Absolute Self-Honesty & Belief

For the most part, belief—especially religious belief—isn't rational and well thought out. It's prejudicial and predisposed to a whole lot of mental 'models' that preceded it simply because these models seemed to work well enough with the information at hand.

Typically these models are constructed when we are young children and with each passing year exert strong influence on our various processes of reasoning.

Given the nature of indoctrination, it is understandable, then, why we tend to stick with mental models introduced in our childhoods, at a time when we didn't didn't know enough to be skeptical or to ask critical questions.

People cannot be expected to gather all the relevant information, perceive it accurately, weigh it evenly and act without prejudice. They distort information to fit with choices they have already made. Once they make some choice, they have difficulty producing a change..

—Al Ulberg, on the pychology of making decisions

Absolute Self-Honesty

The models of the beliefs we use—whether warranted or unwarranted—are really presuppositions and assumptions that directly affect our attitudes and the roles we adopt when interpreting the world and our place within it. In a general sense, we are all posers when it comes to adhering to the tenets of our respective belief systems and worldviews. As such, we convince ourselves to be skeptical about doubt and uncertainty, uncompromising when it comes to believing in the sacredness of ancient texts or the existence of invisible dieties. Instead of embracing doubt as a potential to learn or having the courage to recognize the voice of our inner arrière pensée, we pretend to know what we have no way of knowing, to see what cannot be seen, to hear the voices of those only able to speak from the pages of dusty books.

There is a difference between giving a text the "benefit of the doubt" and giving a text the benefit of never being doubted. .

—Wayne Adkins, on apologists' usurious 'explanations' for Bible contradictions

If we are willing to be completely honest with ourselves—an act that demands diligence, courage, and veracity—we will in time discover that most everything we 'believe' regarding religion and the supernatural is composed of nothing but presuppositions whose 'proofs' are based entirely on words and words alone. As such, have we been constructing worldviews and keying our behavior not based on anything implicit in reality but because of unprovable words in a book? Are we empowering language to have greater worth and potency than the warm-blooded immediacy of our own lives? Are we surrendering to notions and ideas, offering ourselves up to die for some vague 'cause' rather than promoting our selves, our lives, our precious time as ultimately important? Are we signing our lives over to abstraction, to polemics and logomachy, the artifice of words? Are we rejecting life for what is lifeless and inanimate?

Self-HonestyAn "honest questioner" is someone who sincerely attempts to ask honest questions, seek honest answers, who consciously and deliberately strives to be honest with oneself throughout the discovery process. An honest questioner rigorously and conscientiously recognizes that he or she is a product of a specific milieu and culture and, as such, has been inculcated with a set of ideas, traits, biases, and core beliefs dynamically conjoined to his or her environment.

The geographical location of one's birth and upbringing has as much impact on one's belief system as do parental and societal influences, psychological and emotional impressions, and other determining factors such as health, family income, religious affiliation, and education. Aware of these, an honest questioner will not assume offhand that his or her worldview is correct or warranted simply because it is the most familiar, imbued in the surrounding society, culturally conventional, traditional, or within easy reach.

An honest questioner will look at all sides of an issue and look beyond the belief system effectualized through birth placement, upbringing, culture, or society.

What is at issue is the process of belief itself and the myriad assumptions and presuppositions one must necessarily overlook in order to continue supporting the belief process. Unlike many people, the honest questioner is acutely aware of threads of assumption interwoven throughout the fabric of belief and will pick and pull at these, perhaps unravelling the whole tapestry, as part of his or her questioning process.

Unless one is willing to dismantle the familiar and comfortable in search of truth and admit to assumptions and prejudices, hopes and fears, wishes and weaknesses, one is not an honest questioner. All too often one is rather a "true believer," someone who has given little or no thought to the reasons one believes, how one believes, the psychological underpinnings of belief, or the many assumptions that are neglected in the course of believing.

We will be looking at each of these along the way while raising questions about belief, faith, reason, knowledge, methodology, research, and evidence-gathering. There's so much we don't know we don't know, but with courage and commitment we might find our answers traveling a thousand different avenues, and make discoveries, and finally embrace truth wherever it is found, even if it is the last thing we expected.

Most people unknowingly adhere to irrational, unexamined, and superstitious beliefs. Many religious people come to accept church teachings and doctrines with a host of hidden beliefs, ideas, assumptions, fears, and psychological motives they unconsciously seek confirmed, pampered, or placated. If they are willing to question old beliefs they almost always replace these with new teachings and beliefs they presuppose are somehow more "real" and "sensible" than those previous. Hardly ever do they take the next step and question this new set of beliefs and teachings with as much urgency and soul-searching as they might have applied to their preceding belief system. Why is that?

In many cases it is a defense mechanism, an unconscious process used to shield anxieties and fears associated with one's most instinctive sense of self. Most often what is hidden is the fear of death, loneliness, low self-esteem, poor self-image, ignorance, guilt, childhood trauma or bad childhood memories. Even believers who have experienced deep spiritual epiphanies will continue to cling to superstitious ideas and irrational beliefs in an unconscious effort to find security in the face of the unknown. It is this grasping for security in all its forms that limits self-awareness and acerbates a noetic imbalance that promotes further guilt, suffering, confusion, or defeatist, docile, or untested thinking. It is ironic that in not wanting to face the beast of one's anxieties, ignorance, and fears, one will embrace an unexamined belief system that further enables anxiety, ignorance, and fear to become dominant. This creates a vicious circle—as fears, ignorance, and anxieties begin to dominate the more are unexamined beliefs adopted and embraced to the exclusion of studied and rational thinking.

In order to break this cycle, you must want to know truth more than you want to feel secure, protect the status quo, or preserve your belief image. You must be willing to engage in sometimes hard and time-consuming work, get your hands dirty, tear the cover off your fears, anxieties, wishes, and dreams, and pull them kicking into the harsh light of reality. You must find the courage to ask difficult questions, uncomfortable questions, uneasy, even irreverent, questions. You must be willing to place the search for truth above everything else—your beliefs, your religion, your concept of God, even your own salvation. Unless you are willing to do this you are being dishonest with yourself and any questions you formulate will be clouded with dishonesty, your search subverted by opportunism and self-interest. For the sake of truth, then, presume nothing, be honest with yourself, know your weaknesses and biases, understand your assumptions, ask difficult questions, read different types of books, study a broad range of topics, research history, take classes, return to school, learn a language, take as much time as you need, and test everything you encounter while pursuing truth along a thousand avenues of inquiry.

Truth is willing to journey along a thousand avenues of inquiry,
self-deception insists there is only one

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Copyright © 2007 by Craig Lee Duckett. All rights reserved
LAST UPDATED: April 11, 2009
April 11, 2009