Quotations about   belief

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Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that, if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe, say, or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

Rick Warren (b. 1954) American Christian pastor and author
“Rick Warren on Muslims, Evangelism & Missions,” interview with Brandon A. Cox, Christian Post (2 Mar 2012)
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Added on 27-May-19 | Last updated 27-May-19
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Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power, and want a certain result with all your heart, you naturally express your wishes in law, and sweep away all opposition. To allow opposition by speech seems to indicate that you think the speech impotent, as when a man says that he has squared the circle, or that you do not care wholeheartedly for the result, or that you doubt either your power or your premises.

But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.

That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment. Every year, if not every day, we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge. While that experiment is part of our system, I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935) American jurist, Supreme Court Justice
Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616 (1919) [dissent]
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Added on 23-Apr-19 | Last updated 23-Apr-19
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I must intreat your patience — your gentle hearing. I am not going to question your opinions. I am not going to meddle with your belief. I am not going to dictate to you mine. All that I say is, examine; enquire. Look into the nature of things. Search out the ground of your opinions, the for and the against. Know why you believe, understand what you believe, and possess a reason for the faith that is in you.

Frances "Fanny" Wright (1795-1852) Scottish-American writer, lecturer, social reformer
A Course of Popular Lectures, Lecture 3 “Of the more Important Divisions and Essential Parts of Knowledge” (1829)
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Added on 10-Apr-19 | Last updated 10-Apr-19
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The validity of an idea or action is determined not by whether it is widely believed or widely reviled but by whether it obeys the rules of logic. It is not because an argument is denounced by a majority that it is wrong nor, for those drawn to heroic defiance, that it is right.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 1 “Consolation for Unpopularity” (2000)
Added on 28-Feb-19 | Last updated 28-Feb-19
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I believe that you can reach the point where there is no longer any difference between developing the habit of pretending to believe and developing the habit of believing.

Umberto Eco (b. 1932) Italian semiotician, essayist, philosopher, novelist
Foucault’s Pendulum, ch. 87 (1988) [tr. W. Weaver (1989)]
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See also Hawthorne.
Added on 26-Jan-19 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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It was always my hope in writing novels and stories which asked the question, “what is reality?”, to someday get an answer. This was the hope of most of my readers, too. Years passed. I wrote over thirty novels and over a hundred stories and I still couldn’t figure out what was real. One day a girl college student in Canada asked me to define reality for her, for a paper she was writing for her philosophy class. She wanted a one-sentence answer. I thought about it and finally said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” That’s all I could come up with. That was back in 1972. Since then I haven’t been able to define reality any more lucidly.

Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) American writer
“How To Build A Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” (1978)
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There lies at the back of every creed something terrible and hard for which the worshipper may one day be required to suffer.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“What I Believe,” The Nation (16 Jul 1938)
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Added on 21-Nov-18 | Last updated 21-Nov-18
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Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.

Edward Abbey (1927-1989) American anarchist, writer, environmentalist
A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, ch. 4, “Life and Death and All That” (1989)
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Sometimes incorrectly quoted as "Belief without action is the ruin of the soul."
Added on 31-Jul-17 | Last updated 31-Jul-17
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The capacity of a human mind to believe devoutly in what seems to me to be the highly improbable — from table tapping to the superiority of their own children — has never been plumbed. Faith strikes me as intellectual laziness, but I don’t argue with it — especially as I am rarely in a position to prove that it is mistaken.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Stranger in a Strange Land, ch. 18 (1960 ed., publ. 1991)
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An elided version is found in the 1961 published edition, in ch. 13.
Added on 14-Jul-17 | Last updated 14-Jul-17
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What do I believe after all? What manner of man am I after all? What sort of show would I make after all, if the people around me knew my heart and all my secret thoughts? What sort of show then do I already make in the sight of Almighty God, who sees every man exactly as he is?

Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) English clergyman, historian, essayist, novelist (pseud. "Parson Lot")
The Good News of God, Sermon 6 “Worship [Isaiah 1:12-13]” (1881)
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Added on 6-Jun-17 | Last updated 6-Jun-17
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It is a golden rule that one should not judge people according to their opinions, but according to what these opinions make of them.

Georg C. Lichtenberg (1742-1799) German physicist, writer
In Adolf Wilbrandt (ed.), Selected Writings of Georg C. Lichtenberg (1893)

Alt. trans.:
  • "It is a golden rule not to judge men by their opinions but rather by what their opinions make of them."
  • "One must judge men not by their opinions, but by what their opinions have made of them."
  • "Don't judge a man by his opinions, but what his opinions have made of him."
Added on 30-May-17 | Last updated 30-May-17
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Just as every conviction begins as a whim so does every emancipator serve his apprenticeship as a crank. A fanatic is a great leader who is just entering the room.

