Belief is both powerful and dangerous. It provides meaning to our lives and motivates great works, but when wielded unintelligently can be deadly. I’ve been reminded of this recently by two sources. One is a friend of mine who is very religious, and believes that the Bible is the literal truth. We were talking about this the day before Easter, and she said it was her faith that allowed her to come to China, to raise her children, and to maintain her happiness. While I’ve only gotten to know her recently, this statement fits what I know about her already. Yet I would argue it is this which has also made her reject ideas like evolution and to hold academic research at arm’s length.
The second source is a BBC documentary series on the history of Britain. The series is 15 episodes long, but the past four episodes (ever since King Henry VIII) have seen England consumed by violence as the Protestants and Catholics fight it out. Oliver Cromwell, for instance, is depicted as a man of deep religious conviction, without which he would never have succeeded in his revolutionary task but which also led him to commit mass murder in Ireland. This paradox of belief—it must be both embraced yet mistrusted—is difficult to navigate, and doing so requires more research into how belief operates. Here are some recent papers that explore that topic.
- Mona Simion, Christoph Kelp, and Harmen Ghijsen, “Norms of Belief,” Philosophical Issues, October 2016.
- Collard, R. Cummins, and M. Fuller-Tyskiewicz, “Measurement of Positive Irrational Beliefs (Positive Cognitive Illusions),” Journal of Happiness Studies, June 2016.
- Teemu Toppinen, “How Norms (Might) Guide Belief,” International Journal of Philosophical Studies, July 2015
- Florian Klauser, “Belief Without Representation,” Interdisciplinary Description of Complex Systems, 2017.
- Sarah Adams and Jon Robson, “Does absence make atheistic belief grow stronger?,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, February 2016.
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