"[...] the more some idea appeals to you as true, the more vigorously it should be questioned, not the less. This begins with setting aside everything you think you know, disabusing yourself of all belief, including every notion of so-called 'spirituality.' Then see where you are. I understand that this is not for everybody." 1)
People believe all sorts of things and most of those beliefs are utter nonsense for which there is no evidence. Some are fairly harmless, others downright evil.
And this is not primarily about demonstrating that certain beliefs are false, because (maybe) possibly they are based on truth. The point is to see that your beliefs do not stem from your own experience here and now, but are second-hand and only serve to disguise and/or make digestible what is present here and now. There is nothing wrong with that in itself and many people may not be able to live without it, but it cannot satisfy me.
Let's start with the more superficial and relatively innocent things that many people believe in.
You may not really believe in astrology, yet you can't resist reading your weekly horoscope in a magazine or newspaper. You find or get a four-leaf clover and secretly hope for some 'luck'. Surely you prefer to avoid walking under a ladder and you are slightly worried if today is Friday the 13th. For years I myself had the strange thought that if I saw a license plate with the letter combination BX on the road, that it would bring me 'luck'. And who doesn't say a quick prayer when something bad is about to happen? "Oh, please, don't let this happen."
These are all examples of what is called 'magical thinking'. We all know that these things are actually nonsense and yet we can't help ourselves.
For example, a typical example of magical thinking is a child who thinks she is guilty of the death of a pet after she wishes it dead because the animal scratched her.
Thinking in terms of "being lucky" or "being unlucky" is also a form of magical thinking. Things just happen that you find pleasant or unpleasant, that's all.
Magical thinking means that as an individual you think you have influence on the universe and the universe passes on signs and messages to you personally. You think you can bring about happiness and unhappiness for yourself and others, or indeed avoid it.
A more severe case of magical thinking, for example, is the belief in voodoo or sorcery which can cause real harm to oneself or other believers.
Faith can indeed move mountains. And this, in my opinion, we should also consider as the real agent in phenomena such as laying on of hands, faith healing, Reiki, healing with crystals and homeopathy. The cause of any healing (if it happens at all) lies, in my opinion, not in the crystal that is used or the super-diluted homeopathic remedy that does not even contain a molecule of the substances that should be in it. The cause, I think, lies in the patient's belief in the method or person used. We call this the 'placebo effect', a phenomenon which, by the way, we still have a long way to go to understand. Besides the placebo effect, there is also the real, healing effect of attention and physical touch in certain forms of 'alternative' medicine.
Also fairly harmless is the belief in so-called paranormal phenomena such as telepathy and clairvoyance. Ditto the belief in auras, chakras and acupuncture. No evidence has been found for the existence or operation of these things, any more than for astrology, hand reading and card reading. And everyone has experienced thinking about someone and a moment later you are called by that person or something happens to that person. There is no paranormal communication here, just plain coincidence. The countless times you think of that person and nothing happens at all are forgotten.
But, again, the issue for me here is not whether these things exist or work or not. It is whether you lock yourself into an exclusive, 'alternative' identity and thereby lose sight of the naked, answerless, uncontaminated reality. But if that makes you happy, knock yourself out.
" If you have a headache and believe that tapping on imaginary meridians can cure it, fine. Perhaps it can. If you believe that someone can balance your chakras, or that repeating a mantra will lead not to self-hypnosis, but transcendental understanding, fine by me. Knock yourself out. But all that has nothing to do with the simplicity to which I am pointing." 2)
We have long since ceased to live in caves or jungles and to be the prey of large predators, and we no longer need to be alert to every shadow, every unusual light or sound. But our mind somewhere still thinks it does and needs explanations and means to protect itself. We are vulnerable and that which we do not know can be dangerous.
And we are actually still vulnerable. True, there are no more saber-toothed tigers (we made sure of that), but a car accident or a vein rupture can happen in a flash. We prefer to think that a Virgo with Capricorn ascendant (I'm just saying) won't have any bad luck this week and if we just try to live a healthy life and take our Bach remedies daily it will all work out fine. We hope...
I am also referring here to the phenomenon of Louise Hay, who claimed in her book 'You can heal your life' that by doing certain affirmations you can cancel the effect of bad thoughts, which would be the factual cause of the ailment, and thus get better. For every ailment or condition in our lives, according to her, we are responsible ourselves. Did the rhyme, do the time. Apply this story to an animal that has cancer or to a baby, and you will see that reasoning fall through immediately. And suppose the health insurance would take this seriously.
And so we come to beliefs that are a bit more serious and go deeper than thinking that today is your 'lucky day' and you then fill in that Lotto form.
Take for example the belief in 'karma': the idea that what I think and do now will have repercussions for my future.
Karma is an idea from Eastern thought, but is also present in Western religions in the form of 'sin' and 'virtue' or 'good' and 'evil'. 'Good' thoughts and actions have 'good' consequences and 'bad' or 'evil' actions have 'bad' consequences. This is a very deep one, because part of a whole cluster of thoughts and beliefs.
First, there is the belief that there exists such a thing as 'good' and 'evil'. Second, that one kind of act or thought can directly cause another act of the same moral kind. Third, I must then believe that I would be in a position to think or do things at all and that I have what is called 'free will' and am therefore responsible for what I think or do. Fourth, that there is an agency that judges my thoughts and actions and, based on that judgment, maps out a future in this, or in the next life, depending on the kind of religion I believe in.
We need, fortunately, only dwell on the fact that in the universe in which and from which I exist as a process amidst all other processes, everything is related to everything else and is so unimaginably complex and vast, to see that it is absolutely impossible that there can be a direct linear relationship between what I am doing now and what will happen to me in a week or so.
