Formulation of a Belief

Formulation of a Belief December 29, 2009

question_mark_3dHave you ever wondered how one formulates a belief? I’ve been thinking about this recently and I think I’ve finally formulated my belief on how one formulates a belief.  🙂

I feel that belief formulation is so important because it’s a key component to cracking, constructing and deconstructing the broader cultural psyche and therefore, cultural trends within. This could play a huge part in the next decade to ending culture wars and bringing on more tangibly productive works on earth as for the Kingdom. As everyone starts to cognitively and experientially work within a similar framework that provides space to exhibit free will in a new medium of engagement, I think what was once negatively imputed systems of thought and actions can quickly turn to peaceful and healthy positives ones.

I’d seriously love to hear your thoughts about what I think, and what you think on how one formulates a belief:

1. Wholistically having knowledge of, and being fully informed about a topic (I am defining ‘knowledge’ as: A solid intellectual understanding from both ends of the spectrum).

2. Humbly living within your intellectual and experiential exploration of the topic, providing space for those who socially, scientifically and theologically disagree to enter into your context.

3. Prayerfully coming to a conclusion through (in this order): the Word, church tradition, current cultural contexts and your experiences with each of those.

And from a Secular formation of a belief (as I am not naive enough to believe the broader secular world would entertain placing upon themselves a Christian worldview):

1. Wholistically having knowledge of, and being fully informed about a topic (I am defining ‘knowledge’ as: A solid intellectual understanding from both ends of the spectrum).

2. Humbly living within your intellectual and experiential exploration of the topic, providing space for those who socially, scientifically and theologically disagree to enter into your context.

3. Coming to a conclusion through the wholistic knowledge (intellectually and experientially from both sides) of current cultural contexts (religious and secular) within your personal experiences of those who agree and disagree with you.

From here, I feel that the medium of engagement can’t help but shift. Thoughts?

Much love.

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  • I’m a fan of Chris Argyris’s Ladder of Inference. In fact I devote an entire chapter to it in my “Inside the mind of Youth Pastors” book. It goes something like this.
    Each of the following are rungs going up the ladder.

    RAW DATA – The world as it would be recorded by a video camera. the hum of an air conditioner. Someone shoveling snow outside. etc.

    DATA IS SELECTED – We can’t take in all the data in the world, so we select some, (or some is selected for us) and that is what we begin to work with.
    ADD MEANING – Is this good or bad. do I like the selected data or not?
    MAKE AN ASSUMPTION – We make a leap here.

    The belief’s we hold help us select future data which reinforces belief making them harder to change.

    just some thoughts.

  • Mark, that’s intense…I love it. Does he give any more info about the process between ‘making an assumption’, ‘drawing a conclusion’ and ‘establishing a belief’? What I’m wondering about is the ‘in between’ processes of beliefs – how one goes from taking in knowledge to implementing action/belief.

  • Sarah C.


    I think those are ideal ways to form a belief. Unfortunately, I feel many in our culture (secular and religious) do not apply sufficient intellectual rigor in the area of beliefs. Many hold strong beliefs that come from intuition, peer/family group tradition and short media sound-bytes from a particular point of view.

    Doing actual research and/or prayerfully considering scripture is an exhausting exercise that we seem too busy to undertake…which would be fine if we all humbly admitted the shortcomings of our haphazardly formed beliefs.

    I’m not sure how this framework is to be overcome or worked within. I’d love to know your thoughts on the matter.


  • Sarah – So True! I don’t think this process will be easily adapted or even folks wanting to try it. But, I think that the more people start practicing such a framework, the more in our own small sphere’s of influence can this process be greatly implemented. I think the key is for each of us to start speaking out loud our framework of belief formations, because I honestly don’t believe many others are ignorant, I just think they haven’t been provided another option of engagement other than general (secular or religious) cultural imputations from generation to generation: because who actually talks about these things in everyday life? I don’t really know anyone (other now than Mark). I always say, “If no one tells me otherwise, how am I supposed to know?” The answer is that, I’m not supposed to know. So it has to start somewhere.

    I figure if we can start looking through this framework’s lense for formations, we can then better start understanding and intentionally deconstructing our own, and other’s beliefs to be able to better open lines of communication across boundary lines. What do you think?

  • “Wholistically having knowledge of, and being fully informed about a topic (I am defining ‘knowledge’ as: A solid intellectual understanding from both ends of the spectrum).”

    I give you an A for effort here, Andrew. But this one might be a wee bit of a problem as I am not sure how folks really are to gain an intellectual understanding from both ends of the spectrum on a variety of issues. For instance, I don’t know what it is really like to live in extreme poverty, nor could I intellectualize that reality. I just know it’s bad. I don’t know what it’s like to go to bed hungry night after night. Similarly, I don’t know what racial or real religious persecution is like.

