I believe that I have very little control over what I believe.
For example, I never really chose to believe in God. Having been raised in a Christian home, I was taught that God loved me and that I was supposed to love others in return. There must have been a point in time when I was first able to reflect on my belief in God, but I never made a conscious choice to believe.
It is true that I am able to act as though I do not believe in God, as I often have, but that is very different. When I act as though I do not believe in God, my conscience reminds me that I am not being honest with myself.
I suspect that others have as little choice about their beliefs as I do. This means a great deal when I am engaged with others on issues of belief. How can I really be judgmental regarding another’s religious or political beliefs when I recognize that they may not have overtly chosen to believe as they do? And if they acted differently, as I often wish they would, would they be violating their conscience as well?
I believe this makes religious and political engagement with others more meaningful. I have to be humble, respectful and accepting.
One of my former professors told me that he knew some of his beliefs were wrong, but he believed that each of them was right. I try to keep this in mind when talking with someone who believes differently than I do. While I might defend my beliefs strongly, I must be humble enough to admit that any particular belief of mine might be wrong.
I try to remember that when I am in dialogue with someone with different beliefs, they are not simply present as someone to be convinced; rather, I try to respect them as an individual who holds reasonable beliefs, even if I disagree with them.
If I only loved those who shared my same beliefs, life would be quite lonely. None of my colleagues, friends, and family believes exactly as I do, and so I must be accepting of others with their different beliefs if I am going to have a relationship with them.
People with whom I am in dialogue may or may not come to believe as I do, but I believe, as I was raised to, that I am supposed to love them either way.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.