Why do we believe? #3 of 5

The headwaters of a river flow for a simple reason–gravity pulls water downhill. If rivers are like our beliefs, the reason we believe should be simple, too.  With the six virtue definition of the educated person, it is.  Beliefs bridge understanding and imagination in a way that gives purpose to life.  What does that look like?

We build understanding through intellectual and sense experiences.  These form the basis for imagining old and new ways for the body to act and the mind to think.  Beliefs are “leaps” of imagination that give purpose to thought and action.

For example, when people doubt a specific religious doctrine, they are told to take a leap of faith.  Notice the metaphor.   A “leap of faith” is the intellect going from challenging a specific, implausible teaching to imagining it is true, even though it is still implausible.  The belief emerges not from reason or evidence, but from the experience of imagining it is true.

Secular believing works the same way.  People take “leaps of faith” all the time–about work, leisure, human nature, society, friendship, pain, sorrow, joy, fun, etc.   These leaps form the beliefs that give purpose to thinking, acting, and living.   For example, people who believe life is more fulfilling when they are fit and healthy will exercise and engage in active hobbies.   Those who believe a life of leisure is the reward for working hard will engage in leisurely ones.

The Apocalypse 2012 documentary, which has been broadcast on CNBC between July and December, 2011; provides another illustration of beliefs giving purpose.  A professor-skeptic said people believe 2012 is the year of the apocalypse because this belief gives purpose to their lives.   In the very next scene an “apocalypse survivalist” said the exact same thing–that preparing to survive the apocalypse has given his life new purpose.

So–why do we believe different things?  It’s simple.  Our beliefs give us purpose.


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