
The best advice that I can offer, is that you should be careful about following the advice which you are offered.
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Many people are benighted by their beliefs. With respect to some of my beliefs, I’m badly affected. I’d like not to be, but it’s a part of my intellectual and emotional makeup that I can’t deny.
My beliefs make me happy, sad, comfortably calm, confused and angry.
I believe in my family – my wife, children, children-in-law and grandchildren. They are excellent people who love and care for each other, and for me. When I’m feeling sad, I remember that I am part of this wonderful group, and I feel better. When we are together, I am king of the world. My friends have been friends for decades. They’re a natural part of my “extended family”.
There are many beliefs which test my anger management skills, however. My beliefs, and the beliefs of others, concerning politics, culture and religion, are those that cause me the greatest angst.
Having experienced poverty, first-hand, my politics and my cultural values are skewed markedly towards the concept of social justice. As a result, I reject insane capitalism – the accruing of wealth for its own sake, or for the power which it can buy. I am angered by the fact that so much of the world’s wealth resides in the hands of so few people, and that so few of those few have done anything to deserve the wealth which they have gained.
I’m pissed off by the fact that, without the labour of poor people, the rich would not be rich. I’m angered that, even though Australians live in a wealthy country, people still live in poverty, that disadvantaged people are powerless to change their lives because the power with which they were born has been stolen by circumstances, and by more powerful people.
I detest the fact that so many of our politicians come from a wealthy, privileged class. These are people who have no understanding of a life which is not created by privilege, and who often have no capacity for empathy.
I am further distressed by my belief that the majority of Australians support, even if only in part, the view that the disadvantaged choose to be that way.
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Let’s look at some of the impacts upon humanity which beliefs create. We’ll start with religions because it’s easiest to identify both the beliefs and their impacts. Many of my remarks may be categorised as generalisations, but I have no interest in dealing with individual religions, one by one.
Religions occur within a cultural, social, and often political context, but I will try to look at the concept of religion, removed from those contexts.
Basically, in order to have a religion, two components are required. One is a deity, or an object of worship. The other is a set of believers. Beliefs are attached, by the believers, to the deity or centre of worship. Beliefs, inevitably, will influence the believers to act in a certain way, for which the believers will be rewarded for compliance, and punished for non-compliance. Deities tend to be intangible, ethereal entities, which cannot be observed. Beliefs tend to focus upon an unconditional faith in the existence of these entities, and an acceptance of the consequences, spiritual or tangible, which spring from the pursuit of beliefs.
Religions are as old as human kind. Primitive people needed some explanation for the mysteries of their world, and it was convenient to attribute natural phenomena to some unseen and uncontrollable force, which may at times be benevolent and at other times cruel. Having someone or something to blame when things went wrong, gave primitive person a way of shifting responsibility to an unseen entity. It’s no coincidence that different religions developed in different geographical locations, and were used to explain differing natural phenomena.
Once humans became more geographically mobile and willing to explore, a clash of religions was inevitable. The Christians V Muslims conflict during The Crusades is a convenient example.
Attaining a position of prominence within a religious group brought with it power, so defending the religion from external threats, and regulating it from within via strict rules, became very important if the religion were to grow, and the power of the leaders grow along with it. Consider the global power of the Catholic Pope. It is little wonder that Catholics were required to marry Catholics and brainwash their children in the Catholic faith.
In the contemporary world, the teachings of Science have largely exploded the myths of religion, but, because of a fundamental psychological need experienced by many people, adherence to beliefs, even those proven to be scientifically unsupportable, grips people. This need to belong to a group, is the same as that which maintains family structure, and that which, on a larger and more extreme scale, creates insane nationalism, the worship of sporting heroes and the parochial mentality which so heavily influences sports fanatics.
Examine the basis of world conflicts and you’ll find key ingredients – the need to gain and hold power over others, the need to show that one set of beliefs is more valid and more important than another, and the propensity to use violence as a means to prove that point.
Some religious people claim that religion brings us together. In a global context, nothing could be further from the truth.
