Religion and politics… two topics of conversation that cause dismay, angst and dread. We avoid them both when we’re around family and friends, but why? Both are integral to our lives and cultures and these ideals shape who we are as people. Because these themes are so close to our hearts, we find conflict in them (for good reason), but conflict isn’t always negative.
When asked what they believe, many people (both young and old), answer: “I don’t know, why does it matter?”
Beliefs, whether religious or political, are central to any individual’s existence. I would argue that they are the most vital decisions we must make. Why? To get right to the point, they direct our lives and help us to understand the world around us as well as the world beyond us.
If I work for the first 30 years of my life to achieve power, and only then decide what my beliefs are, then how painful would it be if those beliefs conflicted with my achievements? Even worse, if I put off deciding my views due to the thought that I will have plenty of time later in life, then what comes of my existence if I meet an untimely end?
We all at least have the opportunity to decide what philosophical concepts we feel strongest about, as the knowledge is available through the internet as well as those around us, in experience. Knowledge alone, of course, fails to formulate a belief, but with wisdom, those facts can certainly contribute to one. Without deciding what we have faith in, we often allow popular culture to dominate our decisions. This is not always incorrect (culture can be spot-on sometimes), but it transfers any true weight of our decisions onto institutions and whether those institutions are religious or governmental, we are still failing to take the initiative in asking ‘why’.
Often, what builds our beliefs are doubts about the world around us. We see a lack of transparency or have been disappointed by an organization or person and want to learn more so that we are not liable to misdirection again. Doubts are not a bad thing, as they help to build up our understanding of the world around us. Often, it is those that settle on a belief early on and fail to question it that end up lost and angry at religion or politics later on.
How can a person start to formulate their understanding of the world then? The easiest path to travel is to ask ‘why’ and then continue until reasoning is found. Even spiritual matters can be considered incredibly reasonable if the audience continues to ask why.
Take the belief central to Christianity: that Jesus Christ died to humanity’s sins in order to forgive us. Why? Because a sacrifice needed to be made for individual failures (individual sins). A sacrifice is a loss, a willing offering. Sacrifices are provided in faith and because of a wrong-doing that has taken place. A man that has lied or cheated on his spouse cannot take back the words he said or actions he committed, but a sacrifice allows him to show that he desires repentance and requests forgiveness. Sacrifices were tied to specific actions, and today they are translated to monetary figures.
Sacrifices are a major foundation of today’s justice system, attempting to force empathy and repayment. A willing sacrifice is as close as an individual can get to justice though, offering a significant amount of empathy while attempting to repair what has been broken. What is powerful enough to be a sacrifice for all of mankind’s failures, past, present and future? The creator of the universe coming down and living a sinless (flawless and perfect) human life and then taking the most painful punishment possible at any point in human history. This act would be the greatest sacrifice possible, and conveys that no matter how dark someone’s actions have gone, they still are loved and forgiven. Why was it needed? Because simply waving a hand and dismissing humanity’s sins would have done nothing. No empathy would have been conveyed and no price would have been truly paid. The creator, in our place, enduring unbearable pain, is the only sacrifice that could have worked to save those that realize the enormity of that sacrifice and then repent.
Belief drives repentance for this sacrifice, and it drives an individual’s actions in many religious and political groups. Even failing to decide on a belief is, in itself, a belief system. It is simply one where a person has decided that his or her actions do not matter enough to affect the afterlife or others during life.
As humans, we need reason to live, even if we refuse to admit it. We need an understanding of what our actions and thoughts mean. We need answers to the core questions of life and while answers to these questions may not always lead to a creator or revelation, they peel away at our own thoughts as well as the world around us. Beliefs lead us to be the individuals that we are today, whether we refuse to admit it or not.
Values, A Series: