Believe what I tell you. Don't believe what you read. I believe that Jesus is my personal savior. Milk products are toxic to the adult human body. There is only one God, whose name is Al-lah. Only machines can accurately and impartially count ballots. It is a fact that Capitalism is the economic system that best promotes human freedom and happiness. Women cry more readily than men. Aliens repeatedly visit our planet to guide the evolution of our species. Computer technology will enable a new phase of human consciousness to develop. By doing nothing more than chanting as often as possible the same string of syllables, I will attain nirvana. When our bodies die, nothing continues - there is no soul or consciousness apart from the body.
The preceding examples of statements expressing beliefs illustrate that the human social universe is a sea of beliefs in which we all swim. While we may dispute which particular beliefs are good and beneficial, which are irrelevant, and which are evil and lead to unhappiness or pain, we do not ordinarily question the necessity of beliefs as an aspect of human consciousness any more than we question the air we breathe. The behavior of most people supports the view that, for the bulk of us, the only issue with beliefs is how to persuade others to reject their current beliefs and accept those to which we adhere. In this essay I will suggest another alternative: we can reject belief itself as a necessary part of consciousness. Though not an easy task, we can learn, through consistent application of spiritual practices, to surrender our habitual reliance upon beliefs. We can further learn to substitute for belief something often called faith, but that I will call trust. As will become clear, my definition of trust differs from common definitions of faith or trust.
Sticking to your story
Among its many functions, the human mind generates stories to explain how both internal and external experiences arise. As children mature, their minds becomes very good at providing these explanations. For example, children learn very early that, if they trip and fall, a bruise, a cut, or at least momentary pain may result. Later we become more sophisticated at connecting causes with consequences. For example, if I put a seed in the earth, and water that patch of ground, in a week or two a seedling may sprout. My mind connects the two isolated observations, even though I cannot prove that a connection exists. After all, I wasn't there to watch things, and even if I had been present, not sleeping for days, patiently watching the same patch of ground, I would have been unable to directly observe what was happening beneath the surface. Perhaps another seed already present sprouted near the one that I put in the earth. Yet, absent evidence to suggest otherwise, and sometimes even if such evidence exists, my mind links the two moments together in a story of the birth and growth of a plant from a seed.
This ability to link causes with effects through narrative is a marvelous tool that permits us to accomplish wonderful things and to navigate around pitfalls great and small, in many realms of our lives. As such, it constitutes a necessary and extraordinarily beneficial aspect of the human mind. However, with even the most beneficial tool, potential harm can arise as well. Drawbacks manifest when we misuse the faculty for narrative explanation. We misuse this faculty by forgetting that it is just a tool - albeit a very handy one - and instead treat it as something more than an instrument of convenience. Misuse arises when we implicitly or explicitly cede the expectation that an explanation - a story we tell ourselves - is dispensable. By surrendering the right to evaluate, to revise, to discard or to replace particular stories and explanations, we make these stories "as if bigger" in a sense than we are ourselves. Then the story becomes the tail that wags the dog that is the mind.
There is no question that beliefs come with differing aspects and contents. Some beliefs are shared by many people, e.g., Good inevitably triumphs over Evil. Some beliefs are quite personal, e.g., he really still loves me; he only left me because he was lured by that siren. Some beliefs have built-in self-protection mechanisms, e.g., it's the devil's influence alone that offers any alternative to the Revealed Truth that the moon is made of camembert cheese. The variety of beliefs is endless.
But the details of how we convinced ourselves, even the particulars of the belief or belief system, do not really matter. It is the surrendering of responsibility itself that is the root of the problem.
Beliefs own us as much as we own them: a personal example
Some beliefs are largely innocuous. When I was a child, I believed that automobiles are propelled like rockets, by expelling heated exhaust through their tailpipes. Although comical in retrospect, I relied upon what seemed at the time to be sound reasoning to back up this belief. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union were beginning to send rockets into space, and I heard that rockets use the principle that for every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction. I even confirmed this principle in my own experience. For example, if I turned on the spigot for the garden hose, if no one was holding onto the end of the hose, then the force of the water squirting out the end would cause the hose to twist about, pushing the hose in the direction opposite to that of the water.
On the few occasions when I guardedly expressed this belief of mine to other kids, it was contradicted, but never in such a compelling way that I had to re-examine this belief. Moreover, since I thought that I was at least as smart as those contradicting my explanation - I had, after all, figured all this out on my own - I had selfish reasons to cling to my belief. With no credible alternative explanation presenting itself, I only occasionally thought about the subject until, as a teenager, I had to learn more about cars when I was learning to drive. Only after I was confronted with strong evidence regarding the functioning of the internal combustion engine was I willing to admit to myself that I could have been mistaken.
Even though I could not have articulated it this way at the time, in retrospect I can see that I surrendered a small but measurable portion of my own autonomy to this belief about automobile propulsion. After all, I remember that even as a child I did know that there were problems with my clever explanation. For example, it was hard to imagine how to account for cars driving in reverse if my explanation were correct, since there were no tailpipes in the fronts of cars. But I didn't want to think about this, because I identified this explanation with the person I believed myself to be. If it were proven to be false, that falseness would cling to me by association.
What I didn't then understand was that, by claiming ownership over, and personally identifying with a particular belief, in this case a particular explanation of automobile propulsion, I was simultaneously letting this story own me to the same extent that I felt ownership in the opposite direction. This identification with a story - this belief - was inevitably a two-way street. To the extent that I chose to accept this belief as part of my self-definition, I relinquished my own freedom to an equal degree.
No law, no requirement, no pressing need compelled me to do this. When this notion initially arose in my mind, I could have fully appreciated everything attractive about the idea without handcuffing my self-esteem to it. I could have expanded and elaborated upon the idea without surrendering to it. In fact if I had felt the freedom to do so I almost certainly would have acknowledged and accepted the flaws in this explanation of automobile propulsion immediately, or at least much sooner than I actually did. But by associating this belief so intimately with my own self-definition, I instinctively tended to hide both ideas - automobile propulsion and self-image - because I suspected that neither could withstand criticism without changing in ways I could not predict and thus feared.
This habit of mind - to associate beliefs with self-image - is so ingrained in common experience that questioning it rarely arises. Indeed, we are often expected to define ourselves to others in terms of the principles and ideas with which we associate, e.g., in terms of political party or religious affiliations. A particularly obvious example of the latter would be the Roman Catholic Credo, the statement of beliefs that young Catholics are taught to make as part of the sacrament of Confirmation, when they are acknowledged as adult members of the Church: "I believe in God the Father Almighty ... etc." No doubt the reader can supply examples from her or his own experience.
Thus we see this habit of mind demonstrated repeatedly in our lives by those around us. It constitutes part of what I earlier called the "sea of beliefs in which we all swim." So it was not surprising that I resisted questioning my belief about automobile propulsion. Nor is it surprising that it did not even occur to me to question the habit of mind by which I identified that belief as part of who I believed myself to be.
Surrendering identifications, not responsibility
Thus far I have described beliefs as fixed ideas to which people surrender a portion of their own autonomy so that they need not engage in further story evaluation or story creation in a given area of their lives. Why might people do such a thing? The principal point to consider in this regard is the sheer seductiveness of ideas themselves. Whether they originate in our heads or in books or from the lips of another, ideas sing a siren song to our minds: accept me, believe in me, make me one with you. But in itself the seductive appeal of ideas cannot fully explain the phenomenon of belief, because more motivation is needed to take the step from entertaining an idea to surrendering to a belief. Differing motivations apply in different situations.
The search for certainty - or the fear of uncertainty - must account for many such choices. For example, the testimony of converts to a number of religions confirms that many find it both comforting and productive to rely upon a single, apparently stable set of answers to life's fundamental questions and uncertainties. Others find that belief in and espousal of political theories fills a similar need. Still others find a refuge in acceptance of identification with a particular ethnic or social group - the belief that a genetic, familial, or other association constitutes a primary element of self-definition. Such beliefs may often become a part of a person's consciousness at so early an age that there would be little or no conscious recollection of a choice having been made. Finally, a variation of the search for certainty, or the fear of uncertainty, may simply be fatigue with wrestling with fundamental questions, also leading people to accept various beliefs and belief systems.
Some beliefs pass from parents to children ("with mother's milk") for uncounted generations (although it is important to recognize that even the beliefs transmitted in this way do change over time). Such beliefs are generally absorbed both unconsciously and consciously during childhood. While an individual may learn to evaluate and choose to accept or reject them, such beliefs are the result of conditions that are not easily changed for large numbers of people. In Gurdjieffian terms, the situation can be summarized with the observation that children learn habits by imitating what they see demonstrated in the lives of those around them. So while people do their best with the tools they have available to grapple to understand human existence, for most people many of those tools consist of beliefs inculcated from infancy. Little wonder that beliefs guide most people in decisions great and small throughout the course of their lives!
A variation of the situation where beliefs pass between generations would be the case of an individual who explicitly rebels against the beliefs espoused by his or her parents or others. This variation is one that is frequently enacted in contemporary American society, especially by children, adolescents and young adults. There are several points to consider regarding this variation. First, there is nothing special about rebellion against beliefs per se. The conditions necessary for such rebellion to exist must be present. If the proper conditions do not exist in a certain context, then rebellion does not arise as an option, because it literally cannot be conceived by the socially-conditioned mind, and/or because there exists no social niche for rebellious individuals. In twenty-first century America, conditions supporting rebellion exist in spades - in many ways adolescents are expected to rebel against (a limited set of) their parents' beliefs (in relatively predictable ways). Yet there are and have been many societies where the American formula of rebellion is incomprehensible. Moreover, it must be recognized that rebellion itself does not constitute freedom - or freedom from belief. In fact, rebellion is usually just as constrained and constraining in its forms as the object against which it reacts. Most rebels simply exchange one set of beliefs for another.
It is easy to understand why people learn to treat an idea as a belief when other believers encourage them to do so. After all, powerful social pressures and considerable social incentives often exist to urge identification with certain beliefs. And we have also considered how, given certain conditions, some may mechanically substitute another belief system for a rejected set of beliefs. All this seems to suggest that beliefs must be associated with and derive from specific social conditions. Yet there is another class of beliefs that are not passed from person to person like a virus. As with my idea about automobile propulsion, such beliefs are personal. They arise without any direct support from society. So the question arises, how and why do people come to treat some of their own ideas as beliefs? Certainly no one encouraged or persuaded me to believe that cars are rocket-propelled. Nor was I rebelling against an alternative internal-combustion-engine explanation. This example illustrates how people may create their own new beliefs by themselves entirely, without instigation by or support from others. I contend that mine was not an unusual case, but that people do this sort of thing all the time. But why does it happen? And is there any commonality between the cases where the adoption of beliefs has social support, and individual cases where such support is not a consideration?
Recall Gurdjieff's observation that children learn habits by imitating what they see demonstrated in the lives of those around them. I argue that more than particular beliefs are demonstrated and thus passed to children by society. The habit itself of accepting and relying upon beliefs is also demonstrated to and picked up by children. This habit of belief is different than, and is not associated with any particular belief or belief-system. It consists of an underlying habit of setting store in beliefs, and turning to beliefs for guidance in life. A person inculcated with this habit may choose to reject a particular belief. Yet unless the underlying habit changes, that person will espouse and act upon some set of beliefs. If he or she dispenses with a given belief, the tendency for such a person will simply be to replace that belief with another. Historical accounts certainly document dramatic swings in belief systems for individuals, and each of us have probably known people who have replaced one set of beliefs with another, often with a second set that is not just neutral, but antithetical to the first. In sum, virtually all human beings seem to be infected with this habit of belief.
The incorporation of the habit of belief occurs without fanfare in our minds as we grow up, because as children we automatically emulate those habitual, repetitive practices that virtually every adult we ever encounter enacts to a greater or lesser extent. Most children rarely have any alternative to this model demonstrated by people around them, so the inculcation of the habit of belief is infrequently, if ever, undermined or interrupted. Fortunately, the conditions to support an alternative can sometimes be found within the context of spiritual practice, as I will discuss below.
Beliefs about yourself
Before going on, let's recapitulate the argument so far. I've asserted that beliefs consist of explanations that people treat as more than mere ideas. The contrast is clear: ideas can be played with or set aside, but beliefs are ideas that people invest with gravity such that beliefs are not readily modified or discarded.
The second principal point already made addresses how and why people adopt some ideas as beliefs. In many cases social pressures and inducements offer more than sufficient reason for people to adopt beliefs from their social context. In other circumstances a more general explanation arises. This explanation posits a habit of mind that children learn through the examples that they see enacted all around them. This is the habit of belief, by which people fix some ideas as beliefs, even when there may be no supporting social imperative or incentive to do so. Actually, the habit of mind to turn some ideas into beliefs probably operates both where social encouragements exist, and where they are absent, but in the former case the operation of the habit of belief may be more or less masked by the presence of social incentives to believe.