Then the idea of 'good' and 'bad' itself. What determines that a thought or an act is good? Good for me? Good for others? Good for society? And what was good yesterday may not be today (slavery!). Are there really good and bad people? We are born with a set of traits that we can't do anything about and haven't chosen. We are then given an upbringing and cultural environment over which we also had no choice. It is a biological fact that psychopaths are born with that condition and as primates we are murderous in nature anyway, just like our biological cousins the chimps. Being 'bad' is also not caused by upbringing or unfortunate circumstances. It's part of our biology and supposedly 'bad' things we all do.
But why then, normally, do most people not do really bad things, like murder and rape? We are raised from infancy with a system of rules, which we must obey, and in addition, we have punishments for if we don't. This system serves to make society as a whole somewhat livable. We also learn that other living beings have the same feelings as we do and can therefore more or less empathize with the other person and then the decision is made to do or not to do something. Incidentally, not everyone is capable of empathy and will, if need be, kill to get their way. And sometimes it even happens that a 'normal' person, with a normal education, still succumbs to the circumstances and causes something terrible.
By the way, if you wander around on Facebook now and then, you've surely seen 'memes' of an Indian, aborigine or other example of a so-called unspoiled 'nature person' who then proclaims some 'wisdom' that wants to make us feel guilty about our way of life. A little study of these so-called noble peoples of nature soon teaches you that these people, too, are or have been no softies.
Indeed, the social order or 'civilization' is but a thin membrane over our primary, animal urges. As such, we are actually animals, simply part of nature. We are really neither better nor worse than the rest of life on this planet.
Anyway, in order to make living in such a set of rules and punishments acceptable, we cherish the belief in an ultimate justice. In the end, we must believe that all will be well. Except for those who are clearly 'bad' of course. Our reward awaits us either in this life or the next. We also see this idea ad nauseam in all sorts of books and movies - the hero gets the girl, the villain is punished.
Then there is the belief in progress, in a Plan that underlies humanity, all life on this planet, the whole world. Eventually (always eventually!) we evolve towards an ever better and brighter future, a Utopia, where everything is peace and quiet, where we will populate the universe as enlightened spirits and leave our primitive, animal nature behind. And we make this up too to make the day-to-day misery and drudgery of our existence a little more bearable. The belief that we are predestined to triumph in this life, in the next life or as the future of humanity, causes us to prefer to keep society as it is now, so that we cannot and will not violate the Plan in order to then receive our reward...
The opposite belief also exists and has been making a big furor lately, namely that things will not get better at all (see also the popularity of dystopias on streaming services). No, the world is going to hell and soon. Because we are against nature and 'mother earth' is fed up with us. What is forgotten here is that we ourselves are nature and therefore everything we do is also 'natural'. This belief is at least as dangerous as the belief in a bright future. It causes us to sit on our butts and do nothing: after all, everything is going to ruin anyway.
The truth, of course, is that there is neither linear progress nor a downfall. Everything is always completely open. The future is unknown. Anything can happen. From a piece of rock falling from space destroying all life tomorrow in one fell swoop, or the return of the Middle Ages to the eradication of cancer and hunger on our planet and abundant energy for all.
And the planet really does save itself. It has been doing so for 4.5 billion years. Of course, whether we can save our selves is not at all certain.
All life is precarious and we'll do our best and we'll see.
Closely related to these ideas is also the belief that everything happens "for a reason" and that "coincidence does not exist" and our predestined 'soulmate' is waiting for us. But who or what determines these reasons and if anything, how could we know these reasons? And does it even matter if there are reasons? And are they good reasons (again, good for whom)?
In our heads there must always be a clear explanation, that is just the way our primate-brains work, but in fact, as already said, in life, in the world, in the cosmos there is so untold a lot going on at the same time, that there can never be one reason, never one single cause. There are always zillions of them, every second, collectively determining every event. Life is made up of chaos, coincidence and Brownian motion. And we just make up that 'soulmate'.
"Every life, no matter how fortunate, involves struggle on countless levels: physical, mental, psychological, and so on. No wonder we seek answers. No wonder we search for meaning in our daily routines. No wonder we want reasons for hope. Many who say they seek spiritual truths actually mean, "Give me hope, give me purpose, just don't let me fall into despair." 3)
Before we move on to the deepest beliefs that affect us completely unconsciously, there are other mindsets that cause untold suffering, such as ageism, sexism, heterosexism, racism, nationalism, and speciesism.
We revere youth, older people are pushed aside and no longer heard. Everyone wants to look young and for as long as possible. Sexism is the belief that one sex is superior to another sex and derives rights from it that do not accrue to people of another sex. A heterosexist thinks people of a different sexual orientation are unnatural, bad and inferior. Similarly, a racist thinks that people of his/her skin color are "better" people than those with a different skin color. Nationalists think their nation, country or people are superior to other peoples, and untold suffering is caused by the idea called "speciesism," which holds that the human species has the right to kill, eat, mistreat, vivisect and exterminate members of other species.
All of these beliefs and faiths can exist and are made possible by what we believe at the deepest level: the belief in 'substantiality' or the existence of 'things', the idea that we ourselves are a thing and are confined in a body, amidst a potentially hostile environment and from there the belief in an (un)changeable and (un)powerful self.
1) Robert Saltzman, The Ten Thousand Things, Chapter 14
2) Robert Saltzman, The Ten Thousand Things, Chapter 18
3) Robert Saltzman on Facebook