Basis of Belief

“If the thought comes to you that everything that you have thought about God is mistaken and that there is no God, do not be dismayed. It happens to many people. But do no think that the source of your disbelief is that there is no God. If you no longer believe in the God whom you believed before, …you must strive better to grasp that which you call God. When a savage ceases to believe in his wooden god, this does not mean that there is no God, but only that the true God is not made of wood.” Leo Tolstoy

Important Moments

Answer the following questions. For each question, identify at least one value from Values Discussion that played a role in this event.

  • When did you first realize your family loves you?
  • When did you learn that it is better to tell the truth?
  • Who was the first person to make you feel invincible?
  • When did you realize you could be anything you want to be?
  • When did you learn that life isn’t always fair?
  • Who taught you that sometimes things don’t work out the way you want them to?
  • When did you learn that you can’t always get what you want?
  • How did you learn about the Tooth Fairy, or other characters?
  • Has anyone ever tested your faith?
  • Have you ever done something that you regret? What did you learn from that moment?

These questions are not always easy to answer. Take enough time to think. If you are stuck, ask
your teacher, a friend, or someone at home to help you “unglue” your memories.

Reflect On What You Believe

  1. List beliefs you held when you were 5 or 10 years old.
  2. After you have completed your list(s), identify those beliefs you still hold as passionately today. Second, highlight those you will still believe when you are 50 or 80 years old.
  3. As you compile your beliefs, identify or classify them as social, political, religious, public, personal, etc.
  4. Are any of these commitments diminished because you may look different in 10–20 years? Are some types of beliefs tied to age? What role do life experience or the beliefs of others play in refining values?

Peer Evaluation Exercise

An important step in writing about belief is reading and reflecting on the beliefs of others. Most compositions involve some type of peer evaluation step in producing student essays. Students are often anxious when sharing any writing with readers, so some care should be given to framing peer feedback for an essay built on a personal belief. At this stage students are not being asked to weigh or evaluate the belief itself but to respond to its presentation.

Instructions. Consider these questions to help focus peer responses.

  1. Clarity
    • Point out any confusing sentences or passages. Were you able to follow the general direction of key ideas or stories easily?
  2. Persuasiveness
    • Are you persuaded to agree or at least to say, “OK, I can respect that”?
    • What types of evidence are included? Are there vivid details,
      memorable vignettes, or striking phrases?
    • Warn the writer of cliché thinking or of not grappling with key issues.
  3. 3. Strength of Introduction and Conclusion

    • Does the introduction create interest?
    • Does the conclusion punch home the main point?
  4. Editing
    • Don’t do a complete editing job, but point out the most distracting
      slips in usage and mechanics.
  5. Style
    • How will this sound when read aloud?
    • Long sentences are fine if they move well, but point out any parts that
      seem choppy or pretentious.
    • Point out any special successes with parallelism or climactic structure.
  6. Most Successful Passage
    • Summarize a passage of one to four sentences, and add a note to
      explain why it’s successful.

I Believe in Music Discussion

The following songs reflect the personal creeds or philosophies of singers and songwriters for the past half-century. These songs represent beliefs that are at times inspirational and powerful, at others more sentimental and private. This exercise demonstrates how beliefs cover a wide spectrum of moods and attitudes.

Frank Sinatra
I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows.
I believe that somewhere in the darkest night, a candle glows.
I believe for everyone who goes astray, someone will come to show the way.
I believe, I believe.

Don Williams
But I believe in love.
I believe in babies.
I believe in Mom and Dad.
And I believe in you.

Whitney Houston
I believe the children are our future.
Teach them well and let them lead the way.
Show them all the beauty they possess inside.

R. Kelly
I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky.
I think about it every night and day, spread my wings and fly away.
I believe I can soar. I see me running through that open door.
I believe I can fly.

Blessed Union of Souls
I believe that love is the answer.
I believe that love will find the way.

  1. List more recent lyrics that communicate a personal philosophy, even if they don’t use the “I believe” formula.
  2. What emotional weight do these lyrics communicate, or fail to communicate? Are some beliefs harder to express or personalize than others? Why?
  3. Obviously love and family are not the only beliefs worth communicating. Take 5 minutes to list as many ideas people believe in as you can. When you are finished, compile a representative list in your blog.

Personal Essay Writing Tips

You are invited to contribute by writing and submitting your own statement of personal belief. To guide you through this process, consider these suggestions:

Tell a story: Be specific. Take your belief out of the ether and ground it in the events of your life. Consider moments when belief was formed or tested or changed. Think of your own experience, work and family, and tell of the things you know that no one else does. Your story need not be heart-warming or gut-wrenching – it can even be funny – but it should be real. Make sure your story ties to the essence of your daily life philosophy and the shaping of your beliefs.

Be brief: Your statement should be between 350 and 500 words. That’s about three minutes when read aloud at your natural pace.

Name your belief: If you can’t name it in a sentence or two, your essay might not be about belief. Also, rather than writing a list, consider focusing on a core belief, because three minutes is a very short time.

Be positive: Please avoid preaching or editorializing. Tell us what you do believe, not what you don’t believe. Avoid speaking in the editorial “we.” Make your essay about you; speak in the first person – “I”.

Be personal: Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. Read your essay aloud to yourself several times, and each time edit it and simplify it until you find the words, tone, and story that truly echo your belief and the way you speak.

“Never has the need for personal philosophies of this kind been so urgent.” – Edward R. Murrow

Extra credit: record your essay as an audio podcast and upload it to your blog.


