Belief is the essence of religions throughout the world, and having belief. And religions throughout the world have at least one commonality: there is not a religion that I am aware of that does not exhort its followers to believe AND as a result of believing to become more perfect – to follow the path. So belief is transformative in its very nature. Without belief it is impossible to follow, impossible to succeed, and impossible to become what you truly are. Which last statement, obviously, is a paradox, for how can you become what you already are? In the same way that the acorn is and is not an oak tree, but all that is the oak tree is in the acorn, but latent.
Before going further with his discussion we need to review another word that is closely allied to belief, which is the word ‘faith’. Not everyone would agree with me, but I think that we must not try to put on words like faith and belief the murky history of fanaticism, intolerance and mass murder. People kill other people, but can they really be for religious reasons? True, the murderers of all religious hues always claim the reasons are religious, but how is that tenable when all the true major religions eschew violence? Because someone says they killed for their faith – for Jesus, for Buddha, for Islam – does that make them religious?
We need, I think, to bear in mind that not all witnesses speak the truth; that man can be a self-serving animal; and that even serial killers rationalise their actions – in fact, are most likely to produce ‘God’ as their witness and defence: God told them to do it. A classic case would be Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, who claimed he murdered prostitutes because he was told by God to do it. Is that faith or belief? Delusion or deception springs to mind, and the idea of taking at face value the comments of deranged people who claim they are acting for God - that is, have faith – is at very best dubious.
To return then to the real 'concept' of belief, we need to get (through religious experience and writings primarily, and also through what has been observed in the secular world through research and experimentation) that belief is not a concept. It is not a simple idea that we mentally assent to: certainly there may be a conceptual component, but more than that for it to be a belief there is an emotional affirmation with it that goes to the root of our being and how we feel. And that is why it is transformative, because our emotions, far more strongly than our thoughts, transport us. Emotion: e-motion, that which is moving us, causing motion, providing the fuel, the energy to take us further forward in the quest of our lives.
Belief, in fact, lies in the heart – the traditional residence of the human soul – and not the brain. Belief being in the heart also means that true belief inspires courage – ‘cour’ (Latin) – which again is always associated with the heart (e.g. Richard the Lionheart). Thus to renew ourselves we need to pay more attention to how we feel and draw on this strength in our thinking and imagination. What we believe will become our reality; that is what all the scriptures tell us.