Cognitive Boxes - Religious Beliefs
To make sense of how humans operate, you have to look closely about how
individuals learn, how they depend on local groups for guidance and support and
how they organize cognitive structures. You have to understand the differences
among cognitive categories such as knowledge, facts, opinions and beliefs.
One idea that makes sense only when you look closely at yourself and others
around you is that each person acquires cognitive containers that permit
learning but also limit what is learned and understood. Some people acquire a
lot of knowledge and skills and can move easily from one cognitive contained to
another. Others have a limited number of containers and have difficulty moving
from one to another. You can play with the idea of cognitive boxes and develop a
better understanding of yourself and others.
Religious beliefs are collected in a cognitive container that resists change.
Inside a religious container, you are consumed by the specific language and
beliefs of the religion, its symbols, assumptions and claims. Inside the
religion container, you have costumes, rituals and celebrations that can be
enjoyable and reassuring; however, fixed beliefs and beliefs systems are
The concept of a large cognitive container such as “Christianity” is not
realistic; Christianity has a thousand sub containers and each of these has a
thousand more. The final sub containers are individual minds, each with its own
cognitive boxes. If you examine the subdivisions of a ‘world religion” with a
zoom lens, as you zoom into local areas, you see more and more differences,
arguments, and disputes. You never find consensus.
If you zoom down to individuals who belong to local groups you see them
competing with each other, arguing, and failing to reach agreements on important
issues. The big divisions are well known and big disagreements are stable over
centuries. The smaller disagreements are in flux; some subside others
proliferate. There are infinite possibilities for arguments and finite
possibilities for consensus.
Sometimes the larva trapped inside a religious cocoon enjoys a metamorphosis and
emerges as a butterfly that can fly far away and enjoy a new life with new
friends, and new freedom. True freedom is to live without beliefs and to invent
your own community. In the ecstatic religions, the whole point of spiritual
exercise is to fly away.