The Tyranny of Belief
Belief; it's an interesting word, with many connotations. Most people will equate belief with a religious faith of some description or other, but that is of course not the sum total of what belief may refer to.
I will give you two examples of actual incidents that I personally experienced whilst book-signing in malls where passers by might come over and stop and look at my books and talk with me. I would like you to compare the strong similarities between the two, which on the surface, might seem to be vastly divergent belief systems.
In the first instance, a man in his sixties approached my desk, where I sat with my book "Meditation for Everyday Living" and he immediately launched into his very evident hatred for religion and everything that smacked of religion, or anything which he perceived to have its roots therein.
At first, I listened patiently to his rant, as he quoted select and obscure passages from The Bible to support his disdain for religion. Finally, I told him that my book is not a religious work, and is about meditation, which has as much scientific evidence for its efficacy as the recommendations of Yogis from India. But it is not a religious work as such, and is not intended to be. It's about attaining peace of mind, something which everyone could do with, regardless of belief.
He ignored everything that I told him, in response to his continued tirade, as he had made up his mind that I was promoting a religious conviction of some sort. Naturally, he was very quick to inform me (as if I couldn't already tell) that he was an atheist, and he was most intent on hammering home his beliefs in that doctrine as it was clearly his firm conviction of the absolute truth of his non-belief. But actually it revealed that he had a very strong belief; he believed in atheism.
I am certain that he left my book-signing table feeling that he had spoken his piece and had put another religious nut in their place, never once considering any word that I had said to him. He could not be reasoned with, because his mind was totally blinkered by dogma. It was the dogma of unbelief, the dogma that is so sure that there is no God or an After Life or anything else that might be 'otherworldly.'
The Religious fanatic
In the second example, (factual, it happened to me) I was again book-signing with the same book "Meditation for Everyday Living" on my table. (Looks like this book attracted trouble!) This time, a young woman probably no older than 25 years or so, came up to my table with a face like thunder. She picked up my business card and turned it over in her hand then brusquely slapped it down on the table with barely concealed anger.
"Are you a Christian?" came the anger-laden question, without a how do you do or so much as a polite introduction.
I responded cautiously, explaining my personal stance regarding all beliefs, and she leaped into a religious tirade which actually turned into an argument. Trying to keep my cool, and resisting the temptation to put her over my knee and give her backside a good spanking, I retorted with quote after Biblical quote, matching her, and beating her on many 'doctrinal' points of which she had no answer, or denied the source from where I was quoting from. (I doubt if she had even read The Bible right through or spent any real time studying it.)
So, feeling disgusted with her religious zeal, and mindful of not losing my temper (not a good example if you teach meditation and are trying to sell your book on the subject) it eventually concluded with her turning away in self-important spiritual superiority and sitting down to drink coffee with one of her male cronies and continue to justify herself to her Bible School companion.
We therefore have two examples, which I have personally been on the receiving end of, where the fanatic, under the tyranny of their beliefs, will fixate upon the right and wrongs of all other beliefs, and yet these two, if they encountered one another would argue with each other the worst of all!
Both were under the intoxicating sense of rightness; their beliefs, and theirs only, were the Truth, and all other options are false; pure and simple. Now they can walk through life with the self-satisfied smugness of one who has all the right answers to the mysteries of the Universe.
They were both suffering from the tyranny of belief. A disease for which there is no cure, save for some radical realisation of some other truth that can replace their current stance, and even then, that is no guarantee, for the Universe must be bent to their beliefs, and not their beliefs adjusted to reality or proven facts.
They Can't all be Right!
When we look at the world around us, with terrorists supposedly acting in the name of God, for example, we can all see just how far a belief may take the fanatic. But it doesn't end there, of course. It isn't just religion that causes war and oppression. Politics is equally a belief that only a certain type of political doctrine or agenda is the answer to national and international problems.
Therefore it becomes a slogan that communism is the only way to share our resources, conservatism is the answer to our financial woes, labour is the only party for the people, green politics solves everything and saves the planet. The reality is that it is more likely that somewhere in-between these ideologies is where the truth may be found; moderation in all things is the rule.
There is a story of a sage who came upon a crowd of people all gathered around two men arguing. The sage carefully listened whilst the first man presented his case, and the sage answered "You're right." The sage then listened whilst the second man presented his case, and the sage responded with "You're right."
"Hang on, they can't both be right!" someone piped up out of the crowd.
The sage turned to the person and replied, "You're right!" and off he went, leaving many a mouth open.
Beliefs are Malleable
We must remind ourselves that to be too sure of our beliefs may be one of the most detrimental concepts to true human development and evolution. There was a time when people truly thought that the Earth was flat, (some people still do, despite all the evidence against it) and if you sailed over the horizon you would slip off the edge of the world.
When Galileo proposed that the Earth was in fact a sphere, the Catholic Church wanted his blood. He also proposed that the Earth itself revolved around the Sun, and not the other way round. Even other scientists of the day disbelieved him. That was four hundred years ago. At the time, people considered that they lived in an age of great enlightenment and sophistication. Yet the Church would have had Galileo burned at the stake. He remained under house arrest for his truthful 'heretical' discoveries for the rest of his days.
When we make a god of our beliefs, we fixate an idea and turn it into an ideal and bring into a narrow focus only one aspect. It becomes concretized, set in stone. When we do that we cannot see the periphery, only the central point. It is truly like wearing blinkers. No other idea can get a chance to be seen let alone heard.
We must remind ourselves that Truth, in all its forms, whether religious, scientific, political or even medical, is unfolding, and ever revealing more aspects of itself. Like a rose, it keeps revealing more layers as the flower of Truth unfolds. If we just believe in the bud, we will never see the bloom or smell the fragrance.
We have to be big enough to declare that we do not know; like Isaac Newton who said that he felt like a child playing on the beach with a vast ocean of Truth before him, awaiting discovery.
When we recognise that our beliefs are constantly shaping our reality, by fixating a concept of 'this is how it is, and no other way' we have immediately limited how much more we can possibly know. Our beliefs are self-defining. They circumscribe us in a bond from which we cannot escape, like a self-imposed ring-pass-not from which the evolving consciousness cannot break free.
Be prepared to say that you do not know; be open to the possibilities of the new. Be ready to listen to the 'what if' concept that goes beyond what you have been told is true.
We cannot shape Reality to fit our concept of what is true. We must shape our beliefs to fit Reality as it reveals things to us that in the beginning may not fit with our preconceived ideas.