A Look at Why We Believe What We Do
Copyright 2009 by Howard Pepper
I am starting a series of brief posts on why we believe what we do about God and ourselves in relation to God. Most religious people like to think that their views about humanity and God are the correct ones. Maybe not covering every issue, but substantially right and certainly more true than those of other religions.
In fact, the bulk of Christians would claim that Christianity is unique because it alone is based on a genuine response to God in faith that creates a connection otherwise not there. To them, other religions represent human attempts to please God or reach God, in the mistaken belief that we have to do something to earn God’s favor.
I agree with these Christians in the last part – that we need not do anything to gain God’s favor, to be loved. But I, unlike them, also take that to include that we need not even believe anything in particular about God or our need for God (even God’s existence). Still, without God “judging” us, our actions and beliefs do affect our material and spiritual well-being, so we are wise to give them both some thought…. Do you agree or disagree so far?
Now, note I’ve not tried to identify or define God here, which is part of the point! I have some ideas about who/what I think God is, developed over decades of study, contemplation, and what Christians call (as I did for about 27 adult years) a “personal relationship with God.” I’ve begun commenting on defining God in other posts and will return to it, but for now I want to keep the focus on what you may believe or are pondering in hopes of coming to know something about God.
Here are some of the factors we will explore that lead each of us to whatever views of God (or gods) we may hold, or to question whether there even is a God:
1. What we were taught as a child (culturally, in our family, church, school, etc.).
2. What kind of relationship we had with our parents (usually most profoundly our father, as American culture and religion, like most, casts God as a male figure, often even as “Father”).
3. What we’ve experienced from the religious people and institutions closest to us or who we, at some critical point, determined would best represent what God may be like.
4. Special experiences that we take to be of a religious or spiritual nature – which might be called altered states of consciousness, peak experiences (Maslow), miracles, healings, “near death experiences,” etc.
5. Study of Scripture, theology, philosophy, science or other areas which we feel lends reliable (rational) evidence to a particular view we have “inherited” or taken on later in life.
Which of these most has most profoundly influenced the view of God (or disbelief in God) that you hold to? Are there aspects of any of these that you particularly resent or seek to “undo?” Are there aspects that you are particularly grateful for and might feel you’d never want to challenge or change? Do you have a thought-out approach to updating your views of God, or would like to have one?