How Your Beliefs Can Prevent You From Changing
"Believing and Thinking" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward
I want to talk about belief. Specifically, I want to talk about how belief can be the biggest barrier to personal transformation.
I was always mentored by strong, bible-believing mentors and churches. It was no accident that I pursued the study of the bible and theology and eventually want into the ministry. I made sure I studied under the most highly respected Old and New Testament scholars. I studied years of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic‚ the bible's original languages. I then dove deep into Reformed theology with the likes of Calvin and Barth. The bible, theology, and belief were strong forces in my spiritual life.
But I began noticing, early on, that there was another force competing with my believing mind. Within me was this battle between my believing mind and my inquisitive mind. The church told me this was spiritual warfare between my carnal mind and spiritual mind, the mind of the flesh and the mind of the Spirit. This verse always killed me: Lean not on your own understanding but in all your ways acknowledge him. I was always reminded that Satan disguises himself as an Angel of Light, so don't be fooled by counterfeit ideas. This kind of reasoning was always used to discourage me from doubting and questioning and therefore growing.
But this alternative thinking would just not go away. It repeatedly bounced against the walls of my belief system. As is always the case, my belief system was thorough, being the floor, ceiling, and walls of my worldview. My alternative thinking, my rebellious questions, my sinister doubts, were like malicious viruses in my belief system, and they really messed up my programming.
How was I taught to deal with this? Confess, repent, seek forgiveness, and make my beliefs even stronger!
So the cognitive dissonance between my beliefs and between my anti-beliefs became even more pronounced.
But what happened in spite of my continued attempts to reinforce my beliefs, was that the continued assault of my alternative thinking slowly but surely expanded the walls of my beliefs. My belief system was stretching to include the dissonant thoughts. Like an elastic membrane, it was stretching to accommodate other truths and ideas.
Sometimes I thought the membrane of my belief system was going to tear.
Later on though, a conflicting idea that was too large or strong to be contained by my belief system would just break out and and separate itself. What was I supposed to do with that? The cognitive dissonance became even more difficult to reconcile.
I remember the day. It was a terrifying moment when I saw that my mind was protecting itself, that its primary purpose was to protect itself and the organism, and that my entire system of belief was based upon fear that prevented me from having peace of mind. It took years to work through this self-revelation until one day I had another self-revelation, and suddenly realized that my entire belief system was simply my thoughts and that I was believing my thoughts. Beliefs are thoughts. And I saw that my thoughts were a kind of illusion, a smokescreen, an intricate and complex fabrication of my mind to protect and insulate itself. Belief was actually dividing my mind and causing internal strife.
I used to think my beliefs and dissonant thoughts needed to marry in a kind of compromising fusion. But now I suddenly realized that there is another way of knowing, or unknowing, that transcends thought and belief. And the decades of theological anguish vanished.
Once you see this, peace of mind comes. Theologically, your mind will finally be at rest. There will just be awareness, an awareness of what is. A love for what is. The dissonance between belief and knowledge no longer matters. There will just be a knowing, or rather unknowing, that is more like loving.
A loving of all that is.