Belief systems give us comfort in times of dismay and provide us light in moments of darkness. Stories, songs, morality plays and images memorialize Beliefs in forms beyond the mind.

What then, I wonder, happens to Beliefs when they become brittle?
By definition, Beliefs are required to be unbending and statutory, but we have all met broken people who have had their Belief system shattered.
How do Beliefs become brittle instead of unbendable?
Are broken Beliefs the result of a loss of faith?
Or does the Belief itself crumble without the active participation of the Believer?


  1. Bending Ideas

    It isn’t enough to just have an idea because everyone has an idea every day. Our challenge as authors and artists and poets and pedants is to form the idea and bend it into something new — preferably with the

  2. My opinion is that these “brittle” beliefs are really those that are overly specific. They’re tied into very specific circumstances and often cannot survive the test of time.
    Most of these specific beliefs are admonishments to avoid certain behaviors and those behaviors were, at the time of the mandate being written down, were hazardous for one reason or another. As times change, the hazard is often mitigated and the belief-structure is no longer relevant.
    Religion and Law aren’t really separated – especially amoungst the Abrahamite sects. Religious canon and secular law were really intertwined when their holy books were written. As societies changed and technology advanced many of those laws became outmoded and the morals, ethics and faith surrounding them made brittle through less relavence to the world.

  3. What a great comment, jonolan!
    How do you feel about religious communities that choose to live separately from the mainstream world?
    Are they preserving their Beliefs or trying, in vain, to protect them from brittle realism?

  4. jonolan —
    Is that brief break enough of a codifier for the Amish to truly understand the ways of the world? Or is their exposure to “the real world” more like an amusement ride that can be enjoyed but not dealt with on an ongoing basis as a requirement of living?
    What do you make of the Monsey Jews? Are they preserving their culture or ruining it under the pressure from the real world?
    What about the new city of “Laurent, SD” — where you must know ASL in order to be voted into political office? Is the idea of that town protecting Deaf Culture or destroying it by self-imposed segregation?

  5. A Dream Deferred
    by Langston Hughes
    What happens to a dream deferred?
    Does it dry up
    like a raisin in the sun?
    Or fester like a sore–
    And then run?
    Does it stink like rotten meat?
    Or crust and sugar over–
    like a syrupy sweet?
    Maybe it just sags
    like a heavy load.
    Or does it explode?

  6. The Amish normally leave for a year or more around their 18th year so I would guess that they get a fairly serious “dose” of the world.
    As for the Monsey jews, only time will tell if they’ll be as successful as the Hasidem in maintaining their culture and faith.
    Deaf Culture? That’s a whole different kettle of fish. I can’t even begin to comment on it; it’d take whole blogs!

  7. jonolan!
    But isn’t exposure to the “real world” an everyday necessity? Is a year exposure enough in a rapidly evolving world that spins out of control? Have you noticed any tremendous differences in the world comparing the now with five years ago?
    Monsey, as I understand it, is an insular culture where outside influences are not always welcomed or accepted. Is that appropriate? Must we be open to all experiences or are we justified in cutting off ideas and themes that displease our Belief system or threaten our narrow societal core?
    I can’t believe you chickened out on the Deaf question! :mrgreen: How is that a different kettle? Their Belief system separates them from mainstream society: They want to communicate only in ASL. To achieve that end, they chose to create their own town in order to preserve their cultural norms. Is that appropriate or dangerous?

  8. Is exposure a necessity? No, it isn’t. The consequences of avoiding that exposure are grave and sometimes lethal but many choose to accept them. Monsey is awkward; there may be legal / constituinal issues involved. Aside from that it comes down to accepting the consequences of being seperatist and isolationist.
    I “chickened out” on the Deaf question because I’m not completely sold on the viability or advisedness of Deaf vs deaf and the whole concept of Deaf Culture. I’m also not deaf and don’t know many deaf people so I don’t have a good basis to form an opinion.

  9. Let us not forget that I once lived in Monsey – I suppose that made me a Monsey Jew. The community wasn’t really as separated as one might think – a large percentage of the people that lived there worked in Manhattan and thus, one could argue, were hardly being insular. You can’t walk around the Diamond district and not be exposed to the World At Large. 🙂
    As a Jew, I believe that our entire system of beliefs was disseminated not to one individual who then went on to tell everyone else – but the entire Jewish nation bore witness to the phenomenon that was the giving of the law. There are people alive today who can trace back their lineage to not too far from that generation of people – quite a lot of greats before that grandfather! 🙂

  10. There you are, Gordon! Glad to have you weighing in on this matter!
    There are some who might argue the Diamond district in Manhattan is a closed world with even narrower rules and behaviors than found in Monsey or on an Amish farm or a Quaker community. 😀 If you aren’t “in” then you don’t “fit in” there and never will.
    How do you view disaffected Jews? Have they been broken away from their Belief? Or are they unworthy of the practice? Is there a “Jewish Hierarchy” where those who are say, Frum or strict, or observant are “Better Jews” than those who are not?

  11. Ah, just when I expected an interesting thought, you stopped.
    I think it doesn’t matter is belief is broken, shattered or crumbles away in time.
    People have lost it and have found another way of dealing with life and it’s mysteries.