Consider the patriarchal nature of many organised religions, which can lead to practices that might constitute physical and emotional abuse of women. Consider the rigidity of some organised religions, which can lead to practices that might be interpreted as denying basic human rights to followers.
The usurping of the personal power of the child, by religious adherents, angers me. A parent’s role is to inform, support and advise a child as part of the process of preparing that person to take an independent place in the world. A parent does not have a right to mould a child in the parent’s image, creating a carbon copy of the adult. It’s called brainwashing.
My mother sent me to Sunday School until I was old enough to refuse to go. It gave her some free time away from the responsibilities which she had as a single-parent of three kids, two of whom were legally blind. I never believed the stories we were told by the minister. I have never had religious beliefs.
Our two kids were not christened. We thought that a decision about following a religion, or not, was their right to make after gathering information, at an appropriate stage of emotional and spiritual development. Both were allowed to attend scripture classes at school. Our daughter was a Catholic for a short time, because they had the best colouring pencils.
Neither of our children, both outstanding people and parents, has any religious beliefs, despite both being essentially spiritual people.
So, whilst serving the needs of some people who need to have faith in an alternate power, rather than assuming the ultimate responsibility for their own decisions, the world at large is benighted by religious beliefs when those beliefs lead to discrimination, abuse, hatred and war, and when the rightful autonomy of children is subverted by their religious parents.
My belief in the diabolical negative effects of religious beliefs, makes me angry, frustrated and sad. I am truly benighted by this belief.
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Political beliefs are incredibly broad in nature, and believers encompass all spectrums of society. These range from non-believers in any political doctrine, through moderate believers in a political philosophy, to rabid extremists who blindly adhere to a political stance, no matter what.
For convenience, I’ll try to categorise some types of political believers, and ally them to beliefs. It’s probably a mistake, but I’ll try it anyway.
Type One – “I vote for the Real Australia Party because my father did.”
These people are politically unaware or neutral, and vote because they have to, following a pattern of previous behaviour. They create a problem because they may be voting for policies which are actually detrimental to their own welfare. They can also contribute to the maintenance of the status quo, despite that position being socially and economically untenable.
Type Two – “I don’t vote in favour of anyone. I vote against the party which I most disagree with.”
I think that I fit within this category. I’m extremely cynical, believing that most politicians are or, at some future time will be, corrupt to a greater or lesser degree. People within this category tend to vote for the party or person whom they believe will do the least damage to society.
Type Three – “The political idealist”.
With some members bordering on zealotry, these people are committed to clearly demarcated political beliefs. Polarisation is the fashion here. Broadly speaking, and here I go with the generalisations again, they fall along a spectrum which ranges from rabid socialism to rabid capitalism. Some idealists adopt a position which proposes that most of the world’s ills are due to personal greed and rampant capitalism. My visualisation of the graphic sees these people, by coincidence, placed towards the left-hand end of the scale, whilst their polar opposites, the rich and powerful, occupy the territory to the right.
For the sake of transparency, I must state that, as a part-time idealist, I find myself placed somewhere to the left of centre on the spectrum, but that my position tends to be fluid, rather than fixed.
So, how are we benighted by our political beliefs?
In my own case, my political beliefs currently cause me to exist in a state of constant anger and frustration. Without my beliefs, I would be free to allow the world to continue as it has done for centuries, with the rich and powerful being aided and abetted by politicians to utilise and victimise the poor. For some years, I tried to ignore politics, and it made my life somewhat calmer, but eventually, as corrupt political behaviour seemed to increase markedly, I became involved once again.
Others are also adversely affected by their political beliefs. “Type One” individuals can actually, and unwittingly, support politicians who actively work against the best interests of those people. “Type Two” individuals are typically benighted by cynicism and despair. “Type Three” individuals tend to allow their radicalism to overcome their daily lives, becoming activists for their cause, or become engrossed in the pursuit of wealth and power, to the detriment of their quality of life.