    How can one really understand what it is like to be either gay or formerly gay unless you have walked in those shoes? Even though I am former, I still never had to live with the reality of having homosexuality be my sole orientation. I can say I’ve walked on both sides, but I will never be so arrogant as to believe I know what the nadir of the struggle is like for some folks.

    I can do research for the rest of my life, but I can only get so far in understanding something I will likely never experience. This is where Christian love comes in, and choosing to place the needs of another above my own. I must will myself to do that, whether or not I know how they feel.

  • Pam Williams

    I thought you did a good job of exsplaning how someone could formelate a belefe system from a wholy logigical point of view & some do that but I have found most form thire belefe systems more from exspernce then logic, at least I know I do. I have went to church most of my life, studyed every known religeon, was a part of most of them, exstencivly studyed theoligy, homiletics, apoligetics, philosfy, phicoligey, & dead riligeos ritchiouls, but I would have to say little to none of my belefe systems have much if any baring from all that knolige, exspeshelly on the topic of God, I have many friends that say just read the bible it’s all over the place when I admit I am not sure I can trust God but I have & don’t find personal revelation there, I can see it apears that God loves mankind but don’t feel that applyes to me, see my belefe systems come from many people telling me I am to damiged & to messed up for God to have anything to do with me, they also stem from feeling very seperated from humanty as well as God. & everytime I pray to be closer to God the islation seems to grow. My point is even with exstinsive knolige my emotions & exspernces have a much grater inpact on my belefe systems so I would mabey rethaink how you define how belefe systems come about if I was you. love ya man. take care & thanks for doing this blog.

  • Sarah C.


    I think that having knowledge of does not necessarily mean experiential knowledge, though it can mean that. Having knowledge of poverty means that maybe you know how many people in your community are below the poverty line, or aren’t able to afford 3 meals a day. Most folks don’t even bother to understand issues to that level (intellectually gathering data and research). Even getting that far would go a long way toward understanding, even if you have not experienced what the poor in your community experience.

    Does that make sense?


  • here’s more on the ladder of inference:

    my favorite line:
    This diagram indicates that as our Beliefs influence the Selected Data & Experience we pay attention to they essentially establish an internal reinforcing loop which short circuits reality. The tendency is to select data to pay attention to which supports our beliefs. And, I would expect, as our Beliefs become more and more rigid the Selected Data & Experience we are willing to pay attention to will become a smaller and smaller portion of reality.

  • Andrew, thanks for your thoughts about formulating belief. I am thinking along the same, optimistic lines as you, and wonder whether cracking, constructing and deconstructing will achieve the cultural and spiritual breakthrough we both dream of.
    I believe strongly in a wholistic approach to life and faith and attempt to name and counter dualistic, polarized thinking whenever I meet it. It is pernicious and a danger to the world’s health and our spiritual and creative well being.
    Given that I’m more liberal by nature and belief, I wouldn’t agree with your hierarchy of Word, tradition and cultural contexts as being the only possibility. For me, secular, scientific, psychological and other insights and wisdoms inform my reading of scripture and the choices and interpretation I make.
    I write this in the knowledge that many in my own culture as well as elsewhere such as Africa, prioritize the Word as their primary source, but come to very hostile and judgmental views about gay people.
    But I AM optimistic and I know the Lord leads us into all truth and his creation into love and compassion and wisdom, eventually!

  • Wes

    I like this topic. It is relevant to my spot in life right now, as I am faced with how to explain to people how I’ve arrived at some of my beliefs. The problem I face, and I suspect a lot of people face when relating to conservative Christians, is that they really don’t allow any place for experiential knowledge or intellect. To them, that is humanism. Since they see human emotion and intellect as flawed (which I understand) they seem to completely write them off as having no value in determining truth or establishing beliefs. It has to be in the Bible to have any validity. The problem is that many of them do not understand that even the way that they read and interpret the Bible was taught to them and based upon someone else’s intellect and experience. Rob Bell talks about this in his book, Velvet Elvis. I especially liked that he pointed out that ALL truth is God’s truth no matter where it’s found. But, then again, people will debate what is truth. 😉

    Those are my thoughts…..

  • I’ve been going through the opposite of this process in recent years — losing a belief I once held and trying to figure out how I came to hold it in the first place (and if it’s something I can, uh, re-hold again). One thing I’ve realized is that assumptions are your enemy. If you assume something to be true without really questioning that assumption, you inevitably create a house of cards that will fall at some point. I think there is a special danger of this happening in the church, because Christians are commonly exhorted to “just believe.” Which is just another way of saying “assume this to be true.” In an increasingly pluralistic society, this will not work as a means of growing faith in others.

  • You might find “On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not” by Robert Burton helpful.