  12. Hi David,
    Belief is a choice, anything undending and statutory tends to be blind.
    You never know when is an apprently comforting “belief” is going to turn into fantasy, all you need is an open mind to accept it.

  13. The entire reason I chose to return, so to speak, to an observant way of living is that nobody is ever considered unworthy. Although the Jewish people are often referred to as “the chosen people” I tend to think of us more as the people who regularly make a choice – to eat kosher food, to put on tefillin in the morning, etc. Even when we are born into a religious household, plenty of us choose to stop making the daily choices that make the difference between frum and less frum, as it were. Nevertheless, so long as he or she has a Jewish mother or converted, a person who has twenty tattoos and eats pork every day in front of an idol is no less Jewish than the Chofetz Chaim.
    I think the fact that you can see street advertising makes the DD just a little less closed. I guess we have different definitions of closed? When I think of closed, I think of Kiryas Joel in upstate NY.

  14. Hi Gordon —
    I thank you for your always smart and thoughtful answers.
    The Diamond District — to an outsider anyway 😀 — is a closed culture for those who wish to do business there. You have to be an insider to be accepted and if you are not accepted, then you pay a higher price and you don’t get as good a deal, and you are forever “the other.”
    From the inside out, there may be advertising and people of various cultures — but the internal workings of the Diamond District are secretive, closed, and based on a values-influenced, Belief system.

  15. It seems, then, not much different than a lot of Chinese restaurants which hold a lot more secrets than we might realize. Long before I was more religious I went to a Chinese restaurant with a Hong Kong born friend. He told me there was a special menu for those who could speak to the waiters in their own language. He said something to the waiter in Cantonese and the waiter soon brought out a second set of menus. He asked me what I liked and ordered based on my interests. It was better than any Chinese food I had ever eaten before. Why? Because, and I’m not kidding, they actually worked harder and made it better. At the end of the meal he took out a red card with gold lettering on it and – surprise – we got a nice discount. The card is also only available to insiders. I would, no doubt, not ever get the card.
    Then you have something as minor as the Starbucks across the street from my apartment. When I order a ‘tall’ latte from my favourite barista and I give her a tumbler that is clearly meant for a larger quantity, she gives me a sly wink and gives me the full amount. Similar, really, but not the same. 🙂

  16. Breaking of a belief usually happens when something shocking happens, inflicted by a person or chance that destroys that belief.

  17. Hi David,
    Indoctrination in childhood is not a choice but keeping an open mind to question that belief system later is.
    Most people are not ready for that.
    It takes a lot to be flexible.

  18. Hi Katha —
    I think the whole idea of indoctrinating children is to make them unbendable. There is no hoping for choice or reason in the application of a religious belief and for a children to break away from that mandate often means the occlusion of the child from the family hollow.

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  20. I think it depends on what is the stuff or material the belief is made of. If it is of good material, it will not bend or break. If it is of inferior material, it will become brittle and snap. Some beliefs will carry you, and some will disappoint you and let you down.

  21. David,
    brittleness is determined by testing. if it breaks, then it breaks. a belief is faith in something. if it is true, then it will eventually be able to manifest its value as the something is tested. The something that inspires the faith is what is tested, not the person.
    for example, I can have a car. I believe in the car, that it will work well for me. If the car breaks down, then my faith in it was not justified. Me as a person can have faith, but that will not make a bad car work.
    An example from the bible is 2 religions that were tested. Elijah represented the god of Israel (Yahweh), and the prophets of Baal represented that god. they had a test. they were both supposed to call upon their own god and see which god would send fire down from heaven. Both Elijah and the Baal prophets called upon their respective gods, and the Baal god failed to respond. The God of Elijah sent down fire from heaven. So, when tested, Baal failed, and Yahweh passed the test.
    Elijah as a believer was strong in his faith, which helped, but he would have ended up like the Baal prophets if Yahweh had been tested and failed to respond.
    at the end of the contest, Elijah collapsed, since the test took a lot out of him, draining his strength, even though Yahweh effortlessly sent the fire.
    God of course is sovereign in how and when he responds. But if he never responds, ever, then you might question if you have the right god .
    God also expects the minimum from us, to at least believe in him. Biblical history records the response of Yahweh many times.

  22. That’s a great lesson, Marianne, thank you.
    I have head some people refer to “traditional Judaism” as a “brittle religion” in that it is so easy to break the rules and be shunned and shattered by the expectations of a religion that many feel foreign and unrealistic in the real world — unless, of course, you cheat — and pretend, using some sort of psychological gymnastic twists, that you’re aligned with your religion when you really are not.

  23. I do not personally see the Judaism itself as brittle. The laws themselves can be hard to keep, but God designed them that way so the Jews would have to depend on Him to keep them. That is, only by asking for strength and help. God is to be the source of our strength. This goes back to the brittle test. The person is the one that fails to keep faithful, not God.
    But this is true for humanity in general. We have to acknowledge that we have limits, and so then recognize a higher power, who is God. If God made all the rules easy to keep, then we might think too much of ourselves, and become prideful. Prideful people make even more mistakes.
    There is a safety valve for a brittle person who needs to depend on a “NOT -brittle” God. God forgives us when we are sorry, and gives us another chance.

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