Discomfort In Belief

In the sphere of mysticism and magic, one will find an emphasis on belief in many modern practices. Belief makes things happen, gods are created or sustained by belief, etc. This is not a modern idea by any extent, but I feel it’s more prominent today than I would expect, and I’ve been analyzing it now and then.

So yes, this column is not just an attempt to communicate, but organize my own thoughts. What can I say, I believe this will work.

Last pun, I promise.

I think the sheer prominence of emphasis on belief in mystical practices has been amplified by such believe-to-achieve stuff like “The Secret” and its related and origin documents. There’s been something about the 20th and 21st century that has emphasized the idea that we can just believe something and have it happen. It’s both highly individualistic and also very comforting to people – and that’s where I think this prominence gets “sticky.”

It’s comforting to think you can change your mind and change the world. It’s comforting to think your destiny is in your hands. It’s comforting to think that there are gods that just exist as you believe and there’s no one in charge but you. It’s comforting – until you think about how we really believe.

A lot of our beliefs are handed – or forced – on us by parents, society, friends, and our own poor choices. A lot of what we believe and have believed is not something we chose, and even if we “take control” are we that sure we’re making the right choices? A lot of what’s us has its origins outside of us.

This means a lot of beliefs are unconscious. We say we may believe something in a ritual or attempts to “focus out will,” but do we really? Are we believing something, just reflecting what’s already there, or is there something else crawling beneath our thoughts? If you’ve ever been to therapy you know how much stuff is just under the surface – and that’s not comforting.

Whatever power our beliefs do have (which I may, perhaps, write more about) they’re also working with – or conflicting with everyone else’s beliefs. Taking a materialist or mystical viewpoint, our beliefs – already quite complex – are forming a web with everyone else’s beliefs. It might not be the one we want.

Then, finally, there’s the idea that our beliefs shape supernatural – or supernatural-like powers. That may sound comforting to think you have power over the gods, but far less comforting when you think about the above. And all that is even less comforting if you have any concept of the gods and spirits being independent entities

So “belief affects reality? Yeah, probably, but it’s not comforting, it’s not a source of unlimited power, and it’s very complex.

Perhaps this is why the “believe to achieve” type quasi-mystical B.S. sells and keeps selling. It gives us hope of power and control – and when we don’t get what we want or confront the complexity of the universe, people buy more. It’s not comforting and is easily challenged, so for some people you buy another book or take another class.

Belief is just part of life. It has its role – and that role is not to make you feel better or in charge.