Monday, April 05, 2004

Sorry for not blogging. I’ve been busy, sick, and suffering from writer’s block (probably exhaustion induced). Lately I’ve been thinking about ideas and beliefs. How is it we come to believe certain things and have particular opinions? An interesting aside, I’m reading “The Heart of Christianity” by Marcus Borg. He discusses how many Christians (particularly conservative and evangelical Christians) describe fellow Christians as “believers.” As in, “are you a believer?” Isn’t it interesting how in that language, the sum or essence of being a Christian is whether you believe [a particular and varied arrangement of fact, doctrine, and theology depending on denomination/tradition]? His point is that for a lot of Christians, being a Christian is about much more than what you believe – it is about how you live. I’d never thought of it that way and it definitely makes you think.

Anyway, there is an article on the Scientific American website "Smart People Believe Weird Things," that caught my attention. You can read the article for yourself, but basically the premise is that people’s ideas are seldom based on facts, logic, and/or reason alone (if at all). Rather, most people’s beliefs are based on genetic predispositions, cultural influences, parental influences, etc. People select the logic and facts that support their beliefs and discard everything else.

I think the point isn’t that everything we believe needs to be based on cold, hard facts. Contrary to what you hear in a lot of conservative churches, I think that being a Christian involves the heart more than the head. But, as we reflect on what we believe, I think we need to be honest with ourselves about where those beliefs come from. It’s one thing to say that the sun is actually blue and there is empirical evidence to prove it. It’s another thing entirely to say that you’ve been raised to believe that the sun is blue, and even though it appears yellow, that is really an elaborate deception. I think in political and religious discourse we don’t do a very good job distinguishing between the two types of statements. We argue beliefs as though they are facts and visa versa.

We need to create spaces for our religious and political discussions where we can consider the facts without spin (there’s a very interesting, post-modernism discussion that could happen here about whether that is even possible, but let’s operate under the assumption that it is) and our beliefs as just that – beliefs. Rather than focus on the validity of someone else’s belief system (which is essentially a factual inquiry), we should look at the intersections of belief systems with fact, and competing/cooperating belief systems.

Is this practical? No. A nice idea? Yes.



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