Most of us act as if we think that our personal beliefs are objective, i.e. they are based on the preponderance of evidence, and for that reason others should be able to see the same things, draw the same conclusions, and arrive at the same beliefs. In effect, I have to believe what I believe because there is nothing else to be believed by a reasonable person, given the evidence. Of course, in spite of this prevalent feeling, others do, in fact, espouse beliefs that diametrically oppose those of others. What does that tell us about our beliefs?
My personal conclusion about this matter, after considering all the evidence, is that personal beliefs are very much subjective. We decide, for a variety of reasons, what we want to believe, and then possibly look for selective, supporting evidence or just ignore all the “evidence” and go on believing what we have chosen.
If we recognize that we decide what to believe and then let that belief govern our lives and actions, we gain a tremendously powerful insight. Under the assumption of objective beliefs, I can fault those who disagree with me as willfully ignorant or stupid. On the other hand, if beliefs are chosen, then all difference is a matter of choice. I may still view the other’s choice of what to believe as a poor one, but it is no longer a frustrating and/or infuriating mystery to me that another can see the world so differently from me. Additionally, I will realize that I have much greater control over my life experience than I can exercise under the paradigm of objectivity, which assumes I must believe and therefore act as I do.
My belief that beliefs are subjective would likely be challenged most vigorously by mathematicians and religious authorities. Mathematics is said to be the language of God, so math and religion do share a common notion. The reality of mathematics really falls outside the area of discussion for me. I don’t consider the belief that two plus two equals four as a personal one, in the sense I describe above.
However, what I believe about the reality of God, i.e. what God sees as real, would be a personal belief of the type I am discussing. Many in the religious world obviously expect everyone to believe the way they do concerning the reality of God. Often, they point to a sacred text as the undeniable evidence making their personal beliefs mandatory. That sacred text may be the Christian Bible or it may not. Beliefs derived from a sacred text involve both happenstance and personal choice. Happenstance is all important in exposing one to the text, and personal choice governs how that text is interpreted and applied. Neither happenstance nor personal choice makes the resulting beliefs strictly objective.
If personal beliefs are not objective, and they clearly are not, then to believe that everyone must believe the same is tantamount to choosing to believe the inherently impossible. The common aphorism is “seeing is believing”. This suggests the objectivity of beliefs. Another possibility is “believing is seeing”, wherein we perceive as real what we want to believe and therefore embrace.