Breaking Out of the Prison of Belief

By George A. Boyd © 2022

Many people have difficulty releasing beliefs that are based on lies and misinformation. To begin to let go of these erroneous beliefs, it is important to understand the stages of belief:

Stage One – Belief acquisition. In this stage, you learn about an idea or proposition and you choose to believe it. It may intuitively resonate with you. It may explain something you didn’t understand. It may make connections between ideas that give you a larger perspective and new insights into some world events.

Stage Two – Belief maintenance. In this stage, there is nothing to challenge your belief, so you continue to hold it as true.

Stage Three – Belief confrontation. In this stage, someone challenges your beliefs and tells you it is false. You may defend your belief. You may not listen to the arguments of the person, who confronts you. You may attack and demean the person, who challenges your beliefs.

Stage Four – Belief modification. In this stage, you gather new information about the belief, which allows you expand your understanding of the belief, and you can more cogently communicate it to others. Your experience with belief confrontation allows you to better counter arguments against your belief.

Stage Five – Belief dissemination. With sufficient knowledge of the belief and its implications, you are able to explain the belief so others can understand it, and convince them why there is value in holding it.

Stage Six – Belief reconsideration. When you find inconsistencies or errors in the belief, you may reconsider it. In this stage, you analyze the validity of the belief and you decide whether to maintain or reject it. If you find palatable explanations for the inconsistencies or the error does not detract from the overall coherence and explanatory value of the belief, you will retain it.

Stage Seven – Belief rejection and adoption of a new belief. At this stage, you find the belief is incorrect and you jettison it. You form a new belief based on new knowledge.

Here’s an example of the process:

  • We learned that Pluto was the ninth planet (stage one).
  • We didn’t question this belief for many years (stage two).
  • New astronomical discoveries about the nature of planets and the zone of space where Pluto dwells led some scientists to question the status of Pluto as a planet (stage three).You learn more about the solar system, and this seems to confirm your original belief that Pluto is a planet (stage four).
  • You communicate to your children that Pluto is the ninth planet; if you are a teacher, you teach this to your students (stage five).
  • Other worlds about the size of Pluto are found in the Kuiper Belt; those worlds and Pluto are found to not clear their orbits, as do the other eight planets. Scientists re-examine their belief that Pluto is a planet (stage six).
  • The scientific consensus shifts and re-labels Pluto as a dwarf planet. You learn this new information and reject your old idea that Pluto was a planet; you now embrace the new belief about Pluto (stage seven).

If you learn an erroneous belief based on misinformation, you may never go beyond stage four, where you may modify your belief with new misinformation and learn to defend it against attack. If you are strongly committed to the belief and feel that others must know it, you will disseminate the belief to others through writing, speeches, or social media (stage five). You never critically examine the belief (stage six), so there is nothing that allows you to release it and adopt a more accurate belief.

When many beliefs link together to form a network of beliefs about a topic, these enmeshed beliefs can become a veritable prison within the mind. Conspiracy theories, political and religious dogmas, and the hate-filled ideologies of terrorist and hate groups construct these mental prisons, from which it is very hard for people to escape.

Byron Katie, in “the Work,” used as series of questions that were designed to help break people out of their prisons of belief. This questioning process asked people to consider (a) what is the implication of holding the belief, (b) what might they perceive if they let go of the belief, and (c) what would their life be like if they abandoned the belief.

Examples of this questioning method are:

2020 Election was stolen: (a) “What are the implications of holding this belief?” (b) “If you didn’t hold this belief, what would you perceive?” (c) “What would your life be like if your abandoned this belief?”

Everyone needs to be a Christian [or Muslim, etc.] or risk going to hell: (a) “What are the implications of holding this belief?” (b) “If you didn’t hold this belief, what would you perceive?” (c) “What would your life be like if your abandoned this belief?”

If you are not a Republican [or Democrat], Satan has deluded you: (a) “What are the implications of holding this belief?” (b) “If you didn’t hold this belief, what would you perceive?” (c) “What would your life be like if your abandoned this belief?”

Only the God in which I believe is true, all other gods or goddesses are false: (a) “What are the implications of holding this belief?” (b) “If you didn’t hold this belief, what would you perceive?” (c) “What would your life be like if your abandoned this belief?”

People don’t escape their prisons of belief until they reconsider the implications of holding the framework of beliefs that construct them, and discover the inherent untruth(s) that locks them into its thrall. Those who dwell in the shadow of the lie rarely question it. Those who get free have examined the underpinning of these cognitive structures and found them to be erroneous.

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