The Limitations of Beliefs and Morals

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Photo by İbrahim Can Dayıoğlu :

Here’s a theory: What if we spent less time arguing on behalf of our beliefs and morals and more time ridding ourselves of them? What if the time we spend seeking validation for our beliefs was instead spent tracing them back to their origins, understanding how they limited us, and then setting them free?

What if we decided to live as belief-lite as we possibly could?

The Origin of Morality

Seems crazy, right? To live a life without (or fewer) beliefs? If we didn’t have beliefs, wouldn’t we go around killing each other, stealing, lying, and cheating?

That’s what they tell us, isn’t it? Religion was the first to teach us this, the first to put our existence into context, to give us our origin stories and our sense of meaning and purpose, and, ultimately, to hand us the beliefs to dictate our morality.

Religions and nations have grown around this assumption that human beings, without a set of commandments, without rules and laws and how-tos and experts telling us what to do, would become barbaric. Isn’t that what the right-wing politicians tell us? That more Christianity is what will save society?

These institutions are built on the premise that human communities derive their sense of meaning, and their discernment between right or wrong, from beliefs.

But do you really feel that morality comes from a set of beliefs? Do you think that, in a moment of decision between hurting someone and not hurting them, you’re actually sorting through your beliefs? Or, do you know, deep down, what the right thing to do is, and sometimes, you choose it, while other times, you go against it?

Consider what else beliefs do, besides try to establish our morality. They invent dichotomies and hierarchies and classes of people. They dehumanize and degrade. They judge and scorn. They adore someone because of their “royal” blood and hate someone else because of their immigration status. They separate, divide and parse. And from there, beliefs become the very reason behind the killing, stealing, lying, and cheating.

If anything, beliefs are the reason we have immorality. Not the antidote for it. Your beliefs don’t make you moral. They make you smaller.

Even “good beliefs” limit us. For they become merely window-dressing on our soul. They are status-markers at best, self-branding efforts.

Morality is a thing that can only come from connection to the soul. Value and purpose and worthiness also emerge from the soul. Therefore, if you have a connection to your soul, you will uncover your innate morality. You won’t need to “believe” anything; it will simply be aligned with who you are.

Other animals, plants, and trees don’t have beliefs. But they have morality. They don’t kill indiscriminately. They don’t wipe out other life forms just because they’re different. They don’t fight over silly things like land and property rights and parking spaces.

Only we humans, with our high-minded beliefs, go to war over such things.

Religion is the worst belief-peddler, of course. Religion, and the books it is told through, have always just been a way to keep the populus from rebelling against the powerful. The stories aren’t history, they are magical realism, meant to be enjoyed as parables and metaphors, to help us see ourselves better. But what do we humans do? Extract from it a list of Dos and Don’ts, as if we wouldn’t know for ourselves without them.

“We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.”
― Christopher Hitchens

But society as a whole sells us beliefs, and so do our countries: Beliefs about our greatness, our specialness, our chosenness. Beliefs about gender roles and capabilities. Beliefs and false constructs about race. Beliefs about money, about politics, about power, about fashion, about wine…from large to small, beliefs rule the human mind.

Only we humans, with our [embedded, programmed] sense of right and wrong go around trying to instill our way of life, our way of governing, our way of relating to the Universe, on others.

Only we humans, with our belief-justifications, can go on, turn-of-century after turn-of-century, hating one another and thinking ourselves virtuous.

There was a time before belief. There was a time before priests and bishops and clergy and gods and goddesses. There was a time when humans walked the earth without any idea whatsoever about right or wrong, their way or our way. It was just life—lived from instinct, intuition, and empathy. Wars began with the invention and belief of “mine.”

I don’t need a list of commandments, or honestly, even the Yamas and Niyamas of the yoga world I spent over a decade in. I don’t need mantras or placards to remind me of what I value. For I am connected with what I value. It’s in my heart, in my soul, in my veins. I know what matters to me. My morality does not come from any creed or practice or religion or philosophy. It comes from my soul.

“Morality exists in the neurons as a natural sensation. Religion only tries to codify it.”
― Abhijit Naskar

Beliefs and habits

Okay, but if we didn’t have beliefs, how would we know how to spend our time, what to invest in, and even when, how and what to eat?

After all, you might say, isn’t most of our behavior shaped by our beliefs?

To which I would say yes, and isn’t that a shame?

Isn’t it a shame that we need a clock to tell us what to do? As Diana says in the movie Wonder Woman when Steve Trevor is explaining to her the purpose of a watch, “You Let This Little Thing Tell You What To Do?”


Isn’t it embarrassing that we have no idea, after all this time on the planet, what kind of food is good for us and what’s not? Humiliating that we need a “diet”, or a book or a doctor or an “expert” to figure out what should go in our body and what should not?

Why do we not simply listen to our bodies?

We are the only form of life that goes about our days directed by an inner set of beliefs that, for the most part, we’re not even consciously aware of?

Consider this quote from this article:

Today’s science estimates that 95 percent of our brains activity is unconscious, meaning that the majority of the decisions we make, the actions we take, our emotions and behaviours, depend on the 95 percent of brain activity that lies beyond conscious awareness.

As much as we think of our beliefs as ours, the large majority are not. Most of our beliefs are inherited—from our family of origin, from our friends, from our work, from our culture. And so, the older we get, the more burdened we become by thought and belief, the smaller our window of opportunity for a real, genuine, free life gets. The smaller our window of perspective gets, too, making us smaller in turn.

Examining Belief

For a day or maybe a week if you can, write down all of the beliefs you catch yourself thinking. Some of which might make you feel really good. Others, not so much. Notice that they all do have an energy to them, however. There is a reaction from you when you think the belief. Note that.

And then, work your way through them. Ask where they came from. See how it has served you. See how it has limited you. See if you wriggle free of it. For whether it makes you feel good or makes you feel bad or different or smart or funny, whether it makes the world make more sense or less sense, whether it puts you in the driver’s seat of your life or the eternal victim—it is stealing your life force. It is taking away your autonomy. It is making you merely a cog in a machine.

“Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”
― George Orwell, 1984

Freedom from Thought

Some beliefs tell you they will set you free. Isn’t that the perfect Stockholm Syndrome situation? But the only true freedom is to get out from under as many beliefs as possible. What does this look like?

It looks like a life where we’re not pre-disposed to the same responses to similar experiences or people. It means we’re not living on auto-pilot. It means we have access to a full range of human emotions. It means we get to still be surprised, and fully awake in each and every life experience.

We don’t need beliefs. We are well-equipped to live this life well without them. They do not provide us with our codes of morality; if anything, are the reason behind immorality.

Beliefs do not provide us with direction and purpose. They drive us incessantly in busy-circles, repeating our days, repeating our mantras, repeating our complaints. Instead, we can awaken our instinct and intuition. We can supercharge our empathy. We can live through emotion.

When we’re not covering it all up with force-fed beliefs, we have access to our wisdom, which is far, far more potent, lasting, and honest than any belief could ever pretend to be.

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