Most people know that eventually, if not now, they will need well-crafted lenses to keep in focus what they want to see in the visible world. Not everyone knows, however, that they will need carefully formulated beliefs to bring into view the unseen, sacred world.
One of the Western world’s greatest philosophers, Baruch Spinoza, understood both. He ground lenses for a living, and he saw an absolutely essential connection between the work of his hands and the works of his mind.
Spinoza’s principal belief came to be that all things, visible and invisible, are in reality attributes of one and only one substance, God. And on the basis of this single, overarching belief, Spinoza derived all the rest of his philosophical system. In believing this to be true, he saw everything else in its completeness.
Anselm of Canterbury saw the things of God by means of a little different belief. It was the belief that a supremely perfect being cannot be thought not to be. But like Spinoza, he understood that if our beliefs are ground accurately enough by our thinking, we can by means of them see into even the deepest nature of reality.
Lenses and beliefs have a lot in common. Both have a value that is instrumental and not intrinsic. Their reasons for being have to do with the purposes they serve, not their own form and appearance. Like lenses, beliefs are meant to be looked through and not at.
Further, both lenses and beliefs must be properly fitted to each individual user. People’s vision requirements vary greatly. And no matter how widely and thoroughly held a particular belief may be in a religious community, not every member will come to understand the religion’s message more definitively by means of it.
For example, the minds of some believers can absorb truth only from very concrete images, e.g. of human-like gods with human-like feelings, most especially of jealousy and rage. To see by means of them, their beliefs must be very concrete, as in: anthropomorphic.
For others, however, only abstract concepts and beliefs will suffice, e.g. of a being omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, supremely perfect.
These differences show why debating which beliefs are and are not orthodox is like wrangling over which frames make for a prettier set of eyeglasses. It is like admiring a particular belief more than the God reflected in it.