“I will take responsibility for what I’ve done, but not for who I am.”
(From the song Don’t Call Me White, by NoFX)
Is belief a choice?
Before I tackle this question, I need to draw a distinction, between belief and faith, that many people are unaware of. This misconception about the two has caused many disagreements and much confusion, in my experience.
I believe the sky is, right now in the afternoon, a color that I have learned is commonly called blue. I believe this because I have seen it remain the same color every day of my life, barring clouds, and when the sun is shining. I believe the color is called ‘blue’ because I have been taught, and have seen, that all other objects of similar color are called ‘blue’ by those around me.
I have no reason to expect the sky to be any other color, nor have I any reason to think it may be any other color at the moment. So, given my experiences, I believe the sky is blue outside right now- even though I cannot see it.
I have faith- a choice to think about how something most likely is or will be- that the sky will be blue tomorrow. I have seen nothing to contradict that thought, and the anticipation of it being so. So, I have a reasoned out thought of what to expect tomorrow, after weighing evidence.
If I read that a solar anomaly could change the way the sky looks tomorrow, my faith, for which others words are confidence and trust, might not be so high- especially if the source I was reading from was trusted by me. I could no longer say to myself- the sky will certainly be blue tomorrow and feel comfortable with it.
So, belief is ‘knowledge’ of the way something, in fact, is. Faith is a thought about how something most likely can be found to be, now or in the future, based on reasoning.
Belief and Choice
If a man said to me “the sky is purple- not the color we all call blue”, I could not choose to believe it. Could anyone? Every time I looked outside, my senses would tell me otherwise, and my mind would struggle and fail to reconcile what my senses told me with what this man said. Either I would have to be broken somehow, or this man would be. Either way, could the man blame me for my belief that the sky was in fact blue? If I said to him, or anyone, “Yes, the sky is purple”, while inside my mind the sky registered as the color blue, could it really be said that I believe the sky is purple?
So, I believe the sky is blue because all of my experiences, and all the information I have acquired, have brought me to that belief- the belief that the sky is blue happened to me. I did not choose for anyone to tell me that the sky is the same color as other objects that are called blue, or choose for teachers to tell me the sky is indeed blue. My environment, and my direct experience, both of which are subjective, and largely beyond my control, created this belief in me.
If I argue with the man who told me the sky was purple, and blame him for his ‘mistaken’ beliefs, would that be right? If he truly believed the sky was purple, as silly as this sounds to me, can I blame him for his belief? He cannot choose to believe otherwise, so how is he at fault? To treat him badly for his belief would be unjust. If anything, it would open up the door for him to treat me badly for what he views as a mistaken belief that the sky is blue.
Why am I talking about this?
I hear so many people ridiculed for their beliefs all the time. To me, that’s like ridiculing someone for having a condition they were born with. It’s not their choices that led them to have such a condition- just like it is not a person’s choice to have the beliefs they hold at any time.
It is my standpoint, and my call on anyone reading this, that we all aught to treat people’s beliefs as they would a person’s face or arm. It is what they have. They cannot choose to change it. A new belief may, when that person has gained new information, or new understanding, develop within them. However, that new belief is not something they can choose to create to appease you, me, or anyone else.
I have ‘flip-flopped’ from belief to belief, and philosophy to philosophy, most of my life. I have been called flaky. and other less nice things on account of it. It’s is not that I am always announcing I am this or that now, but I am very open about my thoughts with some people. It is not that I am flaky, or that other people like me are flaky or unstable- it is that I am pursuing and acquiring knowledge, and gaining new understanding, faster than most.
While most may change their leanings once in their lives, some of us ‘seekers’ simply evolve at a different pace, and go through more stages on our personal journeys. All we can do is share where we’re at on our journey. Forgive us for not being able to say where we’ve arrived.