Vol.X No.III Pg.6
May 1973

Testing Our Beliefs

Robert F. Turner

As our regular readers know, this is our Quote page where gleanings from the wide field of literature is presented for your consideration. The job of finding, condensing and copying such material is no easy one, so we truly appreciate the following contribution from bro. Osby Weaver. He says it is adapted from The Mind In The Making, by James H. Robinson.

As we read the material we thought perhaps the writer was being too hard on the public— surely we are not all that defensive of our beliefs. Then we asked ourselves, How often have you made a careful research to re-evaluate some former conclusion you had made, and found yourself wrong? Yes, it has happened, but seldom enough to be embarrassing in the light of Mr. Robinsons piercing analysis. Being wrong is no virtue; but never finding our error may be worse— proof we do not honestly prove all things.

We are incredibly heedless in the formation of our beliefs, but find ourselves filled with a fervent passion for them when anyone challenges or questions them. Obviously, it is not the ideas themselves that are dear to us, but rather that our self-esteem is threatened. We are by nature stubbornly pledged to defend our own from attack, whether it be our person, our family, our property, or our opinion. A United States senator once remarked to a friend of mine that God Almighty could not make him change his mind on our Latin-American policy. We may surrender, but we rarely confess ourselves vanquished. In the intellectual world, at least, peace is without victory. Few of us take the pains to study the origins of our cherished convictions; indeed, we have a natural repugnance to so doing. We like to continue believing what we have been accustomed to accepting as true, and the resentment aroused when doubt cast upon our assumptions leads us seek every manner of excuse for clinging to them. The result is that most of our so-called reasoning consists of finding arguments for continuing to believe as we already do.

This spontaneous and loyal support of our preconceptions— this process of finding good reasons to justify our routine beliefs— is known to modern psychologists as rationalization, clearly a new name for a very ancient thing. Our good reasons ordinarily have no value in promoting honest enlightenment, because, no matter how solemnly they may be marshaled they are at bottom the result of personal preference or prejudice, not of an honest desire to seek accept new knowledge.

In our reveries, we are frequently engaged in self-justification, for cannot bear to think ourselves wrong yet we have constant illustrations of our weaknesses and mistakes. So we spend much time finding fault with circumstances and the conduct of others, and shifting onto them with great ingenuity the onus of our failures and disappointments. Rationalization is the self-exculpation which occurs when we feel ourselves or our group, accused of misapprehension or error.