Why do humans feel threatened by what others believe?
Why humans feel threatened by what others believe.
(A question and a statement)
This has puzzled me for many years. Why do people feel threatened by what others believe?
Person A may have a political cause. Or a religion. Or an ideology. Or membership in some group. So? So what!? Why should this throw most other people into a frenzy? And why should this throw person A into a frenzy regarding others? If person A believes something other than what person B believes in, both of them immediately assume a hostile attitude towards the other, assumes that the other is hell-bent on destroying them, so they place themselves in an aggressive posture, ready to kill with the pretense of self-defense.
Not only do humans feel threatened by what others believe, they also feel threatened by the fact that someone else believes something other than what they themselves believe in. I want to know why.
Why is there an automatic assumption of “they are always out to destroy us” ?
We can point to history. We can point to fear. We can point to propaganda. We can point to training. We can point to tradition. We can point to many endless things. But let’s point to the truth.
The reason humans fear others who believe other things is that humans have doubt about their own beliefs. If a person believes they have the only received wisdom, but when someone else comes along who does not share the same flavor of belief system, then the original person’s thesis that their own belief is the best and only is thrown into doubt.
And it goes beyond that. It is not just “when someone else comes along…”, It is just the existence of others, regardless of location, that the original person in this description, is thrown into doubt.
For if the first person’s wisdom was the best and only, the second person would by definition believe the same thing. Since that is not the case, then the first person then automatically must question their own convictions. But since the first person will not allow himself to acknowledge doubt about his own beliefs, his reaction is anger, hate, hostility and aggression towards the other in order to suppress his own doubt.
The first person ascribes his own confusion, discomfort, and doubt onto the other in the form of hatred, fear, and hostility.
Why would a believer not allow himself to acknowledge doubt? Because then it would call into question his own belief system. Since believers usually identify with their beliefs, questioning their beliefs also questions their identity.
Believers believe that their belief system is the only true belief system. So encountering someone who does not share their view brings into question the idea that “there is only one true belief system.”
Belief systems sometimes state that non-believers live in a state of delusion, for if only they would see clearly, they would see that the believers’ belief are true. “Seeing clearly” just means agreeing with whatever the believers are espousing.
Belief systems sometimes state that believing in their beliefs removes doubt, and insures certainty. It certainly seems that way from the point of view of the believers.
But the reality is that it is believers who in a state of delusion.
To not have doubt is to live in delusion. The delusion of received wisdom, for example, the delusion of knowing what a deity is and wants. Or that all social ills would dissolve into nothingness if they believed in the believers’ plans. It is the delusion of belief.
The world is full of unknowns. No one can know what will happen tomorrow, today, in the next moment. New and unknown things are discovered or uncovered all the time, things that can never have been anticipated. As a result, doubt about certainty is the perpetual state of the world and of humanity.
Belief systems are an attempt to bring order and meaning in a world filled with disorder and meaninglessness. The ugly truth is that no belief system, no ideology, no religion, no political cause can assuage all doubt and answer all questions.
Those who seek certainty in their beliefs do so out of fear. They fear that without adhering to their belief system, their future would become unknown; they fear being unable to make sense out of a universe in which they are themselves are lost; they fear being alone; they fear being overwhelmed and swept away in a world bigger and stronger than themselves. So they join a group or ideology or religion to palliate those fears.
So it is for the taming of fear and doubt that drives many to their beliefs and belief systems.
But doubt provides the strength and conditions to live in the world as it is. Not knowing the future is the foundation of a life free and open. When we let go of prior beliefs we have the liberty to move freely in the world, see the world clearly, and be open to whatever is. We no longer are tied to the past, to an old idea, to others’ telling us what to believe. We are free and open to the changing world, as it is.
The challenge is to accept living in the unknown. From birth we are taught to fear not knowing the answer. School trains us that not knowing means you failed.
It is possible to change that way of thinking. When we accept not knowing, and freely understand that saying “I don’t know” is the opportunity to see something anew, to understand something in a new way, to be open to the new and different possibilities of the world… then we see what freedom really is.
What do you think? See the Contact page how to respond.
Illustrations from a 17th century copy of “Spring Morning in the Han Palace”, a famous handscroll by the 16th century Ming Dynasty artist Qiu Ying.
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