Sometimes when I talk about doing research into beliefs systems, people automatically assume that I'm either looking into religion or else that I'm into fringe beliefs...UFOs, ghosts, ESP, reincarnation, things like that. When I tell these folks that belief actually touches virtually every aspect of their lives in one way or another, they often look at me like I just arrived on one of those UFOs.
But I took a quick look through the front section of my local newspaper today. I found that it illustrates very well the diverse ways in which belief plays a part in everyone's lives. Personal belief, societal or cultural belief - it doesn't really matter. They all interact to affect the things we do and the things that happen to us, or to other people all over the world. Now, it's true that religious belief often comes into the equation, no matter what aspect of life is being affected. But as we will see, here and later, religious and political beliefs find their way into some pretty unbelievable places.
Now, I'm not even going to touch on the "day-after-Easter" stories reporting on yesterday's various religious services. And I'm not going to factor in the stories related to the continuing Terri Schiavo case. It goes without saying that those are vitally connected to the things that people believe. But look at these other stories.
"States beginning to focus on inmate rehabilitation", reads the headline on page A3 of my local paper. A reprint from the Los Angeles Times, this story talks about how Governor Schwarznegger (that's still a trip to think about, but that's another issue for another day) of California is urging his state to get with the program and put more emphasis on the rehabilitation of prisoners and less on punishment and warehousing. Apparently this is the coming trend after about thirty years of those who advocate rehabilitation being accused of supporting "ineffective mollycoddling." Certainly, in the recent past California's official position was that prisons were for punishment, not for rehabilitation. This a huge change in an institutional belief that has an effect on hundreds of thousands, if not millions of individuals' lives.
Then, on page A7, the biggest headline on the page reads, "Some durggists balk at birth control." This has been an issue for awhile. I've seen stories about it online in places like Prevention magazine's website. Apparently, however, those pharmacists who believe that they are justified in not filling prescriptions for medications that personally offend their sense of morality, are becoming more vocal about their beliefs. There is an issue of the clash of rights here, of course, of whose belief should trump whose differing beliefs. As the article puts it:
Supporters of pharmacists' rights see the trend as a welcome expression of personal belief. Women's groups see it as a major threat to reproductive rights and one of the latest manifestations of the religious right's growing political reach - this time into the neighborhood pharmacy. (Fresno Bee, 27 March 2005, page A7)
Which, of course, also reminds the reader that while church and state might be officially separate in the United States, religion and politics are intricately intertwined.
Then, on page A9, I found a headline on a story that illustrates that belief can affect health issues other than those of reproductive rights. "Rumors of U.S. plot hinder vaccinations" outlines Islamic efforts in Nigerian, especially in the largely Islamic northern part of the country, to stop immunization programs because of suspicions that the vaccinations - first for polio and now for measels - are an American anti-Islamic plot. Again, politics and religion clash due to deeply ingrained beliefs. In this case, the clash of beliefs has resulted in the deaths, so far this yar, of at least 589 people, most of them children under the age of five.
So, we can see that beliefs are not just personal and do not just affect those who hold them. Sometimes the following of those beliefs can create discomfort, chaos, or even life-threatening repercussions in the lives of ourselves and others.
Maybe my own beliefs are intruding here. Because I defintely believe that each of us has an obligation to consider the wider repercussions of our beliefs in the world. This is not to say that the individual should abandon his or her closely held beliefs, but just that each of us should take care to really consider what effects our beliefs will have on those around us and on those we might never consider would be affected by our beliefs.
Well...I didn't mean for this to end with me on the soapbox. But I suppose that is inevitable when thinking and writing about such intimate things as beliefs. And, I think, it is also inevitable when I'm writing at the end of a long, busy day. Which this has been. And which is why I'm going to close this entry now.