Let’s say you love apple pie, the Tigers are your favorite baseball team, blue is the end-all beat-all of colors, you absolutely love a certain politician but loathe another, and you’re fortunate enough to practice the only true religion. You seem to have it made with all your awesome beliefs. Have you ever stopped to wonder why you believe all that stuff? Why apple pie? Why not blueberry? Why practice that particular religion? What’s wrong with orange? Believe it or not, there’s a reason why you believe what you believe. There are seven causes of belief in all, according to philosopher Walter Kauffman. He wrote about them in his book “A Critique of Religion and Philosophy” (if you want to believe him). Getting to the bottom of why just might change the way you think about belief.
Here’s an example. If you are born in a particular city, chances are you might support the local sports team for a few reasons. Everyone you know supports that team, you were brought up in a household that loves it, and it makes you feel happy inside to love that team. So, considering why you love that team, you can see osmosis, following the crowd, and filling an emotional need are three reasons. They also may be the best team in the nation, beating all the other teams by a landslide. Add “because it can be proven to be true” to the list.
As stated above, we have belief by osmosis (brought up believing it and never questioned it), belief by following the crowd (they can’t all be wrong, right?), belief because it fills and emotional need, and belief because it can be proven to be true. There’s also belief by appeal to authority (Dr. Spock says I should spank my baby so it must be true), belief because it fills a philosophical need (it sounds so good I want to believe it), and ugly as it sounds, there’s belief by attrition (you are forced to believe it…or suffer the consequences).
People of particular religions tend to believe theirs is the only correct one. Many may not realize a lot depends on where we are born. If someone was born in India, there’s a good chance he or she would grow up Hindu; in China, a Buddhist, in the Middle East, either Muslim or Jewish (religion not race). More than 70% of US citizens are Christian. Where people were brought up has a lot to do with why they are a particular religion. Add to that an appeal to authority, and following the crowd. Their parents, their spiritual leader, and their community all contribute to why they believe what they believe. And of course, being the only true religion makes them feel good and safe, so it appeals to their emotions. It sounds good, too, and they want to believe it, so it has a philosophical appeal. Attrition plays a big part as well, as many live with the threat of damnation if they don’t believe it and fall in step with their religious community. Is it true? Can they prove it? Most major religions have ancient holy books that say it’s true. There are some 28,000 different religions that all believe they are right. But can they really prove it? No. That’s where faith comes in. The failsafe button of faith absolves them of having to prove it to themselves.
Truth is not the biggest reason why we believe what we believe. We might think it is, but in most cases, especially religion, it really isn’t.
When I learned about the seven causes of belief, it startled me. I began to look introspectively into why I believed all sorts of things. Ever since, I have been on a journey of understanding. I ask myself “why” a lot. It keeps me humble, inquisitive and open minded. At least, I believe so.
Why do you believe what you believe?