The Anxiety of Belief


Explore Rabbi Rami’s thoughts on how unconscious beliefs can produce anxiety, inspired by a recent podcast interview with a clinical psychologist and anxiety expert.

Anxiety is not something I find pleasant. On the contrary, it is something I do my best to avoid. As it turns out, I’m mistaken about the value of anxiety and misguided in my avoidance of it. According to Dr. David Rosmarin, author of Thriving With Anxiety: 9 Tools to Make Your Anxiety Work for You and recent guest on the Spirituality+Health Podcast, anxiety can be a powerful vehicle for living a healthy and successful life. You can listen to the podcast interview to learn why that is so.

I read Dr. Rosmarin’s Thriving With Anxiety in tandem with Defeating SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder): A Guide to Health and Happiness Through All Seasons by another author featured in Books We Love 2023, Dr. Norman Rosenthal. I was surprised to find that both authors promoted the use of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in their work. I studied CBT briefly decades ago and lay no claim to being an expert. What I do remember about it, however, seems to resonate with the societal anxiety of our time.

At the heart of cognitive behavioral therapy is the idea that your emotional responses to situations are driven not by the situations themselves but by the beliefs you hold regarding those situations. If, for example, you believe that Jews are leading a global effort to commit white genocide by bringing nonwhites into the United States to intermarry with whites and displace white workers from their jobs, you will, as the neo-Nazis at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville Virginia in 2017, chant “Jews will not replace us,” and, at the very least, sympathize with the killers responsible for the murders at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (11 killed); a Walmart in El Paso, Texas (23 killed); and a supermarket in a predominately Black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York (10 killed); each of whom cited the “great replacement theory” as motivation for their actions. The fact that there is no such thing as white genocide is irrelevant. What matters is the belief.

To put it bluntly: Belief is the problem. If we didn’t run our lives by beliefs, we would have to investigate to see what is true for ourselves. This would cause us to think more carefully and slowly and be more humble about what we think we know. Beliefs are affirmations of truth without evidence. What we need is evidence of truth without the distortion of belief.

With this in mind, sit with this teaching ascribed to the Buddha: “Do not believe in anything based on hearsay. Do not believe in anything because of the majority opinion. Do not believe in anything because it is written in a sacred book. Do not believe in anything because your teachers and elders tell you to believe. Do not believe in traditions simply because they are venerable. Rather observe and analyze for yourself what is so, and when you find something that agrees with reason, is ethical and good, and for the benefit of one and all, then accept it as true and live up to it.”

Sadly, too few of us take the time or make the effort to follow the Buddha’s advice. We believe what we believe because our parents, clergy, politicians, news media, and social media influencers tell us to believe it. No one ever taught us to think for ourselves, and when someone tries to teach our children and grandchildren to do so, we label them “groomers” and pass laws to keep our kids ignorant and our beliefs safe from truth. No wonder we are anxious.

Listen to the podcast episode that inspired this essay here.

Roadside Musings

In Roadside Musings, Rabbi Rami draws from the well of the world's religious and spiritual...
Read More

Continue your journey

The Anxiety of Belief

Enjoying this content?

Get this article and many more delivered straight to your inbox weekly.