I realize that by writing this—yet another response to someone else’s work—I run the risk of appearing as though I can’t come up with my own topics. That could very well be true. After all, I’m definitely pushing the deadline with this one. However, I prefer to think that, for better or for worse, other writers just inspire me.
In this case, my inspiration comes not from our school’s advice column, but from the blog post of my fellow Honors student, Esther Frederick. In her previous entry, “Challenging Thoughts Made Me Stronger,” Esther wrote about how our class’s discussion of homosexuality caused her to examine her beliefs, and she told us that, though she wasn’t a fan of the topic, she appreciated the fact that it eventually led to a strengthening of her convictions.
Like Esther, I went into the class with my own list of opinions, beliefs, and values. Also like Esther, I ultimately left the class with a reinforced sense of said opinions, beliefs, and values. Unlike Esther, however, my delight in the controversial subjects came not from the strengthening at the end, but from the questioning in the middle. The journey itself was more important than the destination, and I, for one, enjoyed taking a different route.
It is my opinion that questioning your beliefs is a vital part of having beliefs. Faith is essential, but in addition to knowing what you believe, you need to know why you believe it. I find this especially true for myself, having been raised in a Christian household. When I reached high school, I became compelled to reexamine nearly every aspect of my faith, making sure that I hadn’t just inherited my convictions from my parents, but that I actually believed them to be true.
And sometimes, I didn’t.
It was a difficult process. In most cases, I had held the beliefs for years without ever really thinking about them. When I finally took the time to consider them individually, some of them didn’t stand up to the scrutiny. I had to let go of longstanding opinions. I had to disagree with parents, friends, pastors, strangers. For the first time in my life, I had to defend my beliefs to others.
That was the biggest change. In my experience, no one asks you to explain your beliefs when they agree with them.
The most surprising thing in this process, however, was how little these minor ideological changes affected my core beliefs and values. As I delved into the twisting tunnels of thorny theological conundrums and found myself coming out on a different side than I had before, I realized that, underneath it all, my faith remained relatively unchanged. I was able to question my previously held notions, discard some, adopt others, and still maintain my Christianity.
While some might call this approach relativistic, I think of it as adaptive. To me, seeing the Bible not as a dead document locked in a 1st Century mindset, but as something living and growing and dynamic only increases its relevancy and its power. As a Church, we’ve already done it many times throughout history—we’ve stopped stoning people, we’ve ordained female pastors, we’ve outlawed slavery.
We’ve recognized that the Bible was written for a specific people at a specific time, and we’ve questioned whether the spirit of the Bible—which is love—still supports all of its decrees.
Despite how much the Church has changed since biblical times, this is an area that I don’t think is addressed enough in the Christian community. Just like, and perhaps even more than, getting angry with God, there’s a taboo about questioning certain aspects of the theology, which may deter people from pursuing such a path, for fear of having their faith doubted by others.
I’m here to say, though, that it’s okay to question. It’s okay to doubt. It’s okay to pull out your faith and put it under a microscope and stare at it until you know exactly what’s there and what isn’t, what should be and what shouldn’t.
It’s even okay to change your beliefs if you find that you really don’t believe them anymore.
I used to think coffee tasted disgusting; now I don’t. I used to think the Tooth Fairy was real; now I don’t. I used to think I would become an artist when I grew up; now I don’t. I used to think homosexuality was a sin.
Now I don’t.
I’m not writing this post to change anyone’s beliefs or even to encourage anyone to change their own. Instead, I’m simply advocating an examination. Really, truly look at what you believe and why you believe it. Think and pray and seek advice, but in the end, come to your own decision because faith is a weighty thing and you’re the one who’s going to be carrying it.
If your questioning leads you to change your view of the world, that’s wonderful. If it leads to a confirmation of what you already held to be true, that’s equally as awesome. Either way, you’ll be able to stand firm in your convictions, ready to answer anyone who asks why you believe what you believe.