In an individualistic society that thrives upon creating conflict, voicing opinions, and being obsessed with moral superiority, there are plenty of platforms that allow us to attack other people’s beliefs.
Whether its talk radio, cable news, blog comment sections, or our own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, it’s relatively easy to find a place to verbally, emotionally, and intellectually tear others apart.
Christians are sometimes the worst at doing this—judging and berating people according to their particular beliefs. But the next time you feel like joining in, think about this:
We often focus on the beliefs themselves but ignore the influencing factors that helped shape them. How have the following factors influenced your faith and beliefs:
Some people were raised in environments where their parents brought them to church three times a week, shipped them off to Christian camps during the summer, and required family Bible studies every night after supper.
Others grew up within highly secular families with no religious affiliation at all.
Regardless of beliefs, some families were loving, caring, and full of joy, while others were abusive, painful, and filled with sorrow.
How did your family help shape—either positively or negatively—your current beliefs?
Friends and Enemies:
Throughout life we encounter people that drastically impact the way we see the world. Did you have friends that attended church with you, shared your religious beliefs, and were supportive of you?
Or were you bullied, alone, mistreated, and alienated from others?
Just as certain people can powerfully uplift and encourage us, others can horrifically hurt and destroy us. How have various people throughout your life impacted the way you see the world?
Culture and Upbringing:
How did the culture and surroundings of your life influence your beliefs?
I was raised within a Christian home in Minnesota, but how would my life be different if I would’ve grown up within a Muslim household in Sudan?
Social, cultural, racial, and financial surroundings deeply affect us in ways we often don’t realize. Did you live in a society that valued spirituality and encouraged religious practices, or was it seen as foolish?
How does someone who grows up surrounded by war, poverty, and injustice see the world differently than someone who lived a relatively privileged life—sheltered among big houses, economic success, and extreme safety?
It only takes a trip to a different country—or even a different neighborhood—to see that people live in entirely different surroundings. Did your environment help form or destroy your faith?
We want the world to work in a certain way, and we have a particular theory on who should run things and how it should be done. Based on these ideas, our faith often plays either a primary or secondary role.
How do your political beliefs impact your faith and theology?
Did you grow up within schools that promoted creationism and theism, or did you attend schools that frowned upon religion?
Some people don’t attend school at all, while others spend most of their lives within academic institutions. Whether we received formal or informal education (or hardly any education at all), it plays a significant role in forming our intellectual understanding of how we see the world around us.
Various teachers and professors promote and teach wildly different theologies and worldviews, but did any of them greatly impact you?
The choices and variations, even within Christianity, are endless:
There are hundreds of denominations within world, and within these denominations are thousands of churches, and each church has a different pastor or spiritual leader with a unique leadership style, each preferring a certain worship style, Bible translation, theology, and method of ministry.
Were you raised Catholic or Pentecostal, Lutheran or Methodist?
How did “official” institutionalized religious structures—or lack thereof—impact your faith?
We sometimes forget just how much of our lives center around our jobs. They often determine our schedule, income, and actions—but how do they relate to our faith?
How would your faith look different with or without your current job or responsibility?
Our lives are defined by various moments—both big and small—that just happen: a car accident, the birth of a child, a death, a sickness, a divorce, and countless other deeply impactful moments.
A litany of events, interactions, and occurrences happen to us regularly—both scheduled and completely random—that impact how we perceive our surroundings.
What’s happened in your life that’s made you the person you are today? How have events, people, times, and certain experiences changed your faith?
The reality is that countless factors—both controlled and uncontrolled—shape our lives and worldview in ways we often have a hard time recognizing or admitting.
Even if one of the variables mentioned above were changed, your beliefs would probably be drastically different. And while we readily recognize the impact these elements have had within our own lives, we often can’t recognize—or admit that—these same components existed in the lives of those who don’t share our same belief systems.
As Christians, we must learn to empathize. We don’t have to agree with other people’s worldview, but we need to be thoughtful enough to recognize that the same ingredients that shaped our beliefs have shaped the beliefs of those we directly disagree with—except they’ve created a different conclusion.
So when we assault someone’s theology, or belief system, or worldview, we’re holistically attacking everything about them: their family, friends, upbringing, culture, politics, education, religion, and life experiences. We’re discrediting their entire existence!
We don’t have to accept everyone’s beliefs as right or true, or resign to moral relativism, or deny absolute truth, but it’s vitally important for Christians to have the maturity and ability required to empathize, relate, listen, and respectfully dialogue with those who don’t share our viewpoints.
God helps us.