The Universal Beliefs Project is an interactive interventional interrogation designed to encourage people to confront their own honest beliefs and the beliefs of others.

The Question

Please try to think of one thing in which you honestly believe.  Now please describe, illustrate, or perform that belief.  You may utilize as much, or as little, of any space you find appropriate.

Feel free to copy this question and share it with your friends, enemies, and relations.  Children are not excluded from this exercise.  Because I cannot accurately predict the volume of responses, I can’t guarantee that every honest belief will appear unabridged or unannotated, or at all.  I am committed, however, to ensuring that every viewpoint receives equal weight and attention.


The Self-Censoring Book

Some people feel comfortable applying multiple strata of highlighter ink to their books, filling the margins with notes and doodles, putting origami folds in the corners of the pages. I don’t. For me, the whiteness of the page is a space for my thoughts and reactions to take fluid form. If I add those thoughts to the book itself, I’m locking my future readings onto a single path, the path dictated by that marginal note.

For that reason, I was drawn to the idea of a book that goaded the reader into physically and permanently altering the text. Particularly when those alterations, in effect, ruin the book for a future reading. And also, to do so in a way that seems authoritarian, but is really a collaboration with the reader. What I mean is this: when the book tells you to black out a certain line and then forget it, it’s giving you an impossible task. How far are you willing to go? Even if you decide to only black out the beliefs you disapprove of, you’ll find that the ink bleeds through, and changes the way the reverse page is read. Silencing one voice, no matter how ludicrous, has a snowball effect. Clipping out one word or phrase in isolation is impossible; you’ll always end up mutilating the surrounding lines, and the text on the opposite page. But then, you’ve just created a window in the book, depending on the shape and angle of your cuts, that could create any number of new readings.

Speaking of reading, do you read the black spaces as an absent presence, or as a present absence? Do you read only the words that remain, or do you read the blackness as words that have been prohibited or circumscribed? Do you read the italicized text as part of the whole, or as part of its own whole?

After investing this effort into the book, are you more or less willing to strike the match and destroy it?

Why “Honest” Beliefs?

I believe that most people aren’t honest with themselves about their own beliefs. When you ask somebody what they believe, they tend to report one of the easy answers: a higher power, equality, love, or the antithesis of any of those. But for how many people are those beliefs tinged with doubt, ambivalence, unease? On the flip side, how many people take the time to check back in with their so-called beliefs, even in the process of declaring them?

In the original set of responses, some people tried to be “smart” and gave me scientific “facts” “instead” of beliefs. But really, aren’t those on the same level as the more contentious beliefs? Even when something is widely regarded as true, we still have to make an individual choice whether we will accept it into our subjective world-view.

Trying to find even one thing you honestly believe, without compunction, to be true can be an arduous task. It can also be rewarding to weed out the Sunday School beliefs from the true convictions, which tend to be much simpler but more varied, more unique to each individual.

Why Matches?

Beliefs are volatile. I wanted to actualize the idea that this book is dangerous, both physically and intellectually. You need to be careful how you handle it.

At the same time, there’s the whole history of book-burnings, where the printed word becomes this effigy of everything you disapprove of. It’s not enough to simply disbelieve something, you have to publically and flagrantly destroy it. Most people I know disapprove of book-burning on a conceptual level, but I wanted to viscerally confront them with the fact that when you disallow certain viewpoints, whether it’s because you think they’re offensive or uneducated or whatever, you’re essentially doing the same thing.

How Can You Help?

We need to hear more honest beliefs. Please send your response to the question above to the address below. I particularly want to hear the points of view of people whose beliefs are often ignored: children, senior citizens, and those whose honest beliefs are ugly, puerile, or inelegant. Belief books will continue to appear as long as supply meets demand, and demand is supplied.

Document your burning of this book on Youtube or Tumblr, and send me a link!

Download a PDF to print your own belief books (coming soon)!

Please send all queries, comments, and beliefs to beliefsproject [at] yahoo [dot] com.


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