While I was putting together the “Faith” post of this series I was thinking a bit more about the last post regarding “belief” and I think there’s a bit more to say on the issue. First is my observation (please correct me if I’m wrong here) that the “center of gravity” for the American religious perspective is found in possessing the correct beliefs about God. Granted, there is a vast range of perspectives, but the majority of religious participants are of the “true believer” variety. American Christianity seems to be a quest for immortality or “eternal life in heaven after we die.” We agree to a set of particular beliefs and at that given moment we are forgiven and heaven bound. If those beliefs are questioned or threatened in any way, it creates severe panic in the mind of a true believer. The phrase, “maybe I’m wrong,” doesn’t last long in the mind of a true believer because if it lingers, a crisis will ensue.
Right belief fuels the evangelical impulse. We need more people in churches because when more people join the club, our system of right belief feels more validated, allowing any possible slivers of doubt to be ignored. “How can so many be so wrong?”
Right belief fuels tribalism. It’s what makes the unending arguments over all doctrinal varieties go round and round. “We won’t go to that church because they believe ______.” It pits one group against the other, fostering the comfort of belonging to a tribe while also ushering in the inevitable violence between the different tribes of “true believers.” After all, if right belief is the north star, there can only be one right belief system.
The religious life that is rooted in right belief is ultimately rooted in fear. We become afraid of what God thinks about us. We fear that our loved ones don’t believe the right doctrine. This fear hangs on the idea of God as a stern judge who has been offended by our existence. A God who needs some kind of appeasement. And we’ve now replaced ritual sacrifices of the ancient world with the modern notion that if we think the right thoughts about God, he will spare us from some form of eternal punishment (which again, oddly begins when we die.)
While I agree very much with Wilber’s assessment of belief, I also learning to have compassion for those who camp out at this stage of religious life. The human experience brings with it many uncertainties that threaten our sense of stability. We thirst for constants, safety, reliability in the midst of an ever changing world. We can all relate to that desire regardless of our religious perspective. So instead of attempting to take a wrecking ball to “right belief” (as if that were even possible) I’m convicted that we must do our best to embrace the need for others to remain faithful in this way. It is not about being combatant with “true believers” but about being compassionate. Being compassionate and empathetic to those who you may disagree with is essential. After all, they just might be right. 🙂