Belief Systems 
By Walter Sorochan

Posted December 17, 2011; updated December 24, 2011; Update October 2021  Disclaimer  The information presented here is for informative and educational purposes only and is not intended as curative or prescriptive advice.  

Majority of Americans, as of December, 2011, do not believe in their government, are discontent with their elected officials, question the economic system and are confused about their health care system.  Gallop: political Polls   Americans have a value-belief crisis!  And this lack of trust, honesty and belief makes us most vulnerable to economic, health and political catastrophes.

This article attempts to briefly explore the belief system crisis and how it affects us.  . 

What is a belief system?

A belief system is a set of mutually supportive beliefs. Belief is defined as a "state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing." Wiki: belief system   Belief is the mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in another.  "It can also be something believed or accepted as true, especially a particular tenet or a body of tenets accepted by a group of persons."  Online dictionary   A belief may be an opinion, view-point or a bias adopted from others but without real supporting evidence. 

A belief system is formed from the support of like thinking individuals about a thing or idea.  Many persons sharing similar or like ideas will have similar values.  It is the coming together of similar belief persons that evolves behaviors, habits and ideologies or beliefs; such as health habits, belief in vaccinations, belief in democracy, belief in capitalism and so on. A person's belief system is often based on trusting their friends and other messengers of information, in believing what friends tell them as true, on the assumption that the information is true and that the person as a source of information is honest. The opposite can also be true!

Kinds of beliefs:

A simplistic example of a universal belief system is summarized in the table below.  Four major systems were recognized as major problems in United States.  These are inter-related and help to define the belief system of the American culture.  Within each of these major systems may be lesser belief systems, as exemplified below:

Religion Medicine Economy Politics
religion2 medidiology3 money 5 political ideology
God, Church,
Christianity, Muslim, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism,
Baha 'i Faith
Santa Claus
Holidays: Xmas, Easter
conventional -unconventional
chiropractic; Direct Primary Care [Oklahoma}
germ theory
health, exercise
diets: vegetarian,  Free market health care system
American dream
Wall Street 
Free market system
democracy, communism

The classification of examples in the table is arbitrary and incomplete.  There are some belief systems that have been left out, such as education. 

All belief systems are based on theories and ideologies.  For example economic theories are tagged as mostly beliefs. 

Additional examples of belief systems controlling social behaviors are health belief systems  Elgee: health belief systems  and political systems. Rawls: theory justice   Rawls: another interpretation of Rawl

"Belief systems overlie powerful biological and psychological forces that are root causes of war. Much as in medicine where an appreciation of health belief systems is necessary in the control of illness and disease, so the paths to the control of war may lie in an understanding of belief systems and ways to circumvent them."  Elgee: health belief systems

Political corruption is the use of legislated powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain.   Wiki: Political corruption

Beliefs can be misconceptions and misleading.  Below are a few examples of how beliefs can be misconceptions:  Wiki: list misconceptions

Moon Sleeping  Nero did not "fiddle" during the Great Fire of Rome [ violins had not yet been invented, nor was he playing the lyre ].  

Moon Sleeping  Columbus thought that earth was flat: Sailors and navigators during Columbus' time knew that the Earth was roughly spherical. 

Moon Sleeping  Columbus discovered America. Wrong --- Leif Ericson and others visited America before Columbus.

Moon Sleeping  "First Thanksgiving" was NOT held at Plymouth Colony.  Preceding thanksgiving days were held at the Spanish colony of Saint Augustine, Florida in 1565, in the French colony in Canada in 1604, and so on. 

Moon Sleeping  President Lincoln did not free the slaves! 

Moon Sleeping  Sushi means "raw fish", and not all sushi includes raw fish. The name sushi means "sour rice." 

Moon Sleeping  Bats are blind. While many (most) bat species use echolocation as a primary sense, all bat species have eyes and are capable of sight. 

Moon Sleeping  Humans have five senses; wrong --- may have 20 or more.

Moon Sleeping  Humans need eight glasses of water a day to maintain health.  Inaccurate!  The amount of water needed varies by person (weight), activity level, clothing, and environment (heat and humidity). 

What does a belief system do?

"Belief drives behavior!"  Leading Edge: Belief systems

People around the world have very different belief systems, different lives and ways of living. People live their lives according to what they believe to be right and wrong. They often follow the rules of their countries main religion-culture-political-economic system.

Belief systems bind us together, structure our values, give us support, give us faith and a desire to live.  A belief system gives each of us an identity of who we are! 

Toupin has very eloquently summarized what belief systems do: Article no longer active

"To begin a journey in life, we have to identify our belief systems. We all have one, but not all of us are sure where we put it or how it affects our lives. We tend to take our beliefs for granted and coast through life in hopes that everything works out for our own good. While that approach works for a while, it will catch up with us and leave us lying dormant for years until we figure out what it is that we need to do.

