11/08/2012 07:59 am ET Updated Jan 08, 2013

The Habit of Inherited Beliefs

As humans we are saddled with a constant persistence to know our life's meaning, purpose and destiny. As James Baldwin himself put it: "People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them." Essentially, habits are developed through frequent repetition and reinforcement.

Most habits are shaped during our formative years and are passed down from others. Like all behaviors, we programmed these habits through observation and modeling those around us. Our habits largely attribute to our personality and experience in the universe. People are guided by habits based largely on the way others have programed us. However, if we look beneath many of our habitual beliefs we find that they are deeply rooted in a distorted reality. For example, we inherited a belief that there are 365 days in each year. This was decided by some authority back in history, just as the concept of 24 hour-long segments we divide each day. By default, we've accepted this preprogramming through habit and belief in truth set by others.

It's a reasonable question to ask: How much are we shutting out of our experience in the universe because we've been programmed to process only so little and believe in only so much as others have validated for us? To fully understand our habits and beliefs, we have to go far deeper than what others can validate. This habit of accepting inherited beliefs will always stand between us and our authentic selves and distract us from being fully present and engaged in life in a meaningful way.

Owning the truth of others as your own negates any purpose of having our own mind. Nowhere is this more profound than when it comes to our religious beliefs. The Bible is the most revered book in America, but it's also the most misquoted. Preachers, presidents and politicians routinely quote passages that actually aren't written anyplace in the Bible. Dogmatic passages include: "God helps those who help themselves," "Spare the rod, spoil the child" and several others. Even the oft-cited biblical story of Satan tempting Eve to eat the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden. None of those passages appear in the Bible but are readily accepted as such.

However, because biblical ignorance is so pervasive, people rarely challenge them. People prefer knowing biblical passages that reinforce their inherited beliefs. Many who profess a deep love of the Bible have never actually read the book, but instead rely on parts of text they've memorized from what others purported to them. "Spare the rod, spoil the child" is a popular verse -- and was painful for many of us as kids. However, the popular saying is a distillation of Proverbs 13:24: "The one who withholds [or spares] the rod is one who hates his son." Those details seem minor, but through our inherited belief habits, this story is repeatedly hailed as factual in the Bible. Most people inherited the version of Satan being disguised as a serpent in the Garden of Eden who tempts Eve to pick a forbidden apple from the Tree of Life. But the actual story, according to scholars, the book of Genesis, only mentions a serpent and never places Satan in the Garden of Eden at all. The very idea of Satan as a devilish tempter postdates the composition of the Garden of Eden story by at least 500 years, scholars agree.

Getting biblical Scriptures and stories wrong can have disastrous effect on the meaning or lack of meaning we each give our lives and unwittingly pass on to others. Most our beliefs are inherited since we are born not knowing anything, and inherit the language and beliefs from others. Many of whom are no longer even on the planet. It is no easy task to undo years and years of programming and inherited beliefs. The longer we've done something, the longer it takes to unlearn these habits.

The challenge remains for us to take the time to slow down, and take notice of our own thinking and our inherited beliefs. If the questions seems unanswerable at first, then we much look to where all questions are answered, our inner spirit.

Just like habits of smoking and overeating are formed without any logical reason or explanation, so are the habits of beliefs and values. However, just as smoking and overeating can be overcome through conscious awareness, so can inherited beliefs and habits we cling to without logical reasoning. The ultimate reprogramming process is about each of us creating new and empowering habits to replace old disempowering and limiting beliefs we inherited from others.