First, let us define what I mean by “Belief”. The American Heritage Dictionary gives us this precise definition of it:
Belief: Mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something: Something believed or accepted as true, especially a particular tenet or a body of tenets accepted by a group of persons.
Ok, that tells us what belief is, but also introduces another word, “Tenet”. Let’s look again in the Heritage Dictionary to define that also;
Tenet: An opinion, doctrine, or principle held as being true by a person or especially by an organization.
For the purpose of this discussion, then, we’ll define Belief as, “An idea or opinion that people, especially groups of people, accept as being true”.
When we talk about belief, we usually refer to our having a belief in some-thing, such as a belief-in “God”, or a belief-in “Democracy”. But, we might also hear someone say something like, “I believe in being honest”, or, “I believe we should all love one another”. This is having a belief in the value of things. As I see it, most of these beliefs are OPINION’s, but that’s covered in another essay here (“On Opinion“).
When we believe in things, those beliefs seem to affect the way that we behave, don’t they? A religious person, for example, who professes a belief in God, will act in ways that reflect their religious belief; they may never swear using the word’s “God”. They will probably attend their particular church on whatever day of the week is usual for them. They might have daily reading or devotion times, during which they read their particular religious literature, and spend some time in what they call “reflection, meditation or prayer”. Belief in their particular religion, then, causes them to do certain things like this, directly influencing the way that they carry out their lives. That’s just a simple fact.
As our definition of belief mentions, having a particular attitude or philosophy towards life also affects our opinions towards things. If my opinion of Martians, for example, is negative (for whatever reason) then that negative opinion of them will certainly reflect my behaviour towards them. I may try to avoid them by not shopping in stores owned by them, or I may not sit next to them on the bus. Clearly, my opinion of them quite noticeably affects my attitude and behaviour towards them—this is what I perceive to be the beginning of the problem with belief. Let me explain.
Human beings, the whole lot of us, tend to be somewhat emotional at times, don’t we? Yes, of course, this is an understatement! In fact, I think that it is safe to say that most of us are for the most part controlled by our emotions. We make most decisions about things based on how we feel. One moment we feel like doing this, the next we feel like doing that. Or, we feel this way about something and not that way. That’s what I’m talking about. Yes, of course, we use “Logic” when we make decisions about things, but here I’m talking about how our opinions about things are actually based upon what or how we feel about things.
And so my point is that our beliefs, which are strongly influenced by our emotions, cause all us to think and act in certain ways. What happens, however, when your belief is different than mine if you believe 6 hours of sleep is enough and I believe 10 hours is the minimum? Well, not much happen’s in this case, but suddenly we are in conflict; we disagree with each other about something that is based upon our respective beliefs.
What would happen, however, if I were a very religious person and decided to tell my Martian neighbour that the religious beliefs it has are ridiculous and totally wrong? Or, what would happen if I tell it, in an angry tone of voice, that it isn’t welcome to live on my side of town? I think that it is safe to say that in both situations, unless the Martian were extremely mature and self-controlled, it would get at least a little upset with me. It may want to argue with me, and, if angry enough—may even want to vaporize me—simply because the two of us have had a little difference of opinion/belief!? Well, at the very least, it would probably react with disgust towards me, and decide that I’m certainly not the type of person with whom it wants to associate. It may also decide to never call me its “friend”. I would likely come to the same conclusion!
Where emotions are involved, and beliefs are challenged, our entire human history has shown us that even so-called “little differences of opinion” can have HUGE, even fatal, consequences. Most wars, in fact, are caused by fundamental differences in beliefs, with one country disagreeing with another country about a political (usually land-rights) issue of some sort. War, of course, is an extreme reaction to differences of belief. Nevertheless, whether it’s a “complex” disagreement, like that over fundamental political issues, or just a “simple” disagreement, like disagreeing where someone should or should not live, in both types of situations, it is our emotional reactions to the belief’s of other’s that end up causing us to behave in ways that divide us, whether simply, by affecting our living habits, or cataclysmically, by killing one another. The culprit? Our conflicting beliefs!
In any and all situations like these, then, it is the difference in our beliefs that have ended up dividing us. Divisions are BARRIERS that are erected between us, damaging our relationships with the people around us, whether on the individual or collective (like countries against other countries) levels. And that is what I mean by the title of this essay, that Belief causes a barrier between people. And where barriers exist between people, relationships between them are difficult. Communication, especially, is damaged, and peace between us is threatened, if not destroyed.
Despite what I have suggested here, that belief erects a barrier between people, I will not say that belief is something “bad”. Rather, I would like to suggest that the application of our beliefs is what results in this negative effect. We all believe in things, but for those of us who believe in religious ideas especially, I think that the issue I have raised could be cause for us to reflect more deeply upon how we apply our belief. Perhaps there is, or can be, an application of our belief, which transcends the negative “barrier” effect I have pointed out here, which would ultimately make our religion’s and philosophies more credible, and perhaps more believable!