I now want to consider in greater detail a certain type of belief: beliefs about oneself. I've already mentioned a couple of points relating to this topic. I described how something as trivial as my childhood belief about automobile propulsion became entwined with self-image. Despite no external support for my attachment to this belief, it became more difficult for me to challenge it because of its association with the image I'd created of myself. Second, I suggested that beliefs about social self-identifications (with ethnic, religious, political, and other kinds of groups) were a type of belief that are among the most difficult to dislodge.
The common element to both of these points is the extra "stickiness" of beliefs associated with self-image. This constitutes an intensification of the innate stickiness of beliefs in general, which I've defined essentially as "sticky ideas" that resist discard, modification or change. But the association of a belief with self-image ups the stakes, making a belief even more important than it would otherwise be. Thus, by their nature, beliefs related to self-image are the ones to which we cling most tenaciously. Moreover, beliefs about self often tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies. For example, if I believe that I'm destined for to fail at any important challenge, that belief in itself can easily produce the conditions that would guarantee its manifestation. Thus for both of these reasons, beliefs associated with self-image strongly resist change.
Ironically, given my thesis, it is possible for acceptance of a belief about oneself to be a (temporary) step towards liberation, if a new, more expansive belief replaces a more restrictive old belief. The example of my own struggle to self-identify as gay illustrates this idea. As a teenager, despite abundant evidence from my feelings and impulses, I would not admit to myself that I could be gay. I didn't believe that admitting this could be an acceptable alternative. So in a sense, I insisted on clinging to a self-image of myself as not-gay - a belief that proved very sticky indeed in my case. Finally relaxing and accepting the new self-identification as gay - the new belief about who I was - constituted an enormous step forward for me.
But ultimately, the beneficial effects of replacing a constrictive set of beliefs with a looser set can only be temporary. Identifying one's self-image with a belief can be likened to drawing a line around oneself in the sand. No matter how big the area encompassed by the line, if one never permitted oneself to step across it, the line would eventually come to feel like the walls of a prison. A familiar prison, surely; a comfortable, even spacious prison in many ways or for a limited time, perhaps; but a self-imposed and unnecessary limitation upon freedom may be no less a prison than a structure of stone and steel.
Ironically, it is the believer within the cage who must continually maintain the integrity of the line of demarcation between the ideas of self and not-self, for the winds of change persistently work to obliterate all human endeavors. Without the continuing efforts of the believer, no defining line meant to maintain a belief about self-image could remain intact. Thus believers not only maintain the prison walls within which they confine their beliefs of who they can be, they also act as the guards of their own prisons, ever vigilant to prevent their own escape.
In a sense, all beliefs are associated with self-image. To follow this line of thought, let me propose an alternative definition of belief, but one that is consistent with, and complementary to, my previous definition: Beliefs are ideas in which the believer invests his or her own energy, such that an enduring connection between believer and belief is established. In this sense a belief can no longer be considered just an idea - it is an idea that has been grafted onto the self-image of the believer. The beliefs most obviously associated with self-image are simply the ones to which believers cling most fervently. Thus all beliefs - even innocuous ones such as my belief in automobile propulsion - are cages constructed and maintained by the believers who inhabit them.
Switching metaphors, I will suggest that in the midst of a vast, ever-changing universe, believers resemble ostriches with their heads in the sand. This posture inevitably results in pain. Like King Canute, believers hope that if only they believe hard enough, thoroughly enough, the waves on the beach will indeed stop at their command and respect the royal line drawn in the sand. But belief in something does not make it true, so this attitude guarantees disappointment and dissatisfaction. Thus, beliefs guarantee suffering.
Substituting Trust for Belief
What would it be like not to believe anything? Put like this, it might seem tempting to imagine that only a mind without any thoughts whatsoever could answer the prescription. But in addition to being undesirable and impractical, this interpretation would be a misreading of my meaning.
I'm not suggesting that thoughts or ideas are bad. Nor are they temptations inevitably leading down some slippery slope towards belief. I'm not even saying that beliefs themselves necessarily lead to, produce, or constitute evil.
It is true that some beliefs produce more suffering than others, and others produce less suffering. Take as example the diametrically opposed beliefs from my own life mentioned above, one resisting identification as gay, another embracing identification as gay. The instructive principle in this example is that replacement of a constricting belief with one more expansive can produce substantial improvement to the life of a believer. Nonetheless, as already pointed out, the effects of such a change must be temporary and cannot ultimately refute the conclusion that beliefs constitute obstacles to freedom.
