Monday, February 2, 2015

Weak Assertions In Religious Statements

The words, "I believe" are often found in religious statements, in everything from ancient catechisms, right up to statements of belief today.

The phrase, "I believe" or, "I think..." is a weak assertion.  Does it, however, belie a weakness in the stance held by the subject?

Not necessarily so.

Remember:  Statement Analysis is made of strong building blocks made out of clay.  They are not "iron" or "steel."

This means we made contextual adjustments.

For example:

"My wife, Heather, has the flu."

This is a truthful statement. It also contains a complete social introduction:

a.  "my" possessive pronoun
b.  "wife" is title
c.  "Heather" is name.

There is a fourth dimension, well expressed in Avizoam Sapir's book on Genesis, where he shows that the:

d.  order of the introduction is with meaning.

"My wife, Heather" is different than "Heather, my wife", which I will explain in a future article.  Meanwhile, I just gave another plug for the book!

In analysis, this shows a "good relationship" at the time in the statement.

Yet, if I was writing to someone who knows Heather, I would not feel the need to write the possessive pronoun, nor the title.  This should not be understood as an inappropriate incomplete social introduction, given the context.

It is an incomplete social introduction, but the principle, erroneously applied, might conclude a negative relationship at the time of the statement (within the statement's time period, not the time of the actual writing, as this does change).

The analyst should consider the context as he applies principle.

This is now to set the stage for Weak Assertions.

One of our readers stated that she would like to purchase Avinoam Sapir's book on Genesis, though she is an atheist.

The context is that she feels that this book may hold value for her, in statement analysis, outside the realm of religion.  (I believe she is correct).   (note use of "believe" in my assertion, and smile).

She was showing her respect for the science, beyond the realm of religious belief (Mr. Sapir is an orthodox Jew), which allowed for others to consider the same. It is an example of tolerance; that is, two opposing beliefs that are able to function side by side, without coming to an agreement on the main issue.  They do not need to agree to benefit one from the other.

"I believe in God..." many say.

Is this a weak assertion?

Answer:  yes

Objection:  But the belief is unshakeable for the subject.

Answer:   Agreed.

Here is why we find weak assertions in religious statements and why they are appropriately weak.

a.  I locked my keys in the car.
b. I think I locked my keys in the car.

In the first sentence (a) the subject expresses certainty on the location of the keys, but in the second (b) the subject allows for him to be wrong; to "think" otherwise, and for others to "think" otherwise.

It is a weak assertion that, in context, is an appropriate use of weakness in the statement. It is expected weakness.

Let's look at a statement in which the weakness is not expected:

"I don't think I'm a cheater" is a recent example where the subject does not show certainty in his assertion. Yet, in context:

"I don't believe I am a murderer" or "I don't think I'm a killer" in a scenario where a young woman overdosed on heroin provided by the subject.

In a missing person case:  "I don't think I should be a suspect..."

These are statements where weak assertions are in place when no weakness is expected.  One who allows for possible guilt in cheating, killing, or causing a person to go missing.  These are not generally thought to be something where one might "think" or "believe" contrary.  The possible exception is the drug-induced death.  The subject may even pass a polygraph if asked, "Did you kill her?" because "the drugs" killed her.

This is a reminder that every polygrapher should be trained in Statement Analysis and then be trained in Analytical Interviewing and never interpret, but ask questions using the subject's own language.

"I don't believe that I hit her" in a domestic violence case would warrant exploration as to the need for weakness.  Was it a melee of confusion?  Were there several combatants involved?  If there was no other factor, the weak assertion is because the subject does not wish to lie outright and say "I did not hit her."  

"I don't believe I am a thief" is a very strong signal that the person "did it", but likely feels that the company "owed her" and either failed to deliver on a promised raise, cut overtime, or did not reimburse her what she felt owed.

What of religious beliefs?

It is very common for someone to say "I believe in God" even in the most strenuous of circumstances, such as on one's death bed, or when one faces great uncertainty, in poverty:  "I believe God will provide for me..."

"Foxe's Book of Martyrs" or the emotionally riveting "A Cloud of Witnesses" is an example of this use of a weak assertion.  Even while facing imminent death, this is the norm, or what is expected to be read.

In religious language, in fact, this is more the "expected."

In society, we find people making "weak assertions" in the context that concludes:

"An appropriate use of the weak assertion" as one is considerate, socially, of the belief of others.

We call it "appropriate weakness" or "appropriate weak assertion" or even "the expected weak assertion" in the analysis report.

This is not only expected, and appropriately so, but is something that should not be missed...when it is missing.

Note the following:

"I believe in Jesus Christ" 
 "I believe in freedom of speech"
"I believe in the right to choose"
"I believe..."

This is often (taken as one) the language of civility.  It indicates social tolerance, which even when the belief, itself,  is immovable to the subject.

