A belief structure is a system of concepts that all work together. Where one idea ends, another begins. The who, what, when, where, why, how, etc are tied together. The conceptual structure will have a lot of twigs and branches attached to a trunk. If you want to understand the structure, the most efficient approach is to ignore the branches and start with the trunk.
The Being Human Church belief structure is ultimately a way to think about everything in life. We aren’t going to explore every idea in a few thousand words. We’re going to walk through how the core concepts build on each other.
Note that this is not a description of historical events in chronological order. This is a logical framework for thinking about everything. Basically, this structure relates a single perspective to all of reality, so they fit into the same context.
- I am
- I do
- I judge
- I create meaning
- We increase meaning
I think, therefore I am
Famously phrased as cogito ergo sum, expanded to clarify “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am”, this axiom could be the foundation of Western philosophy. The essential idea captured here is that we can doubt absolutely everything, but we cannot doubt that we are doubting, therefore we cannot doubt that something exists.
There is uncertainty in this position. For example, is it “I” that doubts, or is it “something” that doubts? However, this is the least uncertain we can ever be about anything. Every aspect of existence can be doubted, but not existence itself, in some manner.
We might be brains in jars, but the fact that we’re wondering if we’re brains in jars is proof that something is there to be doubted. We might never be certain what reality is, but we can be certain reality does exist, at least in as much as “being certain” means anything.
I am, therefore I do
The implication of cogito ergo sum is that we can be certain of activity. It might be more accurate to say “I am-ing” like “I engage in the act of existing”. There must be some kind of dimension for a narrative to spread out on. If existence was dimensionless, instantaneous, we probably wouldn’t have room for multiple sequential thoughts.
So existing is a verb, not a noun. Existence is something done. We can be confident that something exists, and something happens. Again, there may be doubt that it’s independent minds, or one big mind, or something mind blowing, but whatever it is it’s real and it’s happening.
I do, therefore I judge
So, things are happening. This is the classic “is” of the is-ought problem. Just because things are happening doesn’t mean they should or should not be happening. There is no objective way to get from descriptions to prescriptions.
Whether or not a happening is an appropriate happening depends on 1) a standard and 2) a judgment. Appropriateness appears after the happening is compared to the standard. The crucial point is that this means the standard itself cannot be right or wrong.
The standard for right/wrong is arbitrary. The standard cannot be judged until the standard exists and the judging can be done to it. So, morality is arbitrary. Or, to expand it, a system of ideas on what is right and wrong has to be based on standards which preexisted the system.
This is actually an extremely practical point which nearly everyone gets wrong nearly all the time. It makes no sense to talk about a moral judgment without also mentioning the judge who created it and the standard they interpreted. These judgments are arbitrary because there is no objective connection between “is” and “ought”.
To have an opinion on any of this existence stuff is to act as a judge creating “ought” prescriptions from “is” descriptions. One picks a standard, and because the standard is arbitrary it can be changed. Judgments of appropriateness are based on the current standard.
I judge, therefore I create meaning
By judging what happens as right or wrong we create another distinction between insignificant and significant. The act of judging something to be good elevates it above other things. The happenings that most affect a judgment are more relevant.
Meaning cannot be discovered, it can only be created and it can only exist in a mind. You can sift through every atom in the universe and never find an ounce of meaning, but meaning is a real pattern. So, like the color blue exists only as a pattern of matter and energy, meaning is a pattern we can understand.
I recognize meaning, therefore we increase meaning
The existence of meaning in a mind changes its behavior. We can see that other people understand meaning in the same way we understand it. This quality distinguishes humanity from animals, plants, and rocks. Even humans have to gradually mature into fully understanding meaning.
If it is significant in my mind that certain things are good, it is also significant that someone else agrees or disagrees about the goodness of those same things. When we all create meaning on the same topic, and are aware of each other, and are aware of each other being aware of each other, the meaning builds on itself.
Meaning increases the more people share it across time and space. A story that ends has to be rediscovered or it becomes meaningless. Even if the story is rediscovered, it can’t mean quite as much to someone who has to imagine the original meaning. So an unbroken chain of meaning is an important component of maximizing meaning.
Meaning can continue increasing as long as humanity grows. More people, in more places, at more times, means a bigger and longer story. Therefore, the most meaningful thing anyone can do is contribute to the chance that humanity exists forever in an unbroken chain of ever increasing meaning.