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Thinking Critically About Our Beliefs

Posted on 12/4/2020 3:24:04 PM

Thinking Critically About Our Beliefs

Dr. Sharon Schwarze


Opinions and beliefs about what is happening around us are shaped by the views of others, including our government, the news experts we select, and our friends.  We need to find reliable authorities and not be caught up by rumors like the people in the Arab world were after September 11th, 2001.  

Mistaken beliefs happen here in the United States, too.  Many people, during the recent election in this country, believed the claims and rumors they heard on Twitter and on certain television stations about the outcome.  Some even tried to overturn the election results by interfering forcibly with the working of our democratic government.  We are very lucky to live in a democracy governed by a Constitution that sets out procedures for governance.  Mob rule has no place in our democracy.

Many Arabs, likewise, found it hard to believe that Arabs like themselves had carried out the September 11th attacks, especially against such a power as the U.S.  They believed the rumors they heard that the U.S. had attacked itself.  They saw themselves as powerless and the U.S. as extremely powerful.  They thought that nothing happens in the U.S. that the U.S. does not want to happen.  Some also have had animosity toward Jews and Israel.  In their view, the U.S. continually takes the side of Israel in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, who are Arab.  (The state of Israel was formed in 1948 out of lands owned by Palestinian Arabs.)  So, many Arabs see the U.S. as against them.  The rumor that Jews did not go to work on September 11th was precisely that, a rumor.  It is estimated that approximately 300-400 Jews were killed in the World Trade Center attack.  There is no evidence to support any warnings to Jews working there.  

Two take-aways from this discussion to keep in mind:

1) Our beliefs are strongly influenced by what other people believe, whether those people are our friends, neighbors, media personalities, politicians, and, yes, teachers.  Each of us has to sift through these many sources to determine what makes sense and who are the trustworthy sources of information.  Claims on Facebook, even viral claims, are not as trustworthy as fact-checked claims from well-known news media and other media sources.  Choose your friends and your other sources of information with care.

2) Just because everyone's web of belief is different does not mean that everyone’s beliefs are equally warranted.  The Arab rumors were just that -- rumors and no more (even if we might understand why they arose).  Critical thinking means sorting out the warranted stuff from the unwarranted.  That takes work. -- work on the part of the news provider and work on the part of the news consumer who must pay attention to the reputation for accuracy of the information provider or source.