Beliefs shape our perspectives and guide our actions. A belief is not just something we think, it is an idea we are committed to (the word comes from be+”love”). We often change some beliefs through our lives and seek not to be committed to or believe in that which is not grounded in reality. Here are some words from notable thinkers and doers about the meaning, purpose, and questioning of beliefs.

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True religion, like our founding principles, requires that the rights of the disbeliever be equally acknowledged with those of the believer.

— A. Powell Davies

The Holy Prophet Mohammed came into this world and taught us: ‘That man is a Muslim who never hurts anyone by word or deed, but who works for the benefit and happiness of God’s creatures. Belief in God is to love one’s fellow men.’

— Abdul Ghaffar Khan

Friends, I agree with you in Providence; but I believe in the Providence of the most men, the largest purse, and the longest cannon. [1854]

— Abraham Lincoln

What do I believe? As an American I believe in generosity, in liberty, in the rights of man. These are social and political faiths that are part of me, as they are, I suppose, part of all of us. Such beliefs are easy to express. But part of me too is my relation to all life, my religion. And this is not so easy to talk about. Religious experience is highly intimate and, for me, ready words are not at hand.

— Adlai Stevenson

We have to believe that even the briefest of human connections can heal. Otherwise, life is unbearable.

— Agate Nesaule

People’s beliefs about their abilities have a profound effect on those abilities. Ability is not a fixed property; there is a huge variability in how you perform. People who have a sense of self-efficacy bounce back from failure; they approach things in terms of how to handle them rather than worrying about what can go wrong.

— Albert Bandura

Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.

— Albert Einstein

Whatever there is of God in the universe, it must work itself out and express itself through us.

— Albert Einstein

I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own — a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble minds harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotisms.

— Albert Einstein

Every generation looks upon its own creeds as true and permanent and has a mingled smile of pity and contempt for the prejudices of the past. For two hundred or more generations of our historical past this attitude has been repeated two hundred or more times, and unless we are very careful our children will have the same attitude toward us.

— Alfred Korzybski

There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking.

— Alfred Korzybski

To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.

— Anatole France

Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.

— Andre Gide

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

— Arthur C. Clarke, Clarke’s First Law

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal, and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood

— Audre Lorde

Among us, on the other hand, ‘the righteous man lives by faith.’ Now, if you take away positive affirmation, you take away faith, for without positive affirmation nothing is believed. And there are truths about things unseen, and unless they are believed, we cannot attain to the happy life, which is nothing less than life eternal.

— Augustine of Hippo

Credo ut intelligam. (I believe so I can understand.)

— Augustine of Hippo

Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.

— Barbara De Angelis

The proof that one truly believes is in action.

— Bayard Rustin

What a man believes upon grossly insufficient evidence is an index into his desires — desires of which he himself is often unconscious. If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.

— Bertrand Russell

The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.

— Bertrand Russell

William James used to preach the “will to believe”. For my part, I should wish to preach the “will to doubt”…. What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.

— Bertrand Russell, Skeptical Essays

If you wish to become a philosopher, the first thing to realise is that most people go through life with a whole world of beliefs that have no sort of rational justification, and that one man’s world of beliefs is apt to be incompatible with another man’s, so that they cannot both be right. People’s opinions are mainly designed to make them feel comfortable; truth, for most people is a secondary consideration.

— Bertrand Russell, The Art of Philosophizing and other Essays (1942)

It is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.

— Bertrand Russell

We are more connected than ever before, more able to spread our ideas and beliefs, our anger and fears. As we exercise the right to advocate our views, and as we animate our supporters, we must all assume responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged.

— Bill Clinton

To deny, to believe, and to doubt absolutely — this is for man what running is for a horse.

— Blaise Pascal

Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen… yourself, right now, right down here on Earth.

— Bradley Whitford

How can we consider ourselves to be rational and proclaim that God is ineffable — beyond our frail human abilities to comprehend him — and in the same stroke of the pen develop a list of orthodoxical beliefs of what God is and is not!?

— Brian Goedken

Happiness comes when you believe in what you are doing, know what you are doing, and love what you are doing.

— Brian Tracy

Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.

(Sometimes translated: Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense. )

— Buddha

The goal is not to bring people to Christianity, the goal is to bring people to love. If that’s through Christianity, fine. If it’s another religion or no religion at all, fine. What the world needs is love, not more people professing right belief.

— Caleb J. Lines

I don’t want to believe. I want to know.

— Carl Sagan

People are not stupid. They believe things for reasons. The last way for skeptics to get the attention of bright, curious, intelligent people is to belittle or condescend or to show arrogance toward their beliefs.

— Carl Sagan

You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep seated need to believe.

— Carl Sagan, misattributed

People are not stupid. They believe things for reasons. The last way for skeptics to get the attention of bright, curious, intelligent people is to belittle or condescend or to show arrogance toward their beliefs.

— Carl Sagan

What counts is not what sounds plausible, not what we would like to believe, not what one or two witnesses claim, but only what is supported by hard evidence rigorously and skeptically examined. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

— Carl Sagan

Beliefs and values that have held sway for thousands of years will be questioned as never before.

— Carol P. Christ

When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions.

— Carter G. Woodson

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.

— Charles Dickens

Habits of thought persist through the centuries; and while a healthy brain may reject the doctrine it no longer believes, it will continue to feel the same sentiments formerly associated with that doctrine.

— Charlotte Perkins Gilman

To attain happiness in another world we need only to believe something, while to secure it in this world we must do something.

— Charlotte Perkins Gilman

What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

— Christopher Hitchens

Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.

— Christopher Hitchens

The mind can assert anything and pretend it has proved it. My beliefs I test on my body, on my intuitional consciousness, and when I get a response there, then I accept.

— D. H. Lawrence

In our reasonings concerning matter of fact, there are all imaginable degrees of assurance, from the highest certainty to the lowest species of moral evidence. A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence.

— David Hume

Does a man of sense run after every silly tale of hobgoblins or fairies, and canvass particularly the evidence? I never knew anyone, that examined and deliberated about nonsense who did not believe it before the end of his enquiries.

— David Hume

A wise man proportions his beliefs to the evidence.

— David Hume

Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.

— Demosthenes

An Idea isn’t responsible for the people who believe in it.

— Don Marquis

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

— Douglas Adams
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