What exactly do people “believe?”

In discussions concerning beliefs I have found much more helpful, instead of using religion or philosophy, to use the term myth to talk about people’s beliefs.  The term has a long history in academic circles. Myth, in this usage, does not connote something that is inherently untrue. It does not mean a fairy tale, nor does it necessarily mean talking about Greek or Roman legends. What myth does entail are the beliefs a person has about life, the world and all that is in it. You could call it a belief system or a worldview. Myth is multi-faceted but the central idea is that it involves premises that cannot be proven, but are assumed to be true. That does not mean that those beliefs cannot be examined, evaluated and the evidence for and against them weighed. It does not mean that all beliefs are equally valid or supportable. But it does mean that ultimately those beliefs are just that, beliefs. What I have found is that it is much more beneficial to dialogue than the traditional terms of religion and philosophy. People often mistakenly understand religion being a matter of faith while philosophy involves reason not faith. By using the more generic term of myth, it allows individuals to move beyond that faulty dichotomy.[i]

What does “Myth” entail?


When we start to discuss the idea of myth, what foundational concepts are we saying compose this realm of assertions that cannot be proven and instead can only be asserted? What exactly makes up this thing called myth? In the subsequent posts I will examine the most crucial aspects of peoples’ beliefs and then in the following sections I hope to show how those beliefs impact political and ethical positions, or at least how they should if the believers are logically coherent.

So what are the most common aspects of a belief system?

  • A belief in a God, gods, divine force or its equivalent… or not.
  • Origins: How did we get here? Where did we come from?
  • Human nature: What exactly are we as humans?
  • Purpose and meaning in life.
  • What happens when you die?
  • Ethics? How should we act and why? (This is not only part of our belief system but is also dependent on the other parts of that belief system.)

These are the most essential aspects of a person’s worldview or myth. We can examine all of these ideas, but we can’t finally prove any of them. And they all should have a significant impact on our political and ethical positions.


[i] Certainly, using myth brings its own possible negative implications because we tend to think of legends and fairy tales. However, I have still found it to be a more useful term than using religion and philosophy. People who claim to not be religious have a much easier time understanding that they have a myth, even though they are not involved in any organized religion and do not believe in any deity.

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