Quotations about   belief

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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).
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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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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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A mixture of gullibility and cynicism had been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became an everyday phenomenon of masses. In an ever-changing, incomprehensible, world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything is possible and that nothing was true. The mixture in itself was remarkable enough, because it spelled the end of the illusion that gullibility was a weakness of unsuspecting primitive souls and cynicism the vice of superior and refined minds.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Origins of Totalitarianism, Part 3, ch. 2 “The Totalitarian Movement” (1951)
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Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Origins of Totalitarianism, Part 3, ch. 2 “The Totalitarian Movement” (1951)
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Added on 19-May-20 | Last updated 19-May-20
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No man holding a strong belief on one side of a question, or even wishing to hold a belief on one side, can investigate it with such fairness and completeness as if he were really in doubt and unbiased; so that the existence of a belief not founded on fair inquiry unfits a man for the performance of this necessary duty.

William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) English mathematician and philosopher
“The Ethics of Belief,” Part 1 “The Duty of Inquiry,” Contemporary Review (Jan 1877)
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Added on 13-Mar-20 | Last updated 13-Mar-20
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A mixture of gullibility and cynicism had been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became an everyday phenomenon of masses. In an ever-changing, incomprehensible, world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything is possible and that nothing was true. The mixture in itself was remarkable enough, because it spelled the end of the illusion that gullibility was a weakness of unsuspecting primitive souls and cynicism the vice of superior and refined minds. Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Origins of Totalitarianism, Part 3, ch. 2 (1951)
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Added on 6-Feb-20 | Last updated 6-Feb-20
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When blithe to argument I come,
Though armed with facts, and merry,
May Providence protect me from
The fool as adversary,
Whose mind to him a kingdom is
Where reason lacks dominion,
Who calls conviction prejudice
And prejudice opinion.

Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978) American author, poet
“Moody Reflections,” The New Yorker (13 Feb 1954)
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The rule which should guide us in such cases is simple and obvious enough: that the aggregate testimony of our neighbours is subject to the same conditions as the testimony of any one of them. Namely, we have no right to believe a thing true because everybody says so unless there are good grounds for believing that some one person at least has the means of knowing what is true, and is speaking the truth so far as he knows it. However many nations and generations of men are brought into the witness-box, they cannot testify to anything which they do not know. Every man who has accepted the statement from somebody else, without himself testing and verifying it, is out of court; his word is worth nothing at all. And when we get back at last to the true birth and beginning of the statement, two serious questions must be disposed of in regard to him who first made it: was he mistaken in thinking that he knew about this matter, or was he lying?

William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) English mathematician and philosopher
“The Ethics of Belief,” Part 2 “The Weight of Authority,” Contemporary Review (Jan 1877)
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Men speak the truth of one another when each reveres the truth in his own mind and in the other’s mind; but how shall my friend revere the truth in my mind when I myself am careless about it, when I believe things because I want to believe them, and because they are comforting and pleasant?

William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) English mathematician and philosopher
“The Ethics of Belief,” Contemporary Review (Jan 1877)
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Added on 21-Jan-20 | Last updated 21-Jan-20
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CALVIN: Well. I’ve decided I do believe in Santa Claus, no matter how preposterous he sounds.
HOBBES: What convinced you?
CALVIN: A simple risk analysis. I want presents. Lots of presents. Why risk not getting them over a matter of belief? Heck, I’ll believe anything they want.
HOBBES: How cynically enterprising of you.
CALVIN: It’s the spirit of Christmas.

Bill Watterson (b. 1958) American cartoonist
Calvin and Hobbes (23 Dec 1987)
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Added on 16-Dec-19 | Last updated 16-Dec-19
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I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) American poet
“Evidence” (1), Evidence (2009)
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Added on 12-Nov-19 | Last updated 12-Nov-19
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Opinions are not to be learned by rote, like the letters of an alphabet, or the words of a dictionary. They are conclusions to be formed, and formed by each individual in the sacred and free citadel of the mind, and there enshrined beyond the arm of law to reach, or force to shake; ay! and beyond the right of impertinent curiosity to violate, or presumptuous arrogance to threaten.

Frances "Fanny" Wright (1795-1852) Scottish-American writer, lecturer, social reformer
A Course of Popular Lectures, Lecture 6 “Formation of Opinions” (1829)
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Added on 30-Oct-19 | Last updated 30-Oct-19
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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)
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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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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."
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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.
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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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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."
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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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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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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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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)
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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)
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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)
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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.
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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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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)
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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”
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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)
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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)
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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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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)
Added on 11-Nov-15 | Last updated 11-Nov-15
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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)
Added on 5-Nov-15 | Last updated 5-Nov-15
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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)
Added on 14-Oct-15 | Last updated 14-Oct-15
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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)
Added on 13-Oct-15 | Last updated 13-Oct-15
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