Quotations about   belief

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Dogma thinks it knows. Belief knows it does not. Dogma is credulous. Belief is sceptical, but forever open-minded.

Graham Dunstan Martin
Graham Dunstan Martin (1932-2021) British author, translator, philologist
Shadows in the Cave (1990)
Added on 29-Jul-21 | Last updated 29-Jul-21
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One can only blaspheme if one believes.

W. H. Auden (1907-1973) Anglo-American poet [Wystan Hugh Auden]
“Concerning the Unpredictable,” Forewords and Afterwords (1973)
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Added on 14-Jul-21 | Last updated 14-Jul-21
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Doubts are not the enemy of belief, they are its companion.

Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell (b. 1963) Anglo-Canadian journalist, author, public speaker
Talking to Strangers (2019)
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Added on 12-Jul-21 | Last updated 12-Jul-21
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A middle-aged white male wearing a tie and saying anything with some conviction will be believed by at least 55 percent of people, especially if they already want to believe it. (Sixty-five percent if he has a classy accent.)

Bill Oakley
Bill Oakley (b. 1966) American television writer and producer
“One of the defenses of Trump is — literally — a TV-cartoon joke,” Washington Post (14 Nov 2019)
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FAUSTUS: Blasphemy and prayer are one. Both assert the existence of a superior power. The first, however, with conviction.

David Mamet (b. 1947) American writer, playwright, director
Faustus (2004)
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Added on 7-Jul-21 | Last updated 7-Jul-21
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There is a rumour going around that I have found god. I think is unlikely because I have enough difficulty finding my keys, and there is empirical evidence that they exist.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
“I create gods all the time — now I think one might exist,” Daily Mail (21 Jun 2008)
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A lot of people seem to believe in a big-daddy-God or a big-cop-God or a big-king-God. They believe in a kind of superperson. A few believe God is another word for nature. And nature turns out to mean just about anything they happen not to understand or feel in control of.

Octavia Butler (1947-2006) American writer
Parable of the Sower, ch. 2 (1993)
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Added on 17-Jun-21 | Last updated 17-Jun-21
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The general uncertainty as to what is really happening makes it easier to cling to lunatic beliefs. Since nothing is ever quite proved or disproved, the most unmistakable fact can be impudently denied.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Notes on Nationalism” (May 1945)
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There probably is a God. Many things are easier to explain if there is than if there isn’t.

John von Neumann (1903-1957) Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist, inventor, polymath [János "Johann" Lajos Neumann]
(Attributed)
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As quoted in Norman Macrae, John Von Neumann: The Scientific Genius Who Pioneered the Modern Computer, Game Theory, Nuclear Deterrence and Much More (1992).
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No one gets upset about the belief that rocks fall down as opposed to up, because all sane people can see it with their own eyes. Not so for the belief that babies are born with original sin or that God exists in three persons or that Ali was the second-most divinely inspired man after Muhammad. When people organize their lives around these beliefs, and then learn of other people who seem to be doing just fine without them — or worse, who credibly rebut them — they are in danger of looking like fools. Since one cannot defend a belief based on faith by persuading skeptics it is true, the faithful are apt to react to unbelief with rage, and may try to eliminate that affront to everything that makes their lives meaningful.

Steven Pinker (b. 1954) Canadian-American cognitive psychologist, linguist, author
The Better Angels of Our Nature, ch. 4 (2011)
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Added on 26-May-21 | Last updated 26-May-21
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People become wedded to their beliefs, because the validity of those beliefs reflects on their competence, commends them as authorities, and rationalizes their mandate to lead. Challenge a person’s beliefs, and you challenge his dignity, standing, and power.

Steven Pinker (b. 1954) Canadian-American cognitive psychologist, linguist, author
The Better Angels of Our Nature, ch. 4 (2011)
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Added on 19-May-21 | Last updated 19-May-21
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You submit to tyranny when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case. This renunciation of reality can feel natural and pleasant, but the result is your demise as an individual — and thus the collapse of any political system that depends upon individualism.

