To me there is a big difference between belief and conviction. There are times, though, where they can be used interchangeably, but not usually.
Belief, to me, generally means a person accepts or acknowledges something. In general, it is taken from the point of view of “yes, that makes sense” and that’s it. Many things are ‘believed’ in life but few are taken ‘to heart’. In some respects belief tends to be very shallow, watered down, and superficial (compared to conviction). There are many times where belief basically amounts to saying “yup, the sky is blue”, as if casually stating an observation. For many people this is the pattern of any ‘formal belief’, such as religion.
Belief is just something that ‘casually’ places them in the world at the time. It’s like saying, “yes, the sky is cloudy and its a little nippy”. In that sense, belief is just an acknowledgment of the time and situation a person is in. In other words, it’s just a reflection of the world.
Belief tends to be temporary. It doesn’t necessarily have any permanence nor does it necessarily determines a persons life. As a result, belief seldom has longstanding effects.
Because of the watered down quality of belief there is a tendency to waver with belief. This means that belief tends to wander. One minute its this, the next it’s that. Some beliefs can be compared to a fad, here one day, gone the next. Typically, though, when people have a belief they tend to ‘believe’ strongly when its ‘relavent’. When that relevency passes so does the belief.
Conviction is when a person takes something (such as a formal belief or point of view) very seriously, as if it is a reflection of themselves. This makes it ‘from the heart’. In this case, conviction becomes a part of a person’s identity of who they are and their purpose in life. As a result, it can determine a persons life.
Conviction, nowadays, seems to be a private affair, reflecting personal qualities. Years ago conviction was socially related and determined. This means that, as a society, we do not really have any conviction anymore.
Conviction requires more than just an understanding or an acceptance. It goes deeper. Conviction requires something like a conversion, a change in a person. Belief, really, is of the mind. Conviction is of the soul.
Because of the depth required for conviction it often requires much from the person. In many ways, conviction is something a person “earns” or works for. Seldom does it just happen. Conviction is not based on something that ‘makes sense’ or ‘sounds good’ (as we often see with ‘religious conversion’). In other words, conviction is not based in intellectual understanding. This means that conviction is part of an active process, of deliberate effort on the part of the person. Belief, on the other hand, is more passive, a casual act a person performs. As a result, conviction can have great longstanding and influential effects upon a person and their life. It can determine a persons identity and place in the world. As a result, conviction is very much related to a persons mental health. Often, unhappiness, depression, and other problems are really a result of a lack of conviction. This means that conviction is often a requirement for a stable mind and self. A person without any conviction, really, is a person ungrounded and easily uprooted.
Conviction, also, requires a person to take a stand, to take a position in life. By taking conviction we define ourselves, give ourselves form and shape. Nowadays, this can create quite a dilemma. This is because we live in a society without conviction, which does not take a stand. People only “believe” in the latest “thing” or “fad”. Conviction, then, puts a person at odds with this. In some respects, there is a war between ‘belief’ and ‘conviction’ nowadays, between those who casually believe and those with conviction . . . another useless battle.
There are many forms of conviction. I do not speak of just a ‘religious’ conviction, but more, which include:
- Conviction of self, of knowing who you are.
- Conviction of ones social position and ‘place’ in society.
- Conviction of authority and ones association with it.
- Conviction of a morality and a proper way of behaving.
- Conviction of a stance in life and what one stands for.
Here one can see that conviction is associated with a number of principles which include acceptance, submission, discipline, and the maintaining of oneself. These show that conviction is more than ‘belief’ – an idea or principle. It requries action on a person. In many ways, it is the result of a discipline. What do you think . . . that you read a book, agree, and have conviction? This saying is true:
Belief is thought about. Conviction is lived.