I’ve been thinking a lot about beliefs lately, and why we hold the ones we do. Ideas around belief have influenced my own life in huge ways.
I was raised in a very strict religious tradition by a mother who had been a nun for 5 years much earlier in her life before she married my father and they had me. Yet, I was always a child with a million and one questions about everything. And the beliefs I was being taught were no exceptions to these questions, much to the likely misunderstanding of my mother and sometimes others around me!
I’ve come to a point in my life where I’ve been fortunate to have learned from so many wonderful people with incredibly varied belief systems, ranging from those who describe themselves as devoutly religious to those who describe themselves as very content atheists. And all of this exposure to others with such varied beliefs has really been quite a wonderful learning experience for me, one that will undoubtedly continue throughout my full lifetime.
I’ve noticed a very interesting pattern in so many of our human lives. If we’ve grown up within a particular religious, spiritual, non-spiritual, or non-religious belief system, it seems that a majority of us have tended to stick within that system as we get older.
For those of us who have made other choices, we have often faced some great and not-often-discussed challenges. And I really sense that there is a huge connection between the relationships we have with our families and friends and the beliefs we choose, with or without realizing it, to practice as adults.
Yes, it’s true that many of us have questioned things about the belief system in which we have been raised, and some of us have even found our own similar or even very different beliefs from those we were raised in. Yet, so many of us have chosen, maybe without realizing it, to stay within the beliefs which we were raised, or to not stray too far from them. Have you ever noticed this or wondered why it seems to be? No worries—I have. ;) Here’s my take.
When we were little, our biggest goal was to get our basic needs met. So we relied on our families or others around us to provide us with our basic needs. Some of our families were able to do this well and healthily, and some weren’t. Even so, we looked to others to help us meet our basic survival needs. And in doing so, we tended to do other things they did as well, like practice any belief systems that they taught us or raised us in. This is why I really believe that our belief systems are so often connected not only to our families and our childhood but our deep sense of and need for survival.
We likely all know that talking about beliefs with others can be very emotional and high-charged! Why is this? I think it’s partially because our beliefs have been so intertwined with our sense of survival. They have often been something we learned as children and connected with others we were around and who provided us with our survival needs. So I think that so many of us, without realizing it, have combined the concept of “belief” with “survival.”
This is one of the reasons why I think that when we are exposed to others who share very different beliefs, we can get so emotional and perhaps feel attacked and become defensive of our own beliefs. We may truly feel in some deep space, maybe without even realizing it, that we are fighting for our very survival needs!
In addition, we often connect our beliefs with those closest family members with whom we shared our first relationships, whether or not those relationships were always healthy. Even if they weren’t healthy, we may often find ourselves defending the beliefs we were taught by these people, because we often hang on to these relationships so dearly. That’s why I think that our belief systems are often also intertwined with our primal desires for connection with others.
Think about it. If Mom or Dad provided you with your basic survival needs, you can bet that you may likely keep believing the same way they do and not think about crossing them, questioning them, and certainly not changing your own beliefs to be any different from theirs. This is possibly because your deepest survival instincts, as well as your deepest needs for connection with others in your family, can feel like they are totally on the line.
Also, there are many belief systems which teach that if you don’t practice their system, you are actually going to set yourself up for some kind of eternal punishment. So not only are our primal survival and connection instincts on the line for this lifetime—often, they are seen as on the line for an eternal lifetime too!
For those of us who have dared, for whatever reasons, to cross these lines and question the beliefs of our family or those who have provided for our first survival needs and sense of human connection, we know too well that we often face very harsh consequences. Throughout history and even in different parts of the world today, not believing in a particular way that fits with family or society can mean disastrous consequences including torture and painful death. We don’t often resort to those ways here in our society; yet some of the other things we do resort to can be very damaging.
In my observation, in our society, we resort to a lot of judgment and shaming of others who choose to question the beliefs which we may have. Sometimes we even do this judging in God’s own name, saying things like, “God is the ultimate judge, but you are going to burn in hell if you don’t believe in this particular way.” Sometimes we may think that a particular way is the “only” way, but that seemingly leaves out anyone else who doesn’t happen to believe the same. Which for me begs the question, would an all-loving God really leave out or exclude anyone who has been created in the same image as itself?
I think that as much as we may have good intentions to try to “save” others from what we may think is going to be a horrible punishment someday for them, it is actually we who are doing the judging of these people, whether we admit it or not. And in my humble opinion, this kind of judging is not healthy, extremely destructive, and ironically nothing at all like many of the beliefs we may claim to practice!
In families and even within friendship circles or shared-belief communities, shaming happens unfortunately so very often, and it’s many times under-the-table or covert. Many who dare question their family’s, friends’, or community’s belief systems, or who voice ideas different from the norm, feel that they are cast out from those circles in so many different ways.
Sometimes others will try, often without realizing it, to make a person who questions feel bad about other aspects of themselves or their lives, simply because the questioning or choosing to believe differently makes other family or group members uncomfortable. “It worked for us,” they may think. “It worked for our parents, and grandparents, etc. Why are they choosing to question it?”
Sometimes, because of the social aspect of families and belief organizations, there can be a great worry about “keeping up appearances.” There may be the unspoken or unrealized questions, “If you believe differently than the rest of our family or community, what will they think of me if I associate with you? If you're my child, will they think I’ve failed as a parent? What will my friends think of you, or of me, if you choose differently?”
I have experienced this happening personally many times in my life, but most often with my own mother. For example, when I chose to get married in a church that didn’t line up with my mother’s belief system, besides shaming me and arguing with me all the way, even threatening not to attend my wedding, she said to me once, “What will my family think? You’re creating a scandal.”
So, yes, it’s very true. Beliefs are a hot topic for many of us. And it takes a lot of courage to question and to state ways that you may feel differently about your family’s or your friend’s beliefs. Sometimes, throughout the process of questioning and voicing your ideas, there can be very harsh consequences. You may feel ostracized from your friends or your own family. You may feel very alone. If you’ve ever felt this way, believe me—I totally understand. I’ve been there so, so many times myself. It hurts. And it’s definitely not easy.
Ultimately, though, I continue to think that before many belief systems often came to show more dysfunctional traits (due to what I see as an overall trend of people in leadership who only wanted power for power’s sake