A belief system provides a core set of values on which we base everything we do, say, or believe. We can classify our values as a 'set of rules' that define how we process and store information as it comes in through our conscious mind. Our conscious mind takes these rules and shaves off the sides, planes the ends, and polishes the exterior to make it easier to process and store in our subconscious. The subconscious then takes this processed piece of information and, according to our rules, associates it with other information that we classify as 'solid' and 'accurate.' During this association, we begin to understand the new information and are better able to assimilate it for future reference.

It is when we receive new information that we can run into trouble. If we have a solid set of rules by which information is processed, the new information is stored in the same manner as all other information. However, any unknown elements are left open, like empty branches of a tree, to be filled with pertinent information that can help us understand how the new information fits into our lives. Since we have a base of knowledge from which to function, we can easily go out and find the answers to our questions to fill in the gaps that this new, unknown information created.

But, without any rules, new information is just tossed into the corner of our minds. Our conscious mind, in an attempt to organize the information, devises a set of questions that need to be answered. We then begin to focus on these issues, which eventually bring up other questions, causing us to cringe in fear and become stuck in our lives. Our minds are so caught up in these 'free floating' questions that we end up in a state of confusion and, in some cases, overwhelming depression because life seems to be caving in all around us completely out of control. 

When we are born, we 'are' and it 'is.' We come into being and we become conscious of the things around us. Eventually, through experimentation, we find that things are hot, cold, hard, soft, bright, and dark. But, we have to go beyond those initial pieces of knowledge and learn to work with others, move about in the world, expand out consciousness, and become whatever we desire. However, we must be able to identify who we are before we can determine who we want to become and where we want to go in life. This is where we must define our current belief system and identify our current values. ...  The core of a belief system contains things that mean something to you and provide you with your values." 

Evolving a belief system

A baby is born without values and without a belief system.  The baby's brain is free and neutral, without biases or opinion or knowledge.  From the moment you come into the world, you begin to learn from your surroundings and significant others, and you begin to develop your belief system.

It is widely understood that most beliefs you hold have not originated with you. Rather, you have primarily adopted what makes sense to your experience and understanding at the time. You continue in developing your belief system largely by agreeing with ideas that come into your awareness.

Once established, beliefs are accepted as fact and are rarely subject to scrutiny. They become our “personal operating system.” Much like the operating system on your computer, our beliefs control how we sort and file every bit of input data.

Everything we see, experience, think and feel is adjusted to fit with our beliefs. In other words, our version of reality is a creation of our beliefs. Our personal operating system disassembles and reassembles all input data to conform to what we believe.

Having a common belief system with others bonds people together as organizations, churches, gangs and other special interest groups.  Young persons, in their formative years, are especially vulnerable to unique or special groups that may include street gangs, fitness and diet clubs and cults. 

Although the perceptions about how we acquire beliefs may seem simplistic, the validity of such beliefs is not.  A good illustration of this is the belief of many persons that the world will come to an end in December, 2012.  Who created the mystery idea that the world will end in 2012? 

maya calendar To unravel this mystery, we need to view the history of the Maya civilization. It is known for advanced writing, mathematics and astronomy, and flourished for centuries in Mesoamerica, especially between A.D. 300 and 900.  Its Long Count calendar, which was discontinued under Spanish colonization, tracks more than 5,000 years, then resets at year zero.  To the Mayans, resetting their calendar was to begin a new era of time in their society.  It was not an end but a rebirth!  This interpretation of rebirth has been interpreted by a few persons in this century as the end of the world in 2012.  Since the Mayans are no longer around, which messenger of truth do we believe in the interpretation of the Mayan calendar?  Who qualifies as the credible interpreter of Maya truth?

On the one hand we have anthropological scholars who attempt to provide credibility about the Maya predictions by seeking the truth.  As scholars they publish their findings in books like The Return of Quetzalcoatl, and fuel Mel Gibson's December 2006 film about Mayan civilization, Apocalpyto MacDonald: Maya calendar predict 2012  These are attempts to present information more so than express an opinion.   The revision process of the modern calendar Mayan calendar has been questioned by Gerardo Aldana, a professor at the University of California.  He questions the process conversion of data from modern calendar Mayan calendar and points out that the interpretation of the calendar end may be wrong by 50 or even 100 years.  This would call into question the historicity of events 2012 and the Mayan apocalypse.  Fact, fiction or opinion?

On the other hand, we also have differing interpretations from different sources whose credibility may be in question.  The interpretation of "end of the world" is an opinion, without a sound rational to back up the interpretation.  Fact or fiction?

Taking this "end of the world" belief one step further, gives us a view of how beliefs work.  Suppose that a ladies group meets regularly for lunch once a month and they discuss this mystery topic.  Now the end of the world in 2012 is spread by word of mouth by the ladies.  None of the ladies has credentials as a scientist or researcher. Although there is a lack of subject matter credibility, no one questions the truth of this gossip.  The ladies believe that the world will end in December, 2012. 

The point of the Maya calendar example is that many beliefs are opinions that are not supported by scientific evidence and may be misinformation.  The guardians of "right and wrong" are often persons in power, authority figures, TV commentators, our elders, medical doctors and politicians who espouse opinions and not facts.  "Its true because I said so!"   Most persons have been taught to accept the information published in newspapers and what they hear on television as the truth, and not question it.  They fit the information into their already working belief system and life goes on!   

