Explaining Christian Faith: Belief > Everything

Image found here.

Image found here.

Lately I’ve been having a general urge to record things I remember about my faith before I forget them. While I’m not presenting them in any particular order, I often don’t write them down immediately (or worse, I write a short draft and delete it). At any rate, the first thing I wanted to get at was the notion that belief is more important in Christian faith culture than anything else.

Professing belief is the best thing ever.
Church services, faith meetings, and general chit chat involves clearly broadcasting that one believes certain things regarding the Christian deity. Doing all of this reinforces these things spoken aloud. Moreover, it puts social pressure on people who want to believe but aren’t sure. They can go along with the good vibe, and they can keep their doubts to themselves.

Indeed, everything in organized faith worship (even for people at home) goes to promoting the culture of belief over all. Belief is this thing that is intrinsically good, that reaps divine rewards, that can sometimes even have real physical benefits. Non-belief can be described as inherently evil, avoided at all costs, and a path to complete divine punishment. You can see this even in how children are taught basic faith principles. Jesus loving them is repeated over and over again until it just sticks.

Belief is even more important than being correct. Disagreements regarding faith might get heated, but at the end of the day agreement that Jesus was a lord and savior was all that really mattered. People get a lot of leeway so long as they believe too. New churches spring up all the time dedicated to this idea that simply believing in Jesus is enough.

The consequences of this.
I have at certain points in my life professed belief that people could get swallowed by whales and not die, that people can come back from the dead without decomposing, and that deities are willing to cater while their people are lost in a desert. The way I’m putting this, it seems obviously silly, but remember that professing belief becomes more important than anything else one can do around any other person. Rather than consider the weight of what I believed, I just had to say it out loud and try to actually believe what I said.

Thus, I was able to largely ignore or dismiss criticism of my beliefs for reasons completely unrelated to that criticism. At the least, I would retreat to giving people their space to believe whatever they wanted, so long as they did so for me. In that way, I could protect my faith in case I needed it for later.

Unfortunately, it also helped me remain convinced of some incredibly unhealthy things. Of course, I didn’t think they were unhealthy at the time. I was so busy trying to make sure people knew I still believed in Jesus that I didn’t take the time to actually carry any doubts to their logical conclusions. For example, if I was confronted with believing in gravity if it conflicted with belief in Jesus, I would have had to have picked Jesus. That’s kind of scary to look back on.

Naturally, this can be frustrating for people who never believed any of this in the first place. How do you deal with someone who is willing to just flat out ignore the point being made? The sad answer is that in most cases nobody can. Insisting on a different point of view will only reinforce the error.

I know this, because I went through it myself. Not believing carries with it everything from emotional trauma to sheer terror. There’s a buffet of negativity one can feast upon when doubts arise. So many hidden things exist to get people to keep going back for more, even if they don’t want to.

What about those people who are starting to doubt?
At some point, I had to accept that my beliefs did not control reality; they only controlled my perception of reality. Christianity had inflated their importance to the point of sheer folly. The thing is, the world works regardless of anyone’s beliefs. Things fall down, organisms evolve, and life goes on. Nobody has to believe it for it to be true.

14 thoughts on “Explaining Christian Faith: Belief > Everything

  1. ‘Jesus loving them is repeated over and over again until it just sticks.’
    That’s what many people would call indoctrination.
    I also believe that ‘belief is more important than truth’ is also fundamentally wrong.
    We should strive to understand the world in an accurate way and pass that onto our children.

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  2. From Fortune magazine’s original definition of Groupthink:
    “We are not talking about mere instinctive conformity — it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity- an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well. “

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  3. I think that last paragraph is very insightful. I mean, on some level, I guess it’s obvious. But the way you’ve stated it is very clear and concise… it’s something I’ve been struggling to put into words for a few weeks now because of some frustrating conversations my wife and I have been having with her parents. I don’t think they’ve made that realization yet, but I hope they will one day. Preferably, one day soon.

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  4. I can remember having these feelings myself a long time ago. The path to non belief is a tough one, it requires a bit of inner turmoil, a fear of rejection, and some guts to keep asking questions. When the answers to those questions no longer satisfy, reality awaits.

    Shedding the baggage of religious nonsense was a relief. It opens up the entire world for exploration when the answer to every question is no longer goddidit.

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  5. “Thus, I was able to largely ignore or dismiss criticism of my beliefs for reasons completely unrelated to that criticism. At the least, I would retreat to giving people their space to believe whatever they wanted, so long as they did so for me. In that way, I could protect my faith in case I needed it for later.”

    That’s generally what I did. I knew I didn’t have answers that would satisfy them and I wasn’t budging in my belief. They were blinded. I had sight. They just didn’t get it. So I’d pray for them that God would open the door of their minds to consider the truth. I didn’t know I was the one living in the gated community of the mind.


  6. I’ve been thinking about this lately myself. There’s underlying ideas that are necessary for religions to indoctrinate you with, and then their dogma is pushed on you on top of those basics. One of those ideas is that “faith is a good thing”. Calling someone a “man of faith” is seen as a compliment, instead of a statement that this person is really gullible. Before you can persuade someone that belief in your god is a good thing, they need to be persuaded that belief itself is a good thing.

    Another underlying basic idea is that of accepting authority. To persuade someone to accept the bible as a perfect authority, you must get them to buy into the idea that accepting perfect authorities is acceptable and reasonable.

    I’d like to identify any other underlying religious principles besides these, if you can think of any others. Maybe magical thinking is one, the idea that your thoughts have effects on the physical world.

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    • I think that there has to be at some point the notion that certain things should feel a certain way, and that some feelings are to be avoided or embraced as doctrine allows. This kind of plays off of an average person’s sense of social justice or fairness, like hurting other people is bad, or loving people is good.

      Sometimes I wonder if this is the root of all religion, to help people control the wide range of feelings that can happen to a person in a given day. Religions just take that need for control and give it labels, pretty it up, and then package it as a snake oil cure.


      • I think part of it is the need for standard rules about how to treat people you don’t know. In small tribes everybody knows everybody else, and they know what their relationships with those people are, and how those people are likely to react. They personally know all their neighbors too. It’s very rare that they encounter anyone they don’t already know, so they don’t need formal rules for it.

        When you move to a larger political structure, you don’t have that anymore. If you are going to have an orderly society, you need to have official rules for how you treat people you haven’t met before. But I’m not sure if religion is a tool for establishing those rules and enforcing obedience, or a parasite, taking advantage of the existing political authority.

        Whether or not it was originally useful, I think now it’s a parasite. We don’t need it, but it’s infection is too persistent to just get rid of.

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