That being said, it also remains true that beliefs are just ideas, and ideas are just fine. Ideas can be fun to play with, and in many contexts they can be indispensable as a practical matter. Moreover, ideas are as much an integral part of creation - they have as much "right" to exist - as anything else.
It is important to distinguish between beliefs on the one hand, and passionately held, or convincing ideas on the other. Ideas may be supported by powerful evidence, and/or be strongly promoted and defended, without those ideas being beliefs. In other words, one can be a strong advocate for a position without surrendering autonomy to the idea underlying that position. The test is simple: would powerful evidence contradicting the strongly held conviction create doubt in, or change a person's view? If not, then the conviction arises from a belief.
It is interesting to note that in the world of science, testing theories with evidence is the bedrock methodological ideal, such that theoretical explanations for phenomena cannot rely only upon belief. Yet scientists are human, and it has been well documented that the beliefs of scientists have delayed rejections of flawed or inadequate theories throughout the history of science.
Thus for all of us the question remains: Do I want to enslave myself to an idea? Is not the freedom to change and manipulate ideas one of the joys of being alive? Why would I ever want to give up the option to re-examine an idea whenever it seemed appropriate? Surely liberation from beliefs constitutes a worthy goal.
But let us not forget that the prospect of freedom can be daunting to those unaccustomed to it - and to those parts of ourselves unaccustomed to it. Fear of the challenges that life continually puts in one's way can be a potent obstacle. Moreover, the expectation of moment-by-moment re-evaluation could be seen as exhausting, and to that extent, untenable as a way to go through life.
Fortunately this bleak view remains incomplete. The substitute that I recommend for the confining certainty of belief is the expansiveness of trust. Belief and trust differ in that belief entails an attempt to artificially constrain the tendency of consciousness to expand, explore and grow. Belief shackles this tendency. Trust works in the opposite direction, to open doors to the unknown. Trust relies upon a willingness to try new things, to experiment with new approaches. But trust goes beyond simple openness, because it also relies upon one's willingness to honestly evaluate the explorations and experiments that trust leads one to conduct. In this sense, the central focus of trust must be inward. It relies upon one's ultimate ability to be sensitive to evidence (internal or external), and honest with oneself about the meaning of that evidence.
In the context of spiritual practice, the practitioner puts trust in the observations and suggestions of fellow practitioners with more experience. But this does NOT mean that one accepts what others say without evidence. On the contrary, the practitioner takes what teachers say very seriously by consciously attempting to verify - or falsify - any of their propositions or suggestions within the ongoing experience of practice. Thus trust produces an intensification, rather than a rejection, of the processes of evaluation and examination. And this point constitutes the crux of the difference between belief and trust.
But paradoxically, trust need not lead to a sense of being lost in a formless sea of relativity, or to a sense of exhaustion from an unending barrage of too many challenges. Instead, cultivation of trust produces focus and helps sharpen the sense of determination to provide one's own answers to important questions. And because those answers arise and are confirmed within the context of personal experience, they have greater reliability than the answers of any outside authority, no matter the source of that authority.
Or to put the distinction another way, with beliefs the fixed point - the purported place of certainty and stability - is a thing, place, or state outside oneself. This relationship of belief and believer maintains duality and distinction between the two. In fact, believers are dependent upon beliefs - a reversal of the ordinary relationship between people and ideas. Trust, on the other hand, is a process based on testing and evaluation, such that conviction takes root gradually in one's own heart and mind. From this process of creation of a solid foundation for trust within, trust ultimately branches outward as compassionate connections with all beings. The inherently smaller foundation of belief can never provide the support and solace that trust is far better equipped to provide.
Spiritual practice offers an alternative - perhaps the only reliable one - to shaping one's life according to beliefs. Much of the scope of spiritual practice involves the exposure and examination of previously unconscious beliefs and habits. In the Fourth Way tradition, this exposure and examination proceeds by way of impartial meditative examination of all aspects of a person's life. Whatever the specific practices - and of course these vary considerably within and across traditions - meditative and/or contemplative self-examination is the crucial ingredient for effectively challenging beliefs.
