The Lie of Belief – What We Should Stop Pretending

Well, I don’t care what people believe, as long as they don’t try to change my beliefs.

I see this argument in many different ways all over the internet. People will vociferously argue about white privilege, atheism, Tea Party allegiance, foreign policy, immigration, gay marriage, and a host of other things, but then drop this bomb, usually said in the throwaway form of “I don’t care what other people believe; believe what you wanna believe.” This is a pernicious lie that comes creeping in, and I think it’d be better if we did away with it. You know why? Because it’s highly dishonest.

If you were talking about why belief in Santa Claus or The Tooth Fairy is ridiculous, you might notice the face of a true believer dropping with discontent. In an effort to save them the discomfort of actually answering your many objections to the existence of such creatures, you might try to soften the blow and back off, saying, “Well, I don’t really care what others believe, as long as they don’t try to push it on me.” Part of the problem is that that’s just not true. It’s just a way to ease your responsibility for your own thoughts and opinions. You (I would hope) and millions of other people take a pretty hard line on the non-existence of Santa and The Tooth Fairy, and when you meet someone that honestly believes in them, to quote comedian Dave Foley, “…you will not leave him alone with your children!

Here are three more things wrong with the “I don’t care” statement:

1.) You can’t be the aggressor and the savior.

It’s unfair to believe in something, fervently and passionately fight for it, and then claim that it doesn’t matter to you. I think this is mostly due to the phenomenon that we are more careful about our beliefs when we can see their direct impact upon another person (e.g. in a conversation). However, this is disingenuous. For example, I talk to my friends about racism, and some of them latently hold inherently racist beliefs. It’s dishonest of me to say that I don’t care what they believe, just as long as they’re not acting on it. The truth is that what others believe matters deeply to us all.

2.) Belief is never the end.

Another important thing to understand is that beliefs are not only beliefs. Beliefs are identity. Beliefs are purpose. Beliefs are action. For example, it’s all well and good to try to convince your atheist friend that there is a God, which they can’t disprove. If that was the only thing about a belief in God, religion might be a different matter. But you don’t just want your friend to believe that – you want his life to change as a result of that belief, a change that involves prayer, tithes, dietary restrictions, church events, and other things.

Beliefs are identity. Beliefs are purpose. Beliefs are action.

This is the true problem of pretending that we don’t care what other people believe. If we understand anything about the world, we understand that belief is not the end – that what you believe affects what you eat for breakfast, where you go to church, and who you vote for, and this is why you really do care what other people believe, so don’t use that argument.

3.) We are always trying to shove beliefs on each other.

I’ve been told I can come off as a person that thinks that they’re right all the time. My response to this is, “Of course I think I’m right. Otherwise, I would think differently.” This might sound like a tautology, but pay attention to what I’m saying here. I’ve accumulated really good reasons to think the way I do and some topics I haven’t thought about at all. My basic contention is that everyone generally thinks that the way they live is the best way, because if they didn’t believe that it was, they would live a different way.

Of course I think I’m right. Otherwise, I would think differently.

This brings us to the struggle of beliefs. We are all trying to convince the other of something. Here’s an easy one: If you live in America, and you are or ever have been affiliated with a church that promotes door-to-door proselytization and/or solicitations for Bible studies (as many Christian churches do), you are not going to convince me that what people believe doesn’t matter to you. If you have ever written a blog or made a Youtube video about an issue concerning you, you don’t get to say you don’t care. And I don’t think any of us should get to pretend. In today’s age, where lies truly do persist, it seems, at a rate much higher than truth, we shouldn’t claim not to care about what others believe. On the contrary – in the pursuit of truth, what others believe should be of paramount importance to us. I believe that it already is – all that is left is for us to have the integrity to admit it.

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2 thoughts on “The Lie of Belief – What We Should Stop Pretending”

  1. Thanks Tim. I think you’re right. The “I don’t care” statement is probably just to save face, excuse oneself from coming up with an answer, or simply to get out of the conversation because it’s become boring. It doesn’t mean the person has stopped caring what the other believes.

    Conversely, some people happily (or angrily) vocalize their opinions without doing anything about them. Lots of people get in heated discussions over things, but then walk away without lifting a finger to resolve the issue in the real world, except maybe with an occasional vote. So people might care more about whether or not others agree with them than they care about the specific issue they’re discussing.

    My favorite quote from your blog: “If you have ever written a blog or made a Youtube video about an issue concerning you, you don’t get to say you don’t care.” That mirrors my sentiment over the years. Unfortunately, I think some people don’t put so much stock in words.


  2. Steve, thanks for commenting! It makes sense what you’re saying about people not being willing to back up their words with their actions. I guess the inspiration for this post came from real-life moments that I’ve had or seen with people. It just always seemed disingenuous for people to say “I don’t really care” when I’ve literally seen arguments happen just because someone voted for the wrong person.


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