Conclusion: Belief system today

It was deemed essential to understand the nature of belief systems in order to understand what is happening in United States today. 

The belief systems that emanate from our culture shape the way we think, live, act and interact with each other and with those outside our culture.   Our beliefs can be opinions that reflect our values and biases.  Many beliefs are opinions without a logical or scientific basis!  It is important to be aware that a biased opinion can close our minds to accepting other ways of thinking and doing.  Bias and prejudice, in turn, can stifle progress and success.

GrapesOfWrathOur culture has a set of mutually supportive beliefs that people assume to be true.  A classic example of acting on belief is depicted in a novel written by John Steinbeck in 1939 'The Grapes of Wrath'   and celebrated as a Hollywood film in 1940.  It depicts the economic struggles of people during the 1930's economic depression.  An Oklahoma share-cropper's family, desperate for work, read about jobs in California in a one-page flyer.  Believing that the information about work in California was true, they packed all their belongings onto a truck and trekked to California.  But they had difficulty finding work.  The film depicts the breakdown of all sectors of society at this time. 

An economic-social breakdown similar to the1930's has occurred 2008 - 2012 in the housing and banking industries.  Corruption in high offices has trickled down to youths and main street!  Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011 are more complex than mass media perceptions of "1% vs 99%."  The chaotic circus of Republican party debates reflect confusion about core social values among politicians and the public.  Whom do you belief?   It should not be a surprise that many Americans have lost faith in the political system. 

Today, the majority of people do not believe in their government, congress and the political system.  Attempts to fix the economy with financial bailouts, thereby hopefully providing jobs, is not working because we are NOT fixing the entire belief system, the ensuing behaviors, habits and values. We need to restore trust, honesty and civility into our value system.  Morality is a good place to start at the highest levels of society.  Political government, national economy and the health care sub-systems are the three major systems that need most immediate fixing. 

British philosopher Stephen Law has described some belief systems as drawing people in and holding them captive; so they become willing slaves.  George: inerview Stephen Law inellectual black holes  This makes it very difficult to change people when they are part of a bigger peer 'belief' system!

The author, as an independent researcher, found investigating the belief system to be daunting, complex and difficult.  But the difficulty of the task was not sufficient to avoid doing it.  The author is aware that some readers may have a different take on belief systems than that expressed herein.  But critics should always ask themselves if what they express as their operating belief system is a point of view, an opinion, truth or a fact?


Caswell Thomas, "World belief systems," NY Regents Prep, This article no longer active.

Converse Philip E., "Changing conceptions of public opinion in the political process," Public Opinion Quarterly, 1987, vol 51, Issue part 2: Supplement 50th Anniversary Issue, S12-S24.   Converse: Public opinion

Elgee Neil J., " Health belief systems and the pyschobiology of war," The Western Journal of Medicine, June 1984, 140, 6.   Elgee: health belief systems

George Alison, "A field guide to bullshit," New Scientist Magazine, June 13, 2011, issue 2816.   George: inerview Stephen Law intellectual black holes

Interview with Stephen Law, his new book, Believing Bullshit, as a guide to avoid getting sucked into "intellectual black holes". What are they? Intellectual black holes are belief systems that draw people in and hold them captive so they become willing slaves of claptrap. Belief in homeopathy, psychic powers, alien abductions - these are examples of intellectual black holes. As you approach them, you need to be on your guard because if you get sucked in, it can be extremely difficult to think your way clear again.

The British philosopher Stephen Law has described some belief systems (including belief in homeopathy, psychic powers and alien abduction) as "claptrap" and said that they "draw people in and hold them captive so they become willing slaves ... if you get sucked in, it can be extremely difficult to think your way clear again".  

Layton Julia, "How Cults Work," How Stuff Works.   Layton: Cult deprogramming

Leading Edge International Research Group, "Belief systems and social perception structures." March 19, 2011.   Leading Edge: Belief systems

MacDonald G. Jeffrey, "Does Maya calendar predict 2012 apocalypse?" USA TODAY, March 27, 2007.   MacDonald: Maya calendar predict 2012

Mayan Calendar: Wikipedia: Maya Calendar "There are a variety of popular beliefs about the year 2012. These beliefs range from the spiritually transformative to the apocalyptic, and center upon various interpretations of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Contemporary scientists have disputed the apocalyptic versions."

Rawls John, "A Theory of Justice," eNotes,   Rawls: theory justice   Rawls: another interpretation of Rawl


Wikipedia, "A Theory of Justice" A Theory of Justice is a book of political philosophy and ethics by John Rawls.   Wiki: John Rawls Theory of justice

Wikipedia, "Belief system."   Wiki: belief system   A belief system is a set of mutually supportive beliefs. The beliefs may be religious, philosophical, ideological or a combination of these.

Wikipedia, " A list of common misconceptions."   Wiki: list misconceptions  List of current, widely held, false ideas and beliefs about notable topics which have been reported by reliable sources from around the world. Each has been discussed in published literature,

Wikipedia, "Political corruption."  Wiki: Political corruption