  • Sam

    Many years of living have given me many opinions which are subject to change, and a few firm beliefs.

    We hear that the Word is immutable, unchangeable – as is God Himself. But whose version, whose translation and whose interpretation? If the Word were so clear as to its meaning, then why do we have a plethora of denominations with a rainbow of understandings of even key features of the Word?

    Similar questions might be asked of church tradition: Whose tradition? As a student of church history, I have noted that the traditions are varied and changing. Did not Jesus assail the traditions of the Jewish religion that had in many ways supplanted the Word with a system that replaced a condition of the heart with a legalistic system that could leave the practitioner perfect according to tradition, but destitute before His maker? What might Jesus say of the traditions of the Christian religion? Would they withstand His scrutiny?

    Is it not the case that we tend to be lazy and form our beliefs based on what certain people and institutions in whom we have chosen to place our trust have told us? Might it be that we choose to accept those who tell us what we want to hear as our authorities?

    Do we stop to consider what the reward might be for those in authority if we choose to believe their message? A simple example – Those Christian leaders and institutions that try to convince the faithful that the Word commands them to tithe (almost always understood as giving at least a tenth of one’s income to the institution that is giving this word of teaching/interpretation), a tithe which is used primarily to support huge mortgage obligations for institutional properties and to pay staff salaries (including the salary of the one giving this interpretation of the Word).

    How often do we stop to ask ourselves “What’s in it for the person, organization or institution that is telling me this? Is it money , power, prestige or even just simply proving that they are right? What do they have to gain if I accept and believe what they are telling me? Do they want my money, my name on their rolls, my time or…?

    Grace is a free gift, but beliefs based on what any person or institution tells me is the proper interpretation of the Word and the proper understanding of tradition are seldom without cost.

  • I’m still speaking at Urbana and I have to run out again for my next session. But later this evening I will post some more thoughts on your great comments.

  • Person

    Hey, just wanted to through this out there. I was talking to a friend who basically made an argument which I will summarize into one sentence.

    “Because the debate doesn’t seem to be making progress one way or the other, it’s impossible to be certain about our own beliefs in the matter.”

    Now, I’ve thought of that before, but thinking it over, I must say I don’t agree at all. Because really what is “the debate”? Think of it this way and we’ll assume there only two sides in this debate for simplicity. There is a battlefield and Group 1 is one side and Group 2 is the other side. They are at war (an intellectual war which is being symbolized by the image of a real war) and imagine you have an aerial view of the whole battlefield. From above, the war looks like a line moving back and forth as one group makes progress on the other group’s territory and then loses it as the other group makes up the ground. “The debate” is the overall state of affairs – an overview of what Group 1 believes or doesn’t believe compared with what Group 2 believes or doesn’t believe. However, for the individual soldier on one side or the other, “the debate” is not visible. “The debate” is only visible by looking from an aerial view down at the entire battlefield. To this individual soldier, the other side is clearly the enemy. He has no true conception of the debate, because he can’t objectively see it. He can see parts of it, but not all of it at once – he can see only the parts that involve him directly. Thus, the individual soldier is certain of his personal view. Therefore, I believe it is possible to be certain of your position even if “the debate” rages on. I regret not being able to think of any image other than a war to express my thought, but I hope I did a good job of explaining it clearly. I know some people instantly think war = bad, but I don’t mean to put a negative connotation to debate by using that example. I could go on… but that’s probably enough thinking for the day, I guess. 🙂

  • Debbie – Thanks for the A for effort! I find that, like Sarah C. said, one can gain ‘knowledge of’ through books, sustainable experiences (as brief as they may be) and especially relationships. That doesn’t mean we KNOW, but we can know as much as possible. I do think we’re speaking the same language though, because you say “you can do as research for the rest of your life, but you can only go so far in understanding.” That’s truth. But I feel that ‘only so far’ is a lot further than many others who aren’t ever willing to wholistically learn from both sides of a concept/life/experience.

    Pam – Always great to hear from you! I did try to logically explain the formulation of a belief because I think that too many times folks just believe something because: 1) that belief was imputed to them through culture, or 2) that belief was told to them by someone else and because they don’t have too much experience with the topic, they just believe the person telling them the belief.

    Of the many points you brought up, I do want to say one thing when you say that ‘when you pray to be closer to God the isolation seems to grow’: Maybe God knows that the best way you can learn from God is for that period in time to just you and He? Maybe the feeling of isolation is a humanistic interpretation of God placing you both in the same room at the same time to talk one on one? I don’t know, just something that struck me in reading your words.

    Mark – I LOVE those diagrams. Thanks for the link.

    I will comment on the rest of these provocative comments shortly. I need to think before I write. 🙂

  • Padraig

    The trouble with religious based belief is that it is not possible to prove it?