Not long ago I posted a handy method of telling if your beliefs are stupid. However, I have been told that we all have at least a few beliefs that are stupid, and I agree...however, having dumb beliefs doesn't always matter. The fact is almost all people have a few stupid beliefs that they still hold onto. To determine whether you really need to exorcize a belief from yourself or pressure a friend or loved one to change their beliefs, one should use the following 3 related criteria:
I'd wager that all people have doubts about most of their beliefs. For everything we're completely sure about, there are probably a dozen we're not sure about. (note that this is personal observation and by no means scientific). The sincerity of your belief largely determines whether you'll care enough to take any action which may be detrimental to yourself or others. For example, if you're roughly 60% convinced there is a malevolent secret society controlling the planet, chances are you won't care much, if you're roughly 85% convinced, you'll probably line the pockets of Alex Jones or sone other crackpot, and if you're 100% convinced of it, you may end up like Timothy McVeigh.
Bottom Line: If you or your friend barely believes the crackpot idea, don't worry about it.
Even if you fully believe something, you may not find yourself caring all that much. Maybe there are more pressing needs in your life, maybe you feel you can't change anything and deliberately stop caring, or there may be some other reason I am unaware of. Conversely, we might have some seemingly inconsequential belief that takes over one's life. How many people do you know who truly believe in the Christian god, yet routinely skip church to do something around the house? It isn't necessarily that they don't really believe, it's just that they find other things that they care more about at that point. Here are examples of people I have personally experienced that illustrate my point. All three of these people believe in a shadowy "new world order" that secretly rules the world. One friend is sure of it, but doesn't care at all. "yeah, they exist, so what?" Another hates them, but minimizes the amount he can do about it, and so it rarely factors into his life except that he listens to Alex Jones and watches documentaries like Zeitgeist. A third is a deranged man who I spoke to when I had my first YouTube channel (now banned after some abuse of the flagging system) He scoffed at my denial of a NWO, and said "I will DIE fighting the new world order!!!" (there were more exclamation points.) Clearly this is a man who takes his fictional secret societies seriously, and assuming he wasn't trolling, should be in a mental institution.
Bottom Line: If they don't care about their beliefs, neither should you.
This is the most important thing, really. I will use a couple of my own dumb beliefs, and one from a former friend of mine, to illustrate my point. I am growing a "playoff beard", which is started at the end of the NHL regular season, and shaved only when your team is eliminated from the playoffs. I tried that last year, but got annoyed with it and shaved it during round 2...and the Vancouver Canucks seemed to suddenly forget how to play, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks for the second year in a row. Now, whenever I want to shave, I get the neurotic feeling that Vancouver will lose every remaining game if I shave. I know it's dumb, but I believe it. Likewise, I believe that chocolate and orange juice relieves seasonal allergies. Despite no actual proof from the medical community that this is true, I believe it.
What are the consequences of these beliefs? Until (at the latest) June 15, I have a shaggy and sort of itchy beard, and whenever my pollen/dust allergies act up, I feel a craving for orange juice and chocolate (word to the wise:don't take them together).
My one friend, however, has destroyed himself through his stupid, stupid beliefs. He has become a full-blown member of Ramtha's School of Enlightenment. This is the cult that put out that retarded bit of pseudoscience What The Bleep Do We Know? into our collective consciousness. They also have regular "events" (the cheaper ones run at $1000/event, without travel expenses) and they sell a ton of books, CDs and DVDs. He went to an event every month, took a lot of time off work, and drove away his friends. He eventually went bankrupt due to this cult. Bear in mind, this is a man who made a lot of money, though I don't want to violate anyone's privacy. The man went broke and eventually moved to Washington to be closer to Ramtha. I haven't heard from him since last tie he asked my family for money and was turned down harshly.
This is an example of a belief with a real serious consequence. Adherence to this foolish cult has destroyed more lives than just his, and there are plenty of other beliefs, even nonreligious ones, that can cause severe damage to a person's wellbeing. It may cost them (or their family members) their health, hteir friends and family may abandon them, and it could even cost them their lives. You are a horrible friend for not stepping up and trying to point out the error of their ways if you see this coming. Even if you feel you're risking the relationship, you need to speak up, even hold an intervention. Granted, you need to make sure they aren't right (thus, the last post), and that the belief is serious, important to them, and potentially harmful. But if it meets all that criteria, act.
Bottom Line: When a dumb idea can cause legitimate damage, if you don't try to stop it, it's on your hands.