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Finally, it is my contention that cultural beliefs are, to a significant degree, created by a combination of religious and political beliefs, under the influence of personal beliefs. This does not necessarily mean that cultural beliefs are a blight upon the believers. It is only with respect to some specific cultural beliefs, some particular social attitudes, that people become benighted.
The only culture about which I can speak with first-hand knowledge is our own, and I certainly cannot claim to be an expert with respect to that. Commentary with respect to other cultures must really be speculation, and based upon observation rather than immersion. This commentary will also evidence misconceptions and bias, but some of the observations of apparent cultural values may be worth considering.
To describe the totality of my impressions and interpretations of Australian contemporary culture would require an effort which I’m not currently willing to expend, so my comments will be brief, and general.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics states that about 60% of us identify with a religion. That does not mean that those people are religious, and follow the teachings and practices of particular churches. Many people who identify as “Christian” refer to following the principles of Christian behaviour, but may never have set foot inside a church.
It is likely that the number of religious faiths practised in Australia exceeds 120, so we are extremely diverse with respect to beliefs and practices.
Politically, we tend to assume a dichotomy, an affiliation largely dependent upon social class and wealth, as much as fundamental political ideology.
Our post-invasion culture is very new, compared to that of the First Nations people, and it seems to comprise the remnants of the British culture of imperialism and class distinction, modified by the effects of incoming cultural groups which have arrived in Australia, particularly since the Second world War.
I believe that we are benighted by a number of false cultural beliefs.
We like to speak of ourselves as egalitarian, with a strong belief in the principle of the “fair go”. It’s a myth.
Contrary to the preaching of the discarded Prime Monster, John Howard, racism is alive and well in this country.
A class system, supported and promoted by politicians, sees the taxes paid by the poorest members of our society spent upon the education of the privileged rich in wealthy private schools. In a wealthy country, people are homeless or live below the poverty line, or both.
Political corruption is rife and, sadly, accepted by many as inevitable and incurable.
Discrimination based upon religious beliefs and allied cultural practices, exists. Followers of one religion will too often espouse hate towards followers of other religions. Ethnicity has long been a lynch pin for bigots in Australia, stretching back to the post-war influx of “wogs and dagos”.
We are benighted by the belief that Australia is a land of opportunity, and acceptance of individual difference, because it is a false belief. Scott Morrison would tell you that we are better off here because we cannot be shot for protesting, but that’s yet another piece of political bullshit designed to conceal the truth.
Foreign cultures, some of which are represented in Australia, follow the practice of discrimination against women, in some cases denying them basic human rights. In at least one country, a nation which appears to see itself as a dominant world power, there seems to exist a belief in their “God-given” right to dominate the world, manipulating the lives of millions, who are not their citizens, by both political and military means. The impact of religious and political beliefs in that country appears to be extreme, with believers feeling empowered and entitled to launch a physical attack upon their centre of government, in an attempt to subvert democracy.
Other cultures persecute minority religious or cultural groups, adopting Nazi-style measures including the use of “re-education centres”. These behaviours seem to be accepted as fair and reasonable within those cultures. Certainly, the perpetrators and victims of such cultural practices are benighted by their beliefs.
The establishment, maintenance and expansion of religious, political and cultural beliefs, may enable a degree of social cohesion and well-being, but that, in my opinion, is a by-product of the process. Religious beliefs are based upon fear, and a desire to avoid punishment for the commission of sins, which are determined by the promoters of each specific religion as sins, whether they be “sins” or not.
Followers of most religions are reassured by the promise of a reward in an after-life, making this present life something of a dress-rehearsal. Some of the more radical or extremist followers of religion are prepared to kill themselves in order to access that after-life, with an advantage. Members of quasi-religious cults such as Scientology, and “faith-based religions” such as Jehovah’s Witness, adopt controlling practices which are anything but ethical and moral, and which, in some cases, are illegal.
Political beliefs, at least in a contemporary Australian context, may claim to aim at securing the best possible outcomes, socially and economically, for Australians, but evidence seems to indicate that these preferred outcomes may only be realised for certain social groups.