Timothy Snyder (b. 1969) American historian, author
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017)
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Added on 28-Apr-21 | Last updated 28-Apr-21
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I hate doubt, yet I am certain that doubt is the only way to approach anything worth believing in.

Edward Teller (1908-2003) Hungarian-American theoretical physicist
In Phillip Berman, The Courage of Conviction (1985)
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Added on 6-Apr-21 | Last updated 19-Apr-21
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You must have three essentials for the investigation of Chan [Zen]. The first is that you must have the foundation of great faith. The second is that you must have a zealous determination. The third is that you must have the feeling of great doubt. If you omit one of these it is like breaking off the leg of a tripod, which ends up becoming a useless vessel.

高峰云、叅禪須具三要 一有大信根
二有大憤志 三有大疑情 苟闕其一
如折足之鼎 終成廢器。

Hyujeong (1520-1604) Korean Seon (Sŏn, Zen) Master [Sosan Taesa, Seosan Daesa, Dae Seonsa]
Mirror of Zen [Samga Gwigam; Samga Kwigom; Seonga Gwigam], ch. 14 [tr. Jorgensen (2012)]
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Alternate translations:

For the study of Seon, there are three requirements: (1) having the great root of faith; (2) having great determination, and (3) having great doubt. If you lack one of these, it is like a broken like on a tripod sacrificial vessel. In the end you will discard it.
[tr. Miller (2017)]

There are three essentials to Sŏn meditation. First of all, you must be rooted in Great Faith and Great Confidence. Secondly, one must have Great Anger -- a strong, inwardly-directed, ardent determination to practice. Thirdly, one must have Great Doubt. If one of these is missing, it is like a tripod vessel with one leg cut off -- in the end, it will be of no use.
[Source]

It is well known that Ganhwaseon practitioners must have three things of essential importance: The first is a Foundation of Great Faith (大信根) for the practice which is possible; the second is Great Zealous Determination (大憤志) of practice to attain enlightenment; the third is a Great Feeling of Doubt (大疑情) on the Hwadu. If one of these is lacking, then it is like a tripod pot with a broken foot and is useless.
[Source]

Added on 22-Mar-21 | Last updated 22-Mar-21
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A fact is a simple statement that everyone believes. It is innocent, unless found guilty. A hypothesis is a novel suggestion that no one wants to believe. It is guilty, until found effective.

Edward Teller (1908-2003) Hungarian-American theoretical physicist
Conversations on the Dark Secrets of Physics, ch. 5 (1991) [with Wendy Teller, Wilson Talley]
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Added on 2-Mar-21 | Last updated 2-Mar-21
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Ideas have consequences, and totally erroneous ideas are likely to have destructive consequences.

Steve Allen (1922-2000) American composer, entertainer, and wit.
More Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion, and Morality, “Authenticity of the Bible” (1993)
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Added on 26-Feb-21 | Last updated 26-Feb-21
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Once a faith is shattered, it takes a long time to grow again — for its soil is experience — and to become effective again.

Daniel Bell (1919-2011) American sociologist, writer, editor, academic
The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, ch. 6 “The Public Household” (1976)
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Men are educated and the State uplifted by allowing all — every one — to broach all their mistakes and advocate all their errors. The community that will not protect its most ignorant and unpopular member in the free utterance of his opinions, no matter how false or hateful, is only a gang of slaves.

Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) American abolitionist, orator
“The Scholar in a Republic,” Speech, Centennial Anniversary of the Phi Beta Kapa of Harvard College (30 Jun 1881)
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If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie — a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days — but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
Interview with Roger Errera (Oct 1973), The New York Review of Books (26 Oct 1978)
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Added on 21-Jan-21 | Last updated 21-Jan-21
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A dogma is the hand of the dead on the throat of the living.