Beliefs and the habit of belief resemble weeds that become established in the garden of the mind. As with the removal of any well-established vigorous weed, we need to find and identify all parts of the plant - stem, roots, branches, leaves, flowers and seeds - in all their locations, else the plant may re-establish itself if we relax our scrutiny. This task constitutes a challenge demanding considerable diligent effort over a long period of time, as would be true with modification of any long-lived habit.
So the fundamental and indispensable way to cultivate trust is to sustain energetic engagement with basic spiritual practice. Some beliefs shrivel of their own accord in the light shone upon them through meditative self-examination. But more established beliefs - not to mention the habit of belief - may strongly resist exposure through self-examination. To speed the process of wearing down such resistance, it can be useful to take specific measures in addition to those comprising the rest of one's practice.
One of the most effective examples of such measures is the practice of treating all ideas in a neutral fashion, regardless of their origin. In this practice, one listens to ideas expressed by others as fully as possible, letting the ideas past one's ordinary mental defenses, that is, WITHOUT IMMEDIATELY ENGAGING THE HABIT OF CATEGORIZING, EVALUATING AND CRITICIZING THOSE IDEAS IN THE PRIVACY OF ONE'S OWN MIND. This practice is implicitly based upon trust in the ability of one's internal non-discursive (unvoiced) evaluative processes to handle any idea that comes along without becoming enslaved to that idea. Ironically, it is just that defensive mental habit of critiquing and pigeonholing ideas as they arrive in the mind that is the mechanism by which beliefs are maintained and defended. So it is important to bypass this mechanism to have any hope of treating ideas neutrally. As one's practice in general deepens, this defensive habit of mind tends slowly to atrophy as energy and attention are redirected within one's consciousness. But this additional practice of treating ideas neutrally can help to hasten this development.
As one acquires skill in treating ideas expressed by others neutrally, the practice can be extended so that one treats the ideas expressed by the voices in one's head in the same fashion. In a sense, this is merely a specialized intensification of basic meditative practices, but it can be helpful to treat the overly familiar ideas filling one's own head with an unaccustomed neutrality.
In the context of the deepening of these practices, it can be useful to further extend them by deliberately and systematically considering and examining any and all ideas, but particularly ones that have had an attractive or repulsive aspect. The goal is to chip away, and ultimately eliminate the habit of mental compulsiveness - a rare and valuable achievement. This freedom can only grow in the soil produced through the cultivation of trust. Moreoever, this is not just freedom from compulsions. It is also freedom to soar and play in the mental realm. And in this soil, both wisdom and compassion can take root and prosper.
Spiritual students and seekers generally acknowledge the need to surrender attachments to material objects and obsessive emotional habits. What is often forgotten is that the thoughts that people cling to as beliefs constitute some of the least recognized and thus most insidious obstacles along the spiritual path. In this essay I have identified two important characteristics of beliefs. First is the point that beliefs consist of descriptions that people treat as more than simple descriptions or ideas. People feel free to play with ideas, to elaborate or discard them as they see fit. But people do NOT feel free to do this with beliefs. If people can be said to "hold" beliefs, it is equally true that beliefs hold people.
The second point about beliefs is that people learn, as a habit like other habits, to treat some ideas as beliefs. No one is born with beliefs preprogrammed in their head, nor (as far as I can determine) are people preprogrammed with what I have called the habit of beliefs. The habit of enslavement to beliefs must be acquired. By observing and imitating those around them, children learn the habit of treating some ideas differently than others. Ideas that become beliefs tend not to be subjected to the ordinary scrutiny that we use with other ideas. Beliefs become sacrosanct, not to be evaluated or questioned as we would expect other ideas to be. Even when a belief is rejected, a person with the habit of treating some ideas as beliefs will tend to fill the void created by the jettisoned belief with another one.
Spiritual practice provides the best way to deconstruct the habit of enslavement to beliefs, because the various techniques of practice generally facilitate impartial examination. This process can be enhanced through reliance upon trust, which can be described as a willing suspension of disbelief of spiritual principles in order to test those principles in one's own experience.
Belief and the habit of belief are not sins but are simply bad habits that virtually everyone picks up. Trust is a virtue to be cultivated, for it can be an antidote to belief, in that trust can help one to re-establish a non-compulsive relationship with ideas. Beliefs constitute obstacles to freedom. Cultivation of trust promotes liberation.
Acknowledgments: This essay has benefited immensely from many insightful and helpful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts from Stuart Goodnick and Jim Wilson. I am very grateful for the generous assistance offered by each of them.