I recently had a very interesting conversation with a young man. We met because he had mocked a belief that I and many others share, so I invited him to talk to me about what his beliefs were on that subject and others. As we talked I learned that he believed that the entire Bible hadn’t happened yet and was set at some point in the future, that only one person had ever had the Holy Spirit (the woman who proclaimed the Bible was yet to come, and who was also now deceased), and that God didn’t really exist, was some other being, or possibly was this woman (I admit, I was never really sure on that point.)
Sounds kind of outlandish, doesn’t it? A little far-fetched?
I believe that a man two thousand years ago came back to life after he was dead for three days. I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit just lived inside him: I believe that he literally was God. I also believe he did some miracles that bent or broke the laws of physics, like walking on water. Did I mention that when he came back to life he could walk through walls? That’s pretty outlandish, too.
I don’t mention this young man’s beliefs to ridicule them or belittle him in any way. I mention them for another reason entirely: he had nothing to back up his claims. He didn’t know why he believed what he believed. He just did, and got remarkably defensive any time I questioned him. He told me repeatedly to stop analyzing what he was saying and just believe.
And there’s the rub.
Why do we believe the things we believe? Is it because it’s what our parents taught us? Is it because it’s what’s fashionable? Is it because it’s what seems like a good match for us? Maybe we really admire the person doing the telling, and that’s enough.
It’s so easy to say, “I believe it because it’s the truth.” Ah, but whose truth? Yours? Mine? Someone else’s? Are you so sure there’s just one truth? What evidence do you have? What proof do you have that yours is the truth?
What we believe matters a lot. If we’re wrong, after all, the consequences for us and others could be catastrophic. Which is why, in my opinion, why we believe is just as important as what.
When I was growing up, I belonged to a church that believed it was the only true church (as so many do, deep down inside.) They believed that everyone else in Christianity might even be saved, but they were never going to get to the very best place in the afterlife. This was because everyone apart from our church did not have the knowledge of this higher, better place, and so were not eligible for it. While it was vehemently denied that this was the case, the entire system was salvation based on knowledge. Not even on works: on knowledge. I remember vividly a funeral of a friend I went to, with other members from this church. He was one of the best men I’ve known, but I remember people saying how sad it was that he wouldn’t reach the eternal home he could have had because he didn’t know about it. We had many other beliefs, too, and I believed them because the people I most respected told me it was true.
Then they kicked me and my family out. And suddenly we found ourselves alone.
I began a journey then. I decided I was God’s free man, and that I would learn the truth no matter what form it took and no matter where I had to find it. I spent years in this pursuit. I’m still doing it today. I decided that I would find the glimmers of God and his truth wherever I could find them, and if I found dust and darkness then at least I would know where He was not and how to defend against it.
I read books on science and God. I read “lost” books written by early Christians. I brushed up on Gnosticism. (What a farce that is.) I read (and am still reading) holy books from the other world religions. (Of them, the Tao Te Ch’ing is my current favorite.) I did find glimmers of God, in the most unexpected of places. I realized not just how many differences there are, but what we all have in common. This gave me a revelation that I cherish to this day: the ability to listen to people of other beliefs, find the common ground, and reveal how that common ground points them to the one true God. And there’s always more to learn. I’m currently working through the Qur’an. Not because I see great revelations of God in it (I honestly don’t: it’s rather difficult to read), but so that when I meet a Muslim I will be able to converse with him knowledgeably on his religion and show him the pointers toward Truth.
So where am I today and why am I telling you all this? I am in a place that is largely orthodox Christian, but at the same time it is a very scary place for many Christians. I am telling you this because I don’t think it should be. How do we know we have the truth? I believe there is one foundational Truth, but many don’t believe that. So why do you believe the way you do? Do you actually have evidence for it? Do you believe blindly based on a path whose construction you couldn’t begin to guess at? Or do you believe clearly because you have examined the well-established bedrock under your feet?
And did you ever think to glance at people on the other paths to see why they’re there?
I’m treading on a path that I know is true because I analyzed it, poked at it, saw what made it tick. I know what’s true because I also know what’s false. I can defend and share my faith because I can back it up with fact. Do people always agree with me? No, not even close. Many would consider me aberrant, some would consider me heretical. But I know why. And you should, too.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I haven’t arrived, I don’t have all knowledge, and the more I learn the more I realize I don’t know. But that’s part of the thrill of this life. Why skate by? Embrace it to the full. Use that gray matter God gave you. What you’ll end up with is a deeper knowledge of Him, a greater understanding of your fellow man, and the answer to the question, “Why do you believe that?”
Thoughts? Feelings? Stubbed toes?