The Action of Belief

On Monday I upped a rather garbled piece. In it I suggested that “your actions are your beliefs”.
Your actions are the manifestation of your deeply seated beliefs.
It is important within this to make the observation that belief is not a purely cognitive (i.e. cerebral or mental) exercise, as we can sometimes end up thinking.
While it is of course good and right to believe things in this way, we can often find that we our actions disavow these cerebral affirmations. What then?
Well, there are all kinds of things we believe ‘cognitively’ which we utterly fail to make manifest in our lives.
A lighthearted example might be that you and I both believe it is important to revise for exams. Cognitively we can affirm this with a “YES! Revision is certainly important and beneficial.” Yet if we do not revise can it be said that we truly believe the things we say about revision? Is the belief not contradicted in our failing to make the affirmation a concrete reality?
The first 3 minutes 39 seconds of this video by Pete Rollins has some great examples of what I am trying to draw out here.
  • The irony of the landlord who comes to his minister to get the church to pay the rent for a family about to be evicted from their flat because they can’t afford the costs, all the while the landlord making the appeal is this family’s landlord who must have his money.
  • Going to a 70’s disco in all the get up while slagging the whole concept of a 70’s disco off.
  • Sitting in Starbucks bemoaning the evils of multinational corporations.
  • Driving your car while listening to radio programmes that discuss the ongoing global ecological crisis.
  • Saying money, clothes, bigger cars and houses etc. won’t satisfy us, all the while living and acting as if they will.
All of these explore the point we’re making. We can affirm all kinds of beliefs at a cognitive level which, in the end, cannot be said to be a thoroughgoing belief because they have not become manifest in our actions. Why? Because your actions are your beliefs in concrete form.
It can therefore be said that something is malfunctioning – something contradictory is taking place. We are engaged in an extensive ironic gesture.
“Convincing you isn’t the problem, you have to convince the social self.”
Saying “[insert name of MNC] is terrible” might be good and right. However, following saying that your going to that MNC’s shop to buy their product, without realizing or feeling the contradiction, demonstrates explicitly that your abstract belief isn’t consistent with your social self, your actions are the denial of the very belief you supposedly affirm – we might say this is unbelief in action.
Why? Because your actions are your beliefs in concrete form. Your actions, if they are not correlative to your beliefs, demonstrate a wholly different belief which you are in fact living.
We need to make a move from the cognitive belief and affirmation of ideals, toward the public and social act which connects them and makes them known and consistent.
On a Christian level this matters deeply.
  • Does our life correlate to the cognitive belief that as Christians we are now members of the new people of God founded by Jesus who live sacrificially cruciform lives as kingdom-of-God anticipators?
  • Does our life correlate to the cognitive belief that as Christians we are members of a community who live because of the resurrection of Jesus and as such realize, name and help cultivate new creation as it happens in, through and around us?
  • Does our life correlate to the cognitive belief that as Christians the (again, cruciform and kingdom-bringing) way of life Jesus modelled for his disciples should be something manifest in our own?
Cognitive belief is important, of course it is, but we would be mistaken to think it is the end of the story. Thinking “correctly”, as important as it is, must be in congruence with a life that attests to the truth of those beliefs.
‘“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?’ Luke 6:46
Why can we affirm particular beliefs with our mind and yet fail to act in accordance with those beliefs; be they religious or not?
What needs to change? What needs to happen? How do we move toward this inner consistency of self?
Christianity locates great significance in the metanoia (or repentance).
Repentance is not simply an abstract, internal, sorrowful feeling or confession that operates on a fairly cognitive level. Repentance involves that (absolutely! The Hebrew nicham underscores as much) but it is equally a lived, embodied, act of turning away or turning around, an act of returning or moving in a different direction (the Hebrew word shuv is all about this).
Repentance only happens if you are willing to move.
It is striking that Jesus’ first words in Mark’s gospel are the declaration of God’s kingdom, God’s way of doing things, coming close to the people in Jesus himself and that the only appropriate response to Jesus’ words were to “repent [feel sorrow as well as turn around] and believe [see it, hear it, register it, then trust and act in accordance with] the good news”! (Mark 1:14-15)
Action and belief. The inner and outer self in dynamic correspondence, united in will and intention. The cognitive affirmation embodied in the turning away from one socio-political-economic-religious agenda toward the socio-political-economic-religious kingdom manifested in Jesus.
Repentance requires that something happen at a fundamental and foundational level, at the level of the social self perhaps, where we feel something deeply and then move accordingly. This is vital for belief and belief is vital for this – because we must then register what has happened (i.e the good news of the kingdom having come), affirm it in belief, and then move in the direction this disruptive repentant moment has brought about (as we realise we are now responsible citizens of this kingdom).
Here we see action and belief wrapped up together; as we find ourselves open to and confronted with this intense experience of inner disruption.
Perhaps something is instigated here. Perhaps here in the dawning of repentance we find that original moment and the context in which actions learn to meaningfully correspond and belong together, held in dynamic tension.
Have we perhaps forgotten this? Or better, do we really believe it? … Q.E.D.
“The church should be… about radical change. That’s what conversion means, that’s what conversion’s about; not convincing the mind, [it’s] about reconfiguring the entire social self; becoming the actual site of resistance.”