Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Trying to analyze how exactly I have wound up where I am in terms of my current beliefs, I wondered abut a few things.

I started to think of my religious beliefs as a world that has been carefully constructed in order to be conducive to an altered state of mind.  By altered, I don't mean crazy.  I mean groomed to respond in a certain way. I mean trying to achieve a detachment, or peace, or serenity that belies the current circumstances in one's life.

Prayer, worship services, reading Scripture, listening to the right speakers, reading the right books, carefully checking one's conscience....these common religious practices are used to try and shape one's mind and character in the hopes that a person's mind and attitude will be transformed.  It is a constant exercise in achieving a certain state of mind.

This is common in most major religions.  Fashioning one's life along a certain path, giving it definite borders and limits and direction becomes a means to inner peace.

The pitfalls of this common approach is that it instantly puts religious practitioners on the defensive.

When I posted about belief a while ago, it was because I had wondered to myself why people become so vehement and hostile in the face of having their beliefs challenged or overturned.  Why do we have such emotional, angst-ridden responses? Why does making sure that all of our beliefs are right become such a consuming driver for us?

I think, partly, that it has to do with our social groups, which I hinted at before.  I also think it has to do with these meticulously crafted thought-worlds that we erect.

Once a person accepts a belief of any sort--and by belief I mean an idea that cannot be fully proved or disproved, a way of making associations in the world around us that may be plausible but is not airtight,--they are in a position of having to defend that belief, having to make data fit into the overarching belief, and having to justify to other people why they believe what they believe.


Partly because no matter what a person believes there is always disconfirming, contradictory evidence; ideas and events which go against the grain of a carefully constructed thought system. No system is completely airtight, and whiffs and breezes from other systems usually waft in unbidden and unwanted.

Defensiveness is a natural stance, an automatic response from an invested mind.

That natural defensiveness can become a barrier.  It keeps us from seeing the other side of an argument.  It keeps us from having open discussions....because once you start defending an idea you have committed yourself to it.  You have already made up your mind and want only to convince other people to follow suit.


Originally I was thinking that practicing the art of defenselessness was a Buddhist idea that was appealing to me, a sort of detachment from the emotional trigger that can set us off.  Then, I was reminded of the portrayals of Jesus as defenseless, refusing to defend himself vigorously to current Jewish leadership, the emphasis he placed on non-retaliation, and the portrayal of him as taken to trial and crucified without a defense.

Defenselessness is just as easily construed as a Christian spiritual practice as it is a Buddhist one.

Is learning to not be defensive a key to either spiritual, or mental, maturity?

I believe it is. It requires us to not react emotionally when we feel threatened or fearful or angered.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, all evidence for big things tends to be ambiguous, and we need great heaps of it to see real trends rather than imposed narratives. Yet collecting large heaps of evidence in itself responds to narrative. disquieting cycle.

Two reasons why we persevere in a belief occur to me: we are hardwired to, because it is an efficient shortcut in thinking; and we risk exclusion from our social group if we change beliefs.

A third thing: we are reluctant to abandon anything we paid a high cost for.

I think cultivating defenselessness is wise, and I think you're just the gal to do it. But I'll bet it turns out to be difficult.

terri said...

I don't know if I'm the one to do least not very successfully! ;-)

Sabio Lantz said...

"Defensiveness is a natural stance, an automatic response from an invested mind."