The Nature of Belief Systems

FIRST, some commentary on a few cognitive aversions from an INFP perspective…

imageAfter completing a series of posts on the INFP personality type, I’d like to provide some thoughts on the nature of belief systems.  It’s a subject matter which illustrates a cognitive aversion I attribute to my temperament-based preferences.  As I mentioned in this series, the MBTI is a “mental food log” which describes what the mind is drawn to.   It describes how you take in information, and what you do with it.  As it applies to my own life, I’m naturally drawn to “outside-the-box thinking”, authenticity, and my imagination.  I also have natural cognitive aversions.  As an INFP I’m easily bored by the inane details of life and I need “alone time” to recharge after a long day.   These preferences are in opposition to my husband’s who is an ESTP.  His “puppy temperament” is a stark contrast to my cat-like independence.   Right now as I type this on the living room sofa lost in my thoughts, my husband prepares dinner.  Its worth noting that these natural cognitive aversions also produce strong feelings of annoyance and aggravation.  Understanding this, has been very useful in working through areas of miscommunication in relationships….

INFP rebellion vs. ISFJ conformity – when cognitive aversions conflict…

GULL TALKAs an ISFJ, my sister naturally gravitates toward conventionality.  She desires to follow the rules and was always the “good girl”.  In retrospect,  this reflects a set of natural temperament-based preferences in her ISFJ personality.  Until I understood this, we had trouble seeing eye-to-eye.   What follows are quotes from a resource that summarizes key aspects of my sister’s temperament that can rub me the wrong way at times:

“ISFJs have a very clear idea of the way things should be, which they strive to attain…They tend to believe that existing systems are there because they work. Therefore, they’re not likely to buy into doing things in a new way, unless they’re shown in a concrete way why its better… (personalitypage.com, n.d.a.)”  

“ISFJs are usually stable, certain, reliable…But if unbalanced, they are likely to treat any point of view other than their own with a kind of cold dismay, and if pressed hard will tend to shut out the existence of problems caused by others differing attitudes…(personalitypage.com, n.d.b)”  

Growing up, I found these characteristics infuriating.  We’re doing much better today, and I consider our relationship healed.  However, in our youth, I was often greatly hurt by our her refusal to listen to my perspective on matters.  This was especially painful in a familial culture that made me a “definitive minority”.  With my mother’s temperament in opposition to my own as an ESTJ, I consistently displayed a natural inclination toward rebellion.  This wasn’t intentional.  In fact, I constantly doubted myself and what was eager to please her.   “Why couldn’t I just fall into line?  What was wrong with me?”…

…Against this personal backdrop, I have many thoughts on the shortcomings of belief systems, that I feel are worth discussion here….

Characteristics of Belief Systems

Belief systems are socially constructed

bSocieties and cultures are a byproduct of belief systems, which provide a means of constructing the “stories we tell ourselves to define our personal sense of reality” (Usó, 2015, p. 1).  In this sense, they are meaning paradigms that define the nature of our lived experience.  Societies benefit because belief systems create a mutually agreed-upon reference point for all its members.  When everybody complies, belief systems carry social consequences that allow it to develop a surface appearance which mirrors “objective truth”.  In this respect, their existence is not dependent upon a believer, but society as a whole.  It remains an integral component of our culture, woven throughout our history until we as a society begin to question it.  Only then can systems of belief loosen their definitive hold upon our daily lives.

Belief systems are comprised of mutually supportive tenants…

puzzle-1152794_640Systems of belief contain a mutually supportive “set of tenets or convictions that support each other, such that the whole system governs individual beliefs.” (closertotruth.org, 2016).    Essentially, the components of a belief system become woven together into a network of supporting “truths” for believers that allow the experience of internal consistency (closertotruth.org, 2016).  As a consequence, believers think they have an answer or inside understanding on “truth”, when in reality they’re taking the entire system on faith (Usó, 2015).

Belief systems require personal commitment & blind faith from its followers….

monkey-557586_640Belief systems require personal commitment from believers in order to provide “strong social consequences” (Usó, 2015).  Without these social consequences, belief systems would not be able to provide followers with a perception that they hold  “truth or understanding”.  This is due to the fact that belief systems are constructed out of a set of complex components that together become internally consistent and “logical” (((as long as you stay within system))).

Belief systems provide a means of explanation & evaluation for followers….

Human beings are meaning makers.  Our experiences become what they are, in part, due to how we choose to define them.  In this respect, systems of belief are woven throughout our thought processes, perceptions, and experiences.  “Reason cannot prove the beliefs [they] are based upon.  Beliefs arise through experience.  Experiences needs previous beliefs and reason to be assimilated, and reason needs experience to be formed, as beliefs need reason as well” (Usó, 2015, p. 1).  If you think about it, this explains why people vigorously defend systems of belief. Once removed, it can feel as if the rug has been pulled out from under you.

