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What Does "beyond Belief" Mean?

Malcolm Tatum
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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"Beyond belief" is an idiomatic expression that is sometimes employed to convey the sense that a certain type of information or event is difficult to accept in light of traditional thoughts and understandings. A number of different situations may trigger a sense of being beyond belief, including actions taken by another person. The general idea behind this English saying is that something does not fit easily into what is known and accepted and is thus in some manner extraordinary. The nature of that extraordinary idea or event may be either a positive or a negative.

In terms of behavior, being beyond belief involves engaging in actions that are outside the scope of what is normally expected. For example, the idea that someone who appears to be happily married and devoted to a spouse would one day leave home and hearth to run off to a desert island with a new love interest is so far out of character that people would have a hard time believing that the devoted spouse was capable of such actions. In like manner, the idea that a businessperson with a reputation for honesty and integrity who chooses to engage in some type of activity that is underhanded and possibly illegal may be considered beyond belief by many people.

New theories of theology or science may also be greeted by skeptics as being beyond belief. Over time, those theories may eventually gain some ground in certain quarters and seem somewhat less disconnected from what is commonly accepted in those respective spheres. In the interim, the theory remains beyond belief, and outside the scope of what is considered acceptable and common in general.

It is very important to understand that "beyond belief" may be used in a positive or a negative connotation. When negative, the usage normally implies that something is unacceptable and should be avoided at all costs, else the normal balance will be thrown off and chaos will result. At the same time, something may be beyond belief and inspire wonderful visions for something better than what is known in the here and now. The latter application has often applied when humankind has envisioned technological advances that only a few years before were not even considered, much less investigated. With this in mind, being beyond belief may cause some upset to the status quo, but may also ultimately lead to advancements in just about any aspect of humanity that is to the benefit of all concerned.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

Discussion Comments

By serenesurface — On Oct 27, 2013

@SarahGen-- John Gower used this exact phrase for the first time in a literary work. But I think the true credit goes to Willim Shakespeare because it was Shakespeare who started using the word "beyond" to mean unbelievable.

By SarahGen — On Oct 27, 2013

@ddljohn-- You're absolutely right. Most of us use this phrase to mean that something is unbelievable or unacceptable according to our standards, morals and rules. When we see something that we personally wouldn't do or say, we say that it's beyond belief.

By the way, does anyone know the exact origin of the phrase?

By ddljohn — On Oct 26, 2013

When Galileo said that the Earth rotates around the Sun and not the other way around, it was considered to be beyond belief at the time. He was charged with heresy by the Catholic Church and spent the remainder of his life in house arrest. Now, even a small child can tell us that the Earth goes around the Sun. It's a fact that's accepted by everyone.

So "beyond belief" simply means that something is contrary to popular belief at that time. It doesn't mean that it is inaccurate or wrong in reality.

Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum

Writer

Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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