In one of our book club meetings recently, we discussed belief and how what a person believes in can actually be a dangerous thing. I’ve always thought that a person can believe what they want to, as long as I’m allowed to do the same and our beliefs don’t cause each other physical harm or distress. I guess it’s a little more complicated than that. Some beliefs, while not being demonstrated by outward abuse or violence, can simmer below the surface and hinder the progress of others.
There are many times during my workday that I feel like the most enlightened person in the room. I know that sounds egotistical, but you would have to meet some of the people that I work with to understand that it’s not. It seems that my village has more than its fair share of idiots and that most of them work with me.
Yesterday, two coworkers informed me that neither they or anyone they knew would be voting for a woman or a “n*gger” for presidential office. Knowing that I would have no problem supporting either Clinton or Obama, I was appalled that anyone would so blatantly admit to their racism and sexism without a hint of embarrassment. I immediately informed them that they didn’t represent the majority of people in this country, a weak attempt to make them feel as insignificant as the minorities they were railing against.
The conversation morphed into a discussion about religion and “the truth”, which they informed me was anything found in scripture. I said that truth means different things to different people, while one claimed that his thirty-something pastor could always tell the truth by referring to the Bible. I countered that reading the Bible is all about interpretation, and was then told that there was no point in discussing the “truth” with someone who doesn’t believe in the infallibility of scripture. As the conversation was quickly deteriorating to the point of argument, I decided that it was time to bite my tongue.
While I am flabbergasted by many of their beliefs and consider them to be extreme, I’m sure they think the same of mine. The difference is that I try to err on the side of justice, kindness, and reason while many of their beliefs are rooted in discrimination and ignorance. I can’t help but wonder how they came to feel the way they do about certain issues, while I feel so completely different. Did personal experience or parental coaching help mold their beliefs into what they are today?
I know I’m not always right or that what I consider truth is superior to others, but I can defend most of my beliefs with something more than a gut feeling or a random Bible verse that is taken out of context. The search for truth which my coworkers referred to is so much more complex than their narrow concept of it. While they consider it to be absolute and tangible, I consider it to be relative and just outside my grasp. Yes, there are universal truths, but a combination of experience and reason usually brings forth a personal truth – something that we believe wholeheartedly, even if it’s wrong.
I sincerely hope that none of my beliefs are damaging to another person. Racism and sexism hurts other humans and homophobia hurts our brothers and sisters, yet some people still live and breathe those ideologies. I pray that I am not so steadfast in my opinions that I wouldn’t even consider changing them if presented with evidence to the contrary. That doesn’t make me wishy-washy, it just makes me open-minded and willing to evolve. That’s a characteristic that seems to be sorely lacking in my neck of the woods.