Within religious belief, we do find concrete beliefs such as "this is wrong" and "this is moral" and so on.  This is the standard of beliefs found within the overall system.  We do not expect to find the word "think" or "believe" in areas of certainty, especially in ethics or morals.  When we do, it warrants exploration in the interview.  "Thou shalt not steal" is without a weak assertion.  "I think you probably should not, perhaps, steal..."

Even when "agreeing to disagree", one may assert beliefs strongly, yet still show a distancing respect for the person disagreed with.

Take note when civility within language, as seen in the "appropriate weak assertion" is missing from the language.

It is something that America is currently grappling with more than ever before in her young history.


john said...

I had to read this numerous times. If i say "I believe so and so did not do xyz. Is it then therefore, my belief leaves others to believe differently, and my belief can change over time with evidence to the contrary. Is this still the same principle ?

Anonymous said...

What do you make of Obama using the words "We tortured some folks"? I believe his words are true, but why would he admit it to the nation after years of deflection?

In general, I am becoming concerned about The degree to which he acts as if he is above the law. More like a King, or a God than the president of a "democratic republic".

I'd like your overall impression of his speech, but specifically the areas where he contradicts prior statements.

Is he simply speaking more freely now that he is in his final term and has less at stake?

Anonymous said...

Okay, so I'm a little confused. It saying "I believe in God" is a weak assertion, then what would you say to make that statement a strong one? It's easier to understand why "I think" is a weak assertion and I kind of get what you mean by "I believe" as in for example "I believe my neighbor did it" but I believe in God sounds direct no?

GetThem said...

Because "Faith" requires the act of believing. You either choose to believe or not to believe. So saying I believe in God... I just don't understand how that is weak. If I say I believe in apples then that sounds grammatically incorrect. I love apples sounds appropriate. So is "I love God" a strong assertion in opposition to I believe in God?

Mary said...

I was raised Presbyterian and although not all Presbyterian churches do so, mine said the Apostles' Creed every week in church. It immediately popped in my head because the first line begins with "I believe in God the Father Almighty..." and the second begins with "I believe in Jesus Christ..." Outside of the Apostles' Creed, it is just what my church and its members have said for as long as I can remember: I believe.

Many times throughout my life I have proudly stated, "I believe in God." Although this matters neither here nor there as far as my belief goes, this post was such a bummer, Peter! I still enjoyed reading it.

Seagull said...

Having read the article, my undemanding is, "I believe" doesn't involve commitment to the statement. What does, "I believe" mean? I believe in the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny and Father Christmas. "I love God" shows commitment. "I believe I love my wife" or "I love my wife".

To quote my wife, I'll caviat that with, "just saying" which has a similar meaning to the word, "but" in a sentence.... Allegedly :o)

Seagull said...

Undemanding = understanding oops. Predictive text I believe.

Mary said...

Anon at 3:45:

Yes, you are correct to believe the US did torture some folks, as the President said. My opinion as to why he may be seemingly downplaying the use of torture is Obama knew the US would catch flack from some countries who'd say America is just as evil as the terrorists- although the US only killed one detainee, while terrorism has killed many, many tens of thousands.

Why did the US tell on itself? Although it may take awhile, the US always admits its wrongs. Some of the torture techniques, such as rape and rectally force feeding detainees, were wrong. It's my opinion, however, the other techniques used were necessary to get possible information about terrorists.

The US govt eventually discovered one of the detainees who was raped really didn't have any information. Other than Russia, most countries didn't condemn the report because because either they knew or were involved, or because when it comes to terrorism, those countries understand they'd likely do whatever they felt needed to be done at the time. Just my opinions, though.

GetThem said...

Gotcha Seagull, that makes sense. I believe I love my husband does sound funny.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

muslins do not use weak assertions i think thats the point and why they are dangerous

Peter Hyatt said...

Mary, you know what John Wayne said when asked if he was Catholic?

"Cath-o-lic? Me, Cath-oh-lic? I'm a Preba-god-damned-terian!"

I have of late enjoyed Auburn Avenue Presbyterian live camera for "shut ins" like me when Heather has the flu!

They also recite as yours did growing up.


trustmeigetit said...

To me, believe feels right.

Since god is something that not everyone “believes” in. It’s a personal choice. since it's not like saying saying the truck is red, we can see it. God isn't something we can prove exhists.

And Peter often talks about the phrases where someone says something but is leaving it open for others to think different... Seems this would apply. Since with God, regardless if you DO or do NOT Beleive in him, others will always believe different.

Hope that made


Buckley said...

I believe in God, but I know that what I believe God is differs from what many others who believe in God define as God. So there's that, too, a personal dictionary dynamic; when I say I believe in God, to someone else, it may be an affirmation, but I may have doubt that what I define as God is understood by my audience in the same way I understand it.

Also, while I have faith, I am humble enough to know that I cannot fully understand, fully "know." As a lesser "being" cannot fully understand the human experience, I cannot fully understand that which is so much greater than I am.