Heywood Broun (1888-1939) American journalist, author
New York World (6 Feb 1928)
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Added on 24-May-17 | Last updated 24-May-17
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Men run out of one superstition into an opposite superstition.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“The Scholar,” Lectures and Biographical Sketches (1883)
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Added on 19-May-17 | Last updated 19-May-17
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Men become civilized not in proportion to their willingness to believe but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“What I Believe,” sec. 4, Forum and Century (Sep 1930)
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Added on 17-Apr-17 | Last updated 17-Apr-17
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It is stupid of modern civilization to have given up believing in the devil, when he is the only explanation of it.

Ronald Knox (1888-1957) English priest, theologian, author, broadcaster
Let Dons Delight, ch. 8 (1939)
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The practice of terror serves the true believer not only to cow and crush his opponents but also to invigorate and intensify his own faith.

hoffer-practice-of-terror-intensify-faith-wist_info-quote

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) American writer, philosopher, longshoreman
The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, ch. 85 (1951)
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Idiosyncratic belief systems which are shared by only a few adherents are likely to be regarded as delusional. Belief systems which may be just as irrational but which are shared by millions are called world religions.

Anthony Storr (1920-2001) English psychiatrist and author
Feet of Clay, ch. 10 (1996)
Added on 28-Nov-16 | Last updated 28-Nov-16
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All men profess honesty as long as they can. To believe all men honest would be folly. To believe none so is something worse.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Letter to William Eustis (22 Jun 1809)
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But I must submit all my Hopes and Fears, to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the Faith may be, I firmly believe.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to Abigail Adams (3 Jul 1776)
Added on 28-Sep-16 | Last updated 28-Sep-16
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Oh! To be a child again. My only treasures, bits of shell and stone and glass. To love nothing but maple sugar. To fear nothing but a big dog. To go to sleep without dreading the morrow. To wake up with a shout. Not to have seen a dead face. Not to dread a living one. To be able to believe.

Fanny Fern (1811-1872) American columnist, humorist, author [b. Sara Willis]
Ginger-Snaps (1870)
Added on 27-Sep-16 | Last updated 27-Sep-16
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What the tender and poetic youth dreams to-day, and conjures up with inarticulate speech, is to-morrow the vociferated result of public opinion, and the day after is the character of nations.

Emerson - character of nations - wist_info quote

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
(Attributed)

Quoted in James Comper Gray, The Biblical Museum: Old Testament (1876).
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Don’t you believe in flying saucers, they ask me? Don’t you believe in telepathy? — in ancient astronauts? — in the Bermuda triangle? — in life after death?

No, I reply. No, no, no, no, and again no.

One person recently, goaded into desperation by the litany of unrelieved negation, burst out “Don’t you believe in anything?”

“Yes”, I said. “I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.”

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
The Roving Mind (1983)

See Carl Sagan.
Added on 2-Aug-16 | Last updated 2-Aug-16
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He believed in it, as certain good women believe in the leviathan — by faith, not by reason.

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, ch. 4 (1870)
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Added on 15-Jul-16 | Last updated 15-Jul-16
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Life is not a static thing. The only people who do not change their minds are incompetents in asylums, who can’t, and those in cemeteries.

Everett Dirksen (1896-1969) American politician
(Attributed)
Added on 14-Jul-16 | Last updated 14-Jul-16
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Opinion, and the just maintenance of it, shall never be a crime in my view; nor bring injury on the individual.

Jefferson - opinion - wist_info quote

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Samuel Adams (29 Mar 1801)
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Sometimes misattributed to George Washington.
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There is no belief, however foolish, that will not gather its faithful adherents who will defend it to the death.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
The Stars in Their Courses (1974)
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Anger is the common substitute for logic among those who have no evidence for what they desperately want to believe.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
“The Tyrannosaurus Prescription”
Added on 29-Mar-16 | Last updated 29-Mar-16
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If you derive pleasure from the good which you have performed and you grieve for the evil which you have committed, you are a true believer.

Muhammad (570-632) Arabian merchant, prophet, founder of Islam [Mohammed]
The Sayings of Muhammed, #67 [tr. Al-Suhrawardy (1941)]
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I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” speech, Modern Language Association (28 Dec 1977)
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A belief is a question we have put aside so we can get on with what we believe we have to do.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays, #100 (2001)
Added on 8-Jan-16 | Last updated 8-Jan-16
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I have believed the best of every man,
And find that to believe it is enough
To make a bad man show him at his best,
Or even a good man swing his lantern higher.

Yeats - believe the best - wist_info quote

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) Irish poet and dramatist
Deirdre (1907)
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I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?

Barry Goldwater (1909-1998) American politician
Speech, US Senate (16 Sep 1981)
Added on 17-Dec-15 | Last updated 7-Jan-16
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On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.