Nonconsensual, ever-changing, & varying in certitude…

Finally, regarding the specific nature of belief systems, there are a few more characteristics worth mentioning. Uso, (2015), notes that they are “nonconsensual” (p. 1), in the sense that not all followers agree 100% with all aspects of it.  For example, while my mother is devoutly Catholic, she disagree’s with the church’s view on abortion and birth control.   My sister, who considers herself a “bible-banging” evangelical, often butts heads with my mother’s Catholicism on assorted religious matters.  As the agnostic, my perspective holds “no value whatsoever”, since I’m going to hell.  Religious debates in my family often result in hurt feelings.

On the basis of these observations, it is worth noting that followers are aware of the presence of alternatives.  They have heard the rhetoric of detractors.  They respond with a passionate commitment in varying “degree of certitude” (Usó, 2015, p. 1).  These variances in commitment, present with a passionate assertion of faith.  It is in this respect that knowledge appears very different from belief.  As it pertains to knowledge, we simply state facts. “One would not say that one knew facts strongly” (Ableson, 1979, 366). Beliefs are presented as matters of trust and faith that some fact or idea can be accepted or held in confidence.  Implicit in this commitment are varying degree of emotion and feeling from believers (Usó, 2015).

  Consequences for Believers

So with these characteristics in mind, what are the consequences of committing to a belief system? What follows is a list of personal observations, as an “outsider looking in”…..

A Perceptual Bubble

20150405_083325A series of interesting videos on belief can be found an www.closertotruth.org.  In one of their videos, it is noted that belief systems create a perceptual bubble around which we create our reality (closertotruth.org, 2016).  This pertains to an insight from another resource I quoted earlier which notes that beliefs are essential components of the stories we tell about our lives (Uso, 2015).  By fully committing to a belief system on faith, you’re adopting a Perceptual Bubble of sorts. This can create an internally consistent experience of life.  When a group of people all hold a belief system on faith, it carries a series of social consequences for members.  This shared experience of “understanding” and “truth” can create systemic distortion, coloring everyone’s experiences holistically.  “Seeing outside” is difficult, if not impossible.

Disabled Critical Thinking

columboClosertotruth.org, (2016) also notes that it is easy to fall into a trap of assuming a rationality in our thought processes, when in fact, they reflect beliefs, (at least to some extent).  Technically, it is impossible to step outside ourselves and see how we see.  We are all inevitably bound by the subjectivity of our day-to-day experiences.  However, taking time to practice critical thinking is essential in order to: (1)  understand reality based on factual evidence, (2) observe it in manner not colored by emotions, and (3) make decisions in a manner that includes elements of logic and reason.   Mind you, I’m certainly no “guru” on the matter of thinking critically 🙂 .  However,  my attempts have provided me much to reflect upon.  As I’ve stated before, life’s problems are often simply d/t how we’re look at a situation.  The solution, often involves considering an alternate perspective we may have previously ignored.  The problem with systems of belief, is that they “short-circuit” thought processes. Becoming a believer is an “all or nothing” deal.  Acceptance requires an act of faith, wherein you unquestioningly adopt a set of propositions without examining the facts.  This logical jump requires adopting the entire system, since it is built to maintain an internally consistent life perspective in favor of “greater truth”.  For some, this is convenient, since it allows us to create an experience of “objective truth” without the effort of thinking for ourselves.  In reality this “objective truth” is a mutually shared self-deception.

Commitment-Based “Objective” Truth

Finally, many things we accept as “objective truth” are actually matters of faith.   From within the system, contradictory evidence is concealed and often goes by unnoticed.  Until something anomalous comes along to rock one’s boat all seems “okay”.  For many, letting go of a system of belief is scary, because it means letting go “everything you know” for something else – as yet undetermined…..

References

Ableson, R.P. (1979). Differences between belief and knowledge systems. Cognitive science, 3(4) 355-366).
closertotruth.com  (2016).  How Belief Systems Work.  Retrieved from: http://www.closertotruth.com/series/how-belief-systems-work
personalitypage.com (n.d.a.) Portrait of an ISFJ – Introverted Sensing Feeling Judging  Retrieved from: http://www.personalitypage.com/ISFJ.html
personalitypage.com (n.d.b). ISFJ Personal Growth. Retrieved from:  http://www.personalitypage.com/html/ISFJ_per.html
Usó, J. L. (2015). What are Belief Systems?. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Josue_Antonio_Nescolarde_Selva/publication/270569207_What_are_Belief_Systems/links/55e8497808ae21d099c17009.pdf

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