Give, give, give – what is the point of having experience, knowledge or talent if I don’t give it away? Of having stories if I don’t tell them to others? Of having wealth if I don’t share it? I don’t intend to be cremated with any of it! It is in giving that I connect with others, with the world and with the divine. – Novelist Isabel Allende

There is such a thing as truth, but we often have a vested interest in ignoring it or outright denying it. Also, it’s not just thinking something that makes it true. Truth is not relative. It’s not subjective. It may be elusive or hidden. People may wish to disregard it. But there is such a thing as truth and the pursuit of truth. – Filmmaker Errol Morris

I seem most instinctively to believe in the human value of creative writing, whether in the form of verse or fiction, as a mode of truth-telling, self-expression and homage to the twin miracles of creation and consciousness. – Writer John Updike

This I believe: that it is intellectually easier to credit a divine intelligence than to submit dumbly to felicitous congeries about nature. – Commentator William F. Buckley, Jr.

When I was young, an honest and moral life seemed like a straightforward goal. I now know that it’s not always easy to see what should be done and even harder actually to do it. Nevertheless I’m grateful that I still have some time to keep trying to get it right, and to savor each remaining day in my life. – Elizabeth D. Earle

I believe in the journey, not the arrival, in conversation, not monologues, in multiple questions rather than a single answer. I believe in the struggle to remake ourselves and each other in the spirit of eternal forgiveness, in the awareness that none of us knows for sure what happiness truly is, but each of us knows the imperative to keep searching. – Commentator and blogger Andrew Sullivan

I came to believe in God because, over the many years, He time and time again made Himself manifest to me. To embrace the career of composer is tantamount to embracing a life of high adventure. There may be no atheists in foxholes, but there are none in the Green Room either, especially before the premiere of a difficult, intricate and, I hope always, courageous musical work. Also, one cannot long work in the composition of music without coming to realize that one doesn’t do it all by oneself. — Composer George Antheil

I do not believe in predestination, for I think we are given minds for development – and the greatest gift ever given is that of freedom to decide and act. But there comes a time in every person’s life – and generally many times – when things become greater than he and when he must turn to Some One bigger. If one does not have Some One to turn to, one is lost and unhappy. — Ward Wheelock, co-creator of This I Believe

I believe that I should behave with courageous dignity in the presence of fate and strive to be a worthy companion of the Beautiful, the Good and the True. But fate has its master in the faith of those who surmount it, and limitation has its limits for those who, though disillusioned, live greatly. True faith is not a fruit of security. It is the ability to blend mortal fragility with the inner strength of the Spirit. It does not shift with the changing shades of one’s thought. — Helen Keller

I feel no need for any other faith than my faith in human beings. Like Confucius of old, I am so absorbed in the wonder of earth and the life upon it that I cannot think of heaven and the angels. I have enough for this life. If there is no other life, then this one has been enough to make it worth being born. — Novelist Pearl S. Buck

In all honesty, what I believe is neither inspirational nor evangelical. I cannot say that I am even a sound Christian, though the code of conduct to which I subscribe was preached more eloquently by Jesus Christ than by any other. About God I simply do not know; I don’t think I can know. — Writer Wallace Stegner

Values Discussion

Below is a list of some of the values that may be important to you. First, define the value in a few words (use a dictionary if you need to – Right Click in Safari). Then, choose 3-5 values that are the most important to you. Explain why you feel this way.

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Compassion
  • Love
  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Faith
  • Knowledge
  • Wisdom
  • Freedom
  • Creativity
  • Dedication
  • Loyalty
  • Success
  • Cooperation
  • Enthusiasm
  • Self-Control
  • Leadership
  • Confidence
  • Skill
  • Sincerity
  • Reliability
  • Patience
  • Flexibility
  • Responsibility
  • Hope
  • Charity
  • Prudence

Personal Writing Prompts

Write a personal essay in response to one of the following:

  1. Most of us have been in a situation where we made a promise that for one reason or another we were unable to keep. When were you disappointed because someone made you a promise that they failed to keep? Or when did you break a promise that you made to someone else?
  2. All of us are works in progress with a long way to go before we reach our full potential. In what skill or area are you still working to make progress?
  3. Our society uses the word hero in many different ways? How do you define hero, and who is a hero in your life?
  4. We all tend to judge people by their appearances, even though looks can be deceiving. Have you ever prejudged someone incorrectly based on their appearance or has someone ever prejudged you unfairly based on how you look?
  5. Everyone has problems or challenges to overcome. What obstacles are you proud to have faced and conquered?
  6. There is a famous adage: “To err is human, to forgive divine.” When did you feel divine because you were able to forgive someone for their mistake? When did someone act divine by forgiving you when you were wrong?

What Do You Believe?

The following statements are just a few of the axioms people hold to be true in their lives. Do you agree or disagree with these statements? For those you agree with, how did you come to that position? For those you do not agree with, why? Please feel free to add other statements that sum up one or more of your most cherished beliefs.

What Do You Believe?

  • Life’s fair.
  • Words can hurt.
  • What goes around comes around.
  • How you act in a crisis shows who you really are.
  • Love conquers all.
  • An eye for an eye….
  • People learn from their mistakes.
  • You can’t depend on anyone else; you can only depend on yourself.
  • If you smile long enough you become happy.
  • Miracles do happen.
  • There is one special person for everyone.
  • Money can’t buy happiness.
  • Killing is wrong.
  • Doing what is right means obeying the law.