Load-Bearing Beliefs

The concept of God does a lot of heavy lifting in Christianity. He knows all and punishes transgression, thus protecting you from temptation. He works in mysterious ways and visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation, warning you of the unintended consequences you don’t see. His infinite wisdom restrains fools who think they’re clever and urges humility to the wise. No wonder His removal led to instability.

The God of a monotheistic religion is a good example of what I’ll call a load-bearing belief. It’s an idea that doesn’t necessarily do much on the object level, but supports and justifies the rest of the belief system. There may be more than one, but they tend to be interconnected and few in number. It could very well be impossible to have a stable, fully decentralized belief system.

We notice that God the idea has much of His impact on the meta level: encouraging compliance, discouraging second guessing, standing in for otherwise difficult concepts. In fact, connecting Him to the object level seems to have been actively harmful. The mysteries of Creation have been used as a justification for belief; when science came up with mundane explanations for those mysteries, it undermined that belief. The is-ought problem suggests there may be little benefit to hanging your load-bearing beliefs on contingent facts. It also exposes you to a nasty catch-22 if you got your facts wrong: Do you suppress the contradiction and risk being blindsided by reality, or do you let it stand and risk destabilizing your entire belief system?

Damage to load-bearing beliefs does not necessarily collapse the entire belief system. It can deform as the load shifts to other parts. Equality before God became equality before the law became equality full stop. We observe those questioning human equality attacked with the zeal once reserved for heretics. Notice that “equality” has more direct object-level implications than God does; perhaps contradictions are more vehemently attacked because they’re easier to see? Either way, the West has a lot riding on the assumption.

Identifying load-bearing beliefs is important to understanding any belief system. They give it structure and determine its behavior under changing conditions. They are weak points to attack or defend, depending on your goals. Modifying them can drastically change the system, often unpredictably. Connecting load-bearing beliefs to contingent facts is dangerous: if our understanding of reality changes, the system becomes unmoored.

I’ll end with a conjecture: In the long run, load-bearing beliefs must be strictly metaphysical; otherwise your great-grandchildren will meddle and ruin everything.

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