It has become a well-used and effective strategy in recent decades to scare the living daylights out of anyone who votes.
A political party (A) may scare the rich and powerful by suggesting that an opposing party (B) will enact legislation which removes or redistributes that wealth and power, thereby ensuring that greed and a sense of self-preservation, will ensure votes going to (A). Party (A) may convince the working classes that Party (B) will enact legislation which threatens to end their jobs and take their mortgage payments through the ceiling, thereby ensuring that real fear will direct votes to Party (A).
Party (B) will employ a similar strategy, predicting dire social and economic consequences for anyone who chooses to vote for Party (A). The practice of voting for a party which promises positive social and economic outcomes in an election situation, if it in fact ever existed, has died an untimely but inevitable death.
Political beliefs, when the crunch comes, are governed by self-interest. Altruism is the province of fools.
Politics in this country has become a battlefield of egos, in which alleged “normal” people will pledge commitment to one side, and refuse to move from an entrenched position, even when clear evidence of corruption exists. It would not surprise me in the least, to see the “show pony” Scott Morrison returned as Prime Minister, such is the need for so many people to be on the winning side.
The current insanity evident in American culture, as embodied in the Trump phenomenon, is an extreme example of cultural beliefs and their “benighting” impact upon societies.
A belief in the “relative greatness” of a culture can only be sustained by the making of negative comparisons with other cultures. For centuries the British regarded their culture as the greatest, a belief which has residual effects despite the collapse of the Empire. The Soviet Union held the same belief and suffered the same fate. Currently China espouses the benefits of communism, but probably needs the threat wielded by a huge military force, in order to maintain its power over its people.
The belief in “cultural superiority” parallels, albeit in a slightly elevated plane, the basic human need to survive. It embodies the principle of survival of the fittest and often is a reflection of the macho need to be seen as powerful, as winning, as dominating.
“My culture is great, therefore I am great”. Trump utilised this human frailty in order to elevate himself into the position of POTUS, “the most powerful man on the planet”, and then, having lost his job, accused the system of trashing American culture and 50% of the American people, bringing almost the entire population into a conflict created by his narcissistic megalomania.
Ultimately, the single greatest negative impact of beliefs lies in the fact that they can deny us free will.
Opponents of this view will argue that the existence of beliefs is a testament to the individual’s capacity to exercise free will, in choosing to believe.
This argument may hold water, until we consider that people who become indoctrinated when they are at a stage of immature intellectual and emotional development, are not exercising the will to believe. They are, in fact, being forced, by an external agency – parents, friends, politicians, churches – to believe.
This is the basic principle of cult formation.
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Despite the inherent dangers created by beliefs, it is hard to imagine a life without them. A total absence of belief would surely result in a nihilist view of the world, and a tendency towards anarchy. It is our beliefs which give meaning and significance to life, an essential prerequisite in the search for happiness and personal fulfilment.
Beliefs become dangerous when they become all-consuming and carved in stone. We need to have the capacity to modify our beliefs as we grow and learn. Intransigence limits or prevents intellectual and emotional growth. That which we believe at the age of five must surely change as we reach maturity, or we will tend to remain immature. When we become brainwashed, when our minds have been conditioned to accept only one true set of beliefs, those beliefs prevent us from even considering differing or opposing views. I pity the individual whose capacity for questioning has been eradicated by the inculcation of exclusive beliefs.
In company with the capacity and willingness to accept change in our own beliefs, we must accept that there are beliefs which are quite different to our own, and which, in fact may challenge or oppose our own thoughts. These beliefs may be just as credible, as valid, as ours, and a strict adherence to our own values, and a refusal to accept the existence of other values, means that we can become truly benighted.
Finally, I ask that you consider that the raison d’etre of belief systems, is the gaining and maintenance of power over others, that the belief that beliefs are inherently positive or merely benign, is in itself, a false belief.
Ultimately, I respect the rights of others to hold beliefs which are contrary to mine. They are absolutely entitled to be wrong.