Reading comments is probably bad for my mood. However, like so many people, I get caught up in them. On a local group, someone began a comment with “I don’t believe in…” It struck me as an ineffective way to say what she was trying to say. Sure enough, a day or two later, I saw someone mock the usage of “I don’t believe in…”
The commenter was expressing her disapproval of a personal practice. Since I don’t want to talk about that (somewhat silly) disagreement, I will use another example:
“I don’t believe in the death penalty”
- That sentence could be the beginning of a thoughtful discussion about your stance on the sanctity of life and the hope in the human capacity for turning to a better life.
- It could also mean that you don’t think the death penalty exists.
Since most people are aware that the death penalty is still used by governments to punish serious offenders, the second option above is unlikely. However, when “I don’t believe in” is used for what might be a trivial stand, it can sound like a doubting of the existence of an obvious thing. Sometimes the trivial thing is connected to a larger issue, but out of context it looks/sounds silly:
“I don’t believe in lawns”
- This could be the beginning of a comment about how lawn grass uses more water and does less good for wildlife than other kinds of yard planting. It could be the beginning of an essay on lawn grass chemicals and the industry that produces fertilizers and weed killers.
- It also could mean that the person denies that they have seen a lawn. Around Camberville, lawns are scarce, but not non-existent.
If you are taking a moral stand, “I believe” is a good turn of phrase. “I don’t believe in” brings the physical existence of something into question: “I don’t believe in ghosts, zombies, Covid-19…”
Using “I believe” effectively
Read the difference:
- I don’t believe in the death penalty. All people have a right to life and the chance to turn that life around.
- All people have a right to life and the chance to turn that life around. I believe the death penalty is wrong.
- I don’t believe in lawns. They waste water, use herbicides in populated areas, and harm native birds and bees.
- Lawns waste water, use herbicides in populated areas, and harm native birds and bees. I believe it is better to plant native flowers and vegetables on our lawn areas.
What don’t I believe in this October?
Even though I see them everywhere, I don’t believe in any of these things:
- Blown-up Frankenstein monsters
- Green witches who fly into houses, trees, and utility poles
- Pumpkin spice hummus
How would I write that?
Blown-up Frankenstein monsters, green witches who fly into houses, trees, and utility poles are being put out in my neighborhood. I know that they are attempts at decoration and whimsy, but I believe they are a waste of money, plastic, and energy. Pumpkin spice hummus, on the other hand, I believe is an abomination.