Friday, September 21, 2012

A More Detailed Explanation of Belief Substance

In my last blog, I wrote about what I called the "substance of belief," which I characterized as the ability for a belief to move the believer. I mentioned as examples a person who claims to believe in equality but then consistently displays racist or sexist behavior and a person who believes that he is in sin, believes that hell is horrifying, and believes that his sin warrants hell. When I had someone read that blog, they said to me, "that's not a lack of belief - that's just hypocrisy."

Rereading my blog I see where my error lied. My examples painted a narrow picture, both examples are also examples of hypocrisy, so it would be easy to suppose that I was only talking about the fact that people claim to believe one thing but live as though that belief never factored into their practical reasoning. What I really mean to say is that all beliefs have a measurable dimension - what I have arbitrarily dubbed "substance" - that shows the extent to which the believer's life is impacted by the belief.

This dimension of substance allows us to distinguish beliefs based on the influence they hold over the believer. Not merely in the case of hypocrisy, but also in the case of moral beliefs, scientific beliefs, entertaining beliefs, and what have you. I shall try to draw out this concept in greater detail now.

Binary: Believed or ~Believed
Continuum 1: Nearness of Subject Matter [Near - Far]
Continuum 2: Influence over Believer's Life (Substance) [Substantial - Insubstantial]

Because I am here concerned only with beliefs, all of these categories assume a positive belief. So for the Binary listed above, I will not be dealing with ~Believed cases.

Distant Facts

Continuum 1: Far
Continuum 2: Insubstantial

In this category I would put nearly the entirety of objective facts about the world. Not all of them, of course, and the exact proportions would vary from person to person, but every person is completely unaffected by whether or not they acknowledge the truth of most true facts about the world. Park Rangers do not change their behavior based on the latest research on the evolution of Norse Mythology; MMA fighters lead the same lives whether they believe Robin Hood was a historical or a fictional figure; almost everyone you know will behave in the same way no matter what they believe about Quantum Physics; and the fact that light can not escape a black hole does not enter into anyone's consideration of how they should spend their weekend.

Frankly, most information, even true information, just does not matter. So any beliefs pertaining to these facts will barely influence the believer's life. For that reason, I say that these beliefs lack substance, but I also qualify this by saying that there is no reason for these beliefs to have substance.

Near Facts/Beliefs

Continuum 1: Near
Continuum 2: Substantial

Of course, facts pertaining to human biology or facts pertaining to human relationships or historical facts can matter a great deal. Maybe the theory of evolution gives you a new appreciation for yourself and your species or maybe it causes you to feel worthless - either way you will behave at least a little differently. Whether or not you and your cousin get along will determine what you get her for her birthday. The fact that a neighboring country once occupied your country will probably affect your political behavior. These facts have substance because people behave differently depending on what they believe.

Included in this category are our loves, which can not possibly be distant from us, and all that make up our framework/vantage points.


Continuum 1: Near
Continuum 2: Insubstantial

Included here are all those examples I included in my last blog: cases where someone claims to believe something that should affect them greatly, but then does not actually enter into their practical reasoning. People who claim to believe in hell, but then do nothing to avoid it. People who claim to believe that health is the most important thing in life, but then eat junk food and smoke regularly. People who claim that they believe in seizing the day, but then actively maintain a blog.

How do we determine when a belief should affect the believer? The believer is the the measure. The believer's claimed beliefs about his own values determines this. So if someone says, "I believe in putting health first," or says, "I think religion is very important," then we can say that his beliefs regarding health and theology should affect him greatly.

If his behavior does not correspond with his beliefs, we can say that some of his beliefs must lack substance, and we can say that in these cases this is indicative of insincerity.

Beloved Details

Continuum 1: Far
Continuum 2: Substantial

Sometimes you encounter someone who really cares about some seemingly obscure fact or the proper observance of some seemingly inessential custom or rule. Now sometimes this makes sense in the larger context of their vantage point, in which case you just note that people are indeed diverse and their value systems are likewise diverse. Other times, though, you will find that someone really cares about the truth of some belief, but they can not really tell you why it matters. Maybe they even acknowledge that there is no great reason for some given belief to be put on a pedestal, but they put it there anyway.

For example, anyone who makes sure you know the exact shade of green that the woman Kirk fucked in episode 85 of the original Star Trek, or anyone who makes sure that you know that their jacket is authentic leather, or anyone who will not let you forget that time they escaped from a rampaging bear in the woods. Even in their own worldview, these people probably can acknowledge how inconsequential these details are, and yet they love them. The man with the authentic leather jacket probably knows that no one's life will be affected by the authenticity of their cowskin, but they derive joy from the fact, which alters their behavior insofar as they set aside time or resources to enjoy these beliefs or to enhance the facts of the world so as to further enjoy their corresponding beliefs.


  1. Your words have done it again, good sir!

  2. Communicated my ideas clearly in a thorough and entertaining way?

    Or made what I was saying so hopelessly obscure that the blog is basically mental masturbation?