A friend and I were having a conversation recently. “I was so left,” he said, referring to his political persuasions. “That was my background,” he explained. “When I then, later on, began to ask why I thought that way, I began to change my mind on a few things.”
This interested me. My friend (now self-identifying as more moderately left) had examined what he believed, questioned why he believed it, and ultimately changed his mind under that examination. It was, I thought, an act of honesty and bravery.
Why We Believe What We Believe
I suppose we believe all manner of things for all manner of reasons, but many of the big things we believe are in large part shaped by our communities – our families, our friends, our colleagues etc. These social groups can produce strong feelings of loyalty, and to change our mind can sometimes feel like a betrayal of the people we are closest to.
There are of course natural break points in life where we are afforded chances to examine our beliefs. Going off to university for many brings a cessation – or at least a pausing – of old community ties and an introduction to new ones.
When our families grow – marriage, children, grand-children – we can re-evaluate a number of things closest to us.
But for most of the time we continue to operate as we have, more or less, always done.
Collisions With Reality
Have you ever noticed that within many sadness’s there’s often a secondary, deeper pain? When the man in his 50s is made redundant it is sad, and it is proper for he and you and I to grieve his loss. But the grief is made more protracted when this pain causes him to question his place in the world or lose his sense of value and purpose.
In another way, we might never think long about what happens after we die, until someone close to us passes away.
At the exact moments that our belief frameworks need to stand strong in the face of massive disruption, they all too easily collapse. Our loss then becomes total loss to us.
Testing Our Beliefs
Unless we want to run a similar risk to the man who suffers a heart attack brought about from poor diet and lack of exercise, we need to begin doing the right things now. We don’t want a shock in the future to cause us to think if only we had changed something in the past, the present would be avoidable or made more bearable.
Ravi Zacharias, the Christian thinker, is fond of saying that there are three ways we can test a belief or thought to see how strong it is.
There are 3 tests for truth: logical consistency, empirical adequacy, & experiential relevance.
— Ravi Zacharias (@RaviZacharias) 12 January 2014
Firstly: is the belief logical? Does it confirm to the laws of logic? Secondly: does it make sense? Does the belief contradict itself at any point? Thirdly: does it work? Does it fit with our observations of the Universe and our experience?
We can hold a belief for many reasons: it’s popular, or it’s traditional, or it’s new or fashionable. But there is only one good reason for holding a belief: is it true?
Faith and Truthfulness
It’s entirely possible to hold to beliefs that are true, but for bad reasons. A Christian, the Bible says, is to be prepared to answer questions of faith asked of him by anyone, and so the question is: do you know why you believe what you believe? And do you believe for good reasons?
Truthfulness is not just for the believer of course, there are many seeking truth that don’t see faith in God as a warranted belief. But if you don’t believe in God because you think the Christian position is not truthful I’d say, take another look and ask yourself, why don’t you believe? There have been many people who, upon second glances, have come to see that their reasons for not believing weren’t as strong as they at first supposed.
It takes an act of strength for anyone to change their mind. It’s humbling, sometimes humiliating, but when we take a step back and compare the value of our pride and ego against truth itself, well, the honourable pursuit of truth gleams much brighter than the dim bulbs of our own self-value.