Barry Goldwater (1909-1998) American politician
Speech, US Senate (16 Sep 1981)
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The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a room packed with archaic furniture. You must get the old furniture of what you know, think, and believe out before anything new can get in. Make an empty space in any corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it.

Dee W. Hock (b. 1929) American businessman
In M. Mitchell Waldrop, “Dee Hock on Management,” Fast Company (Oct/Nov 1996)
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Added on 20-Nov-15 | Last updated 20-Nov-15
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Of all the horrid, hideous notes of woe,
Sadder than owl songs or the midnight blast,
Is that portentous phrase, “I told you so.”

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
Don Juan, Canto 19, st. 50 (1823)
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It is the folly of too many to mistake the echo of a London coffee-house for the voice of the kingdom.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
The Conduct of the Allies (1711)
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You must not tell lies because if you do you will find yourself unable to believe anything that is told to you.

Shaw - lies - wist_info

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism, and Fascism, ch. 74 (1928)
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It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who, in the midst of the crowd, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Self-Reliance,” Essays: First Series (1841)
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A necessary quality for the attainment of individuality is the ability to tolerate some degree of loneliness in the sense of independent adherence to values that those around you will not support.

D. W. Harding (1906-1993) British psychologist and literary critic [Denys Clement Wyatt Harding]
Social Psychology and Individual Values (1953)
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What you fear to believe, your children will believe.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays, #340 (2001)
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“I suppose there are two views about everything,” said Mark.

“Eh? Two views? There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there’s never more than one.”

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
That Hideous Strength (1945)
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The latter part of a wise man’s life is taken up in curing the follies, prejudices, and false opinions he had contracted in the former.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Thoughts on Various Subjects” (1706)
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Added on 3-Sep-15 | Last updated 3-Sep-15
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You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him of whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
Surprised by Joy, ch. 14 (1955)
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Everyone is prejudiced in favor his own powers of discernment, and will always find an argument most convincing if it leads to the conclusion he has reached for himself; everyone must then be given something he can grasp and recognize as his own idea.

Pliny the Younger (c. 61-c. 113) Roman politician, writer [Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus]
Letters, Book 1, Letter 20 [tr. Radice (1963)]
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Crazy — a nonscientific term meaning that the person to whom one applies that label has a world picture differing from the accepted one.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Time Enough For Love [Lazarus Long] (1973)
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If the man doesn’t believe as we do, we say he is a crank, and that settles it. I mean it does nowadays, because now we can’t burn him.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator, ch. 53 (1897)
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We are susceptible only to those suggestions with which we are already secretly in accord.

Carl Jung (1875-1961) Swiss psychologist
Modern Man in Search of a Soul, ch. 3 [tr. Dell & Baynes (1933)]
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The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
The Problems of Philosophy, ch. 15 “The Value of Philosophy” (1912)
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The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“In Front of Your Nose” Tribune (22 Mar 1946)
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I doubt that anyone does not really believe in God. People may think they don’t have any belief, but you will usually find that there is a belief in something beyond himself. In any case, I would not judge a man’s character by his belief or unbelief. I would judge his character by his deeds; and no matter what he said about his beliefs, his behavior would soon show whether he was a man of good character or bad.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“The Wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt” (1963)
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Let us believe neither half of the good people tell us of ourselves, nor half the evil they say of others.

Jean-Antoine Petit-Senn (1792-1870) French-Swiss poet
(Attributed)
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If religion is too big for us, we should be careful which parts we choose.

Abdal Hakim Murad (b. 1960) British Muslim shaykh, researcher, writer, academic [b. Timothy John Winter]
“Contentions 2,” #87
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As a hart longs for flowing streams,
So longs my soul for thee, O God.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Psalm 42:1

Alt. trans.:
  • As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. [NSRV]
  • As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. [KJV]
  • As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. [NIV]
  • As a deer longs for a stream of cool water, so I long for you, O God. [GNT]
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The curse of man, and the cause of nearly all his woes, is his stupendous capacity for believing the incredible.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
In Defense of Women (1918)
Added on 22-May-15 | Last updated 22-May-15
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Earthly minds, like mud walls, resist the strongest batteries: and though, perhaps, sometimes the force of a clear argument may make some impression, yet they nevertheless stand firm, and keep out the enemy, truth, that would captivate or disturb them. Tell a man passionately in love that he is jilted; bring a score of witnesses of the falsehood of his mistress, it is ten to one but three kind words of hers shall invalidate all their testimonies.

John Locke (1632-1704) English philosopher
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book 4, ch. 20, “Of Wrong Assent, or Error” (1690)
Added on 15-May-15 | Last updated 15-May-15
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