Lemuel K. Washburn (1846-1927) American freethinker, writer
Is the Bible Worth Reading and Other Essays (1911)
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Added on 19-Jan-21 | Last updated 19-Jan-21
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The critic who at forty believes the same things he believed at twenty is either a genius or a jackass.

George Jean Nathan (1892-1958) American editor and critic
The World in Falseface, “Art & Criticism,” #62 (1923)
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Added on 4-Jan-21 | Last updated 4-Jan-21
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The path of sound credence is through the thick forest of skepticism.

George Jean Nathan (1892-1958) American editor and critic
Materia Critica, “Critic and Criticism,” sec. 4 (1924)
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Added on 14-Dec-20 | Last updated 14-Dec-20
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One need not go back two thousand years to the time when those who believed in the gospel of Jesus were thrown into the arena or hunted into dungeons to realize how little great beliefs or earnest believers are understood. The history of progress is written in the blood of men and women who have dared to espouse an unpopular cause, as, for instance, the black man’s right to his body, or woman’s right to her soul. If, then, from time immemorial, the New has met with opposition and condemnation, why should my beliefs be exempt from a crown of thorns?

Emma Goldman (1869-1940) Lithuanian-American anarchist, activist
“What I Believe,” New York World (19 Jul 1908)
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I had been religiously educated as a Presbyterian; and tho’ some of the Dogmas of that Persuasion, such as the Eternal Decrees of God, Election, Reprobation, &c. appear’d to me unintelligible, others doubtful, & I early absented myself from the Public Assemblies of the Sect, Sunday being my Studying-Day, I never was without some religious Principles; I never doubted, for instance, the Existence of the Deity, that he made the World, & govern’d it by his Providence; that the most acceptable Service of God was the doing Good to Man; that our Souls are immortal; and that all Crime will be punished & Virtue rewarded either here or hereafter; these I esteem’d the Essentials of every Religion, and being to be found in all the Religions we had in our Country I respected them all, tho’ with different degrees of Respect as I found them more or less mix’d with other Articles which without any Tendency to inspire, promote or confirm Morality, serv’d principally to divide us & make us unfriendly to one another.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Autobiography, Part 2 (1785)
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Added on 19-Nov-20 | Last updated 19-Nov-20
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ONLY THE MADMAN IS ABSOLUTELY SURE.

Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007) American author, futurist self-described "agnostic mystic" [pen name of Robert Edward Wilson]
The Eye in the Pyramid (1975) [with Robert Shea]
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Our law affords constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education. Our cases recognize “the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.” Our precedents “have respected the private realm of family life which the state cannot enter.” These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.

Anthony Kennedy (b. 1936) US Supreme Court Justice
Planned Parenthood v. Casey (91-744), 505 U.S. 833 (29 Jun 1992) [Majority Opinion]
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Citations removed.
Added on 11-Nov-20 | Last updated 11-Nov-20
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An old belief is like an old shoe. We so value its comfort that we fail to notice the hole in it.

Robert Brault (b. c. 1945) American aphorist, programmer
(Attributed)
Added on 10-Nov-20 | Last updated 10-Nov-20
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Nothing is so firmly believed, as what we least know.

[Qu’il faut sobrement se mêler de juger des ordonnances divines.]

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
Essays, Book 1, ch. 31, “That a Man must not be too hasty in judging of Divine Ordinances” (1580) [tr. Cotton (1686), Hazlitt (1877)]
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Alt. trans.:
  • "Nothing is so firmly believed, as that which a man knoweth least." [tr. Florio (1603)]
  • "Nothing is so firmly believed as what is least known."
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How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again!

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Dictation (2 Dec 1906), The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 2 (2013)
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A sentiment that may be behind the spurious Twain quotation, "It's easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled."
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I have no faith in the sense of comforting beliefs which persuade me that all my troubles are blessings in disguise.

Rebecca West (1892-1983) British author, journalist, literary critic, travel writer [pseud. for Cicily Isabel Fairfield]
“Pleasure Be Your Guide,” The Nation, “Living Philosophies” series #10 (25 Feb 1939)
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Adapted into Clifton Fadiman, I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Certain Eminent Men and Women of Our Time (1952)
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Few of us take the pains to study the origin of our cherished convictions; indeed, we have a natural repugnance to so doing. We like to continue to believe what we have been accustomed to accept as true, and the resentment aroused when doubt is cast upon any of our assumptions leads us to seek every manner of excuse for clinging to them. The result is that most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do.

James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) American historian and educator
The Mind in the Making, ch. 4 “Rationalizing” (1921)
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A set of beliefs is at once a way of seeing the world more clearly while, at the same time, foreclosing an alternative vision.

Lillian Rubin (1924-2014) American writer, professor, psychotherapist, sociologist
Intimate Strangers: Men and Women Together (1983)
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Section reprinted as "The Sexual Dilemma" in Roberta Satow, Gender and Social Life (2000).
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We sometimes find ourselves changing our minds without any resistance or heavy emotion, but if we are told that we are wrong we resent the imputation and harden our hearts. We are incredibly heedless in the formation of our beliefs, but find ourselves filled with an illicit passion for them when anyone proposes to rob us of their companionship. It is obviously not the ideas themselves that are dear to us, but our self-esteem which is threatened.

James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) American historian and educator
The Mind in the Making, ch. 4 “Rationalizing” (1921)
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If you have abandoned one faith, do not abandon all faith. There is always an alternative to the faith we lose. Or is it the same faith under another mask?

Graham Greene (1904-1991) English novelist [Henry Graham Greene]
The Comedians [Dr. Magiot] (1966)
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The less depth a belief system has, the greater the fervency with which its adherents embrace it. The most vociferous, the most fanatical are those whose cobbled faith is founded on the shakiest grounds.

Dean Koontz (b. 1945) American writer [also writes as Leigh Nichols]
Forever Odd, ch. 33 (2005)
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Faith, in the Gospels, does not mean believing something: it is an inherent quality in the mind. It is a kind of courage; an attitude which favours adventure and is not afraid to run risks. Its opposite is not intellectual scepticism, but worry, cowardice, or despair. It can remove mountains — not literal mountains, but the obstacles which sloth and cowardice have put in our path.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
Assessments and Anticipations, ch. 7 “Faith” (1929)
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You both seem concern’d lest I have imbib’d some erroneous Opinions. Doubtless I have my Share, and when the natural Weakness and Imperfection of Human Understanding is considered, with the unavoidable Influences of Education, Custom, Books and Company, upon our Ways of thinking, I imagine a Man must have a good deal of Vanity who believes, and a good deal of Boldness who affirms, that all the Doctrines he holds, are true; and all he rejects, are false. And perhaps the same may be justly said of every Sect, Church and Society of men when they assume to themselves that Infallibility which they deny to the Popes and Councils. I think Opinions should be judg’d of by their Influences and Effects; and if a Man holds none that tend to make him less Virtuous or more vicious, it may be concluded he holds none that are dangerous; which I hope is the Case with me.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Letter to Josiah and Abiah Franklin (13 Apr 1738)
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They clung to their rock-bottom opinions. They were so strong in their beliefs that there came a time when it hardly mattered what exactly those beliefs were; they all fused into a single stubbornness.

Louise Erdrich (b. 1954) American author, poet
Love Medicine, ch. 2 (1984)
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We are born believing, A man bears beliefs as a tree bears apples.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
The Conduct of Life, ch. 6 “Worship” (1860)
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A man must not swallow more beliefs than he can digest.

Havelock Ellis (1859-1939) British sexologist, physician, social reformer [Henry Havelock Ellis]
The Dance of Life, ch. 5 “The Art of Religion,” sec. 4 (1923)
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This is how humans are: We question all our beliefs, except for the ones we really believe, and those we never think to question.

Orson Scott Card (b. 1951) American author
Speaker for the Dead (1986)
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The difference between a conviction and a prejudice is that you can explain a conviction without getting angry.

Other Authors and Sources
Anonymous

No definitive source is found for this quotation. Frequently attributed to Gregory Benford, Deeper than the Darkness (1970), but it has shown up anonymously at least as early as 1951 as "filler" material in periodicals. Also sometimes attributed to Samuel Butler or Dorothy Sarnoff, but not with any citation.
Added on 24-Aug-20 | Last updated 24-Aug-20
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DEXTER: Every day, here and at home, we are warned about the enemy. But who is the enemy? Is it the alien? Well, we are all alien to one another. Is it the one who believes differently than we do? No, oh no, my friends. The enemy is fear. The enemy is ignorance. The enemy is the one who tells you that you must hate that which is different. Because, in the end, that hate will turn on you. And that same hate will destroy you.

J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski (b. 1954) American screenwriter, producer, author [a/k/a "JMS"]
Babylon 5, 3×20 “And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place” (14 Oct 1996)
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That is the whole trouble with being a heretic. One must usually think out everything for oneself.

Aubrey Menen (1912-1989) English writer
The Duke of Gallodoro (1952)
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There is nothing that you may not get people to believe in if you will only tell it them loud enough and often enough, till the welkin rings with it.

Ouida (1839-1908) English novelist [pseud. of Maria Louise Ramé]
Wisdom, Wit, and Pathos, “Friendship” (1884)
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"Welkin" is an obsolete word for "heavens."
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What I’m suggesting is, stand for yourself, be for something and the hell with it. Because the hand-wringers and the editorialists and the sigh-and-pontificate crowd will be against you, whatever you do.

James Carville (b. 1944) American political consultant
Interview with Joan Walsh, Salon (11 Mar 2002)
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Added on 3-Aug-20 | Last updated 3-Aug-20
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One person with a belief, is a social power equal to ninety-nine who have only interests.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
Considerations on Representative Government, ch. 1 (1861)
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Often misquoted, "One person with a belief is equal to a force of ninety-nine who have only interests."
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The most dangerous heresy of our time, it bears repeating, is the belief that belief in itself is a good thing, regardless of its content; for faith that is attached to an unworthy or inadequate object makes people less than they are, not more.

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
“Strictly Personal” column (8 Apr 1955)
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Reprinted in Leaving the Surface (1968).
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To have a reason to get up in the morning, it is necessary to possess a guiding principle. A belief of some kind. A bumper sticker, if you will.

Judith Guest (b. 1936) American novelist and screenwriter.
Ordinary People, ch. 1, opening lines (1980)
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It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing.

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) English prelate, Catholic Cardinal, theologian
“The Usurpations of Reason,” Sermon, Oxford, England (11 Dec 1831)
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I probably differ from most people, who believe in Belief, and are only sorry they cannot swallow even more than they do. My law-givers are Erasmus and Montaigne, not Moses and St. Paul.

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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We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe.

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) English prelate, Catholic Cardinal, theologian
Letter to Mrs. William Froude (27 Jun 1848)
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In C. S. Dessain (ed.), Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, vol. 12 "Rome to Birmingham" (1961).
Added on 30-Jun-20 | Last updated 30-Jun-20
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Human psychology has a near-universal tendency to let belief be colored by desire.

Richard Dawkins (b. 1941) English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, author
The God Delusion (2006)
Added on 23-Jun-20 | Last updated 23-Jun-20
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Belief like any other moving body follows the path of least resistance.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
Erewhon Revisited, ch. 11 (1901)
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Added on 16-Jun-20 | Last updated 16-Jun-20
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Do you believe?
Belief will not save you.
Only actions
Guided and shaped
By belief and knowledge
Will save you.
Belief
Initiates and guides action —
Or it does nothing.

Octavia Butler (1947-2006) American writer
The Parable of the Talents, ch. 20, epigraph (1998)
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Added on 9-Jun-20 | Last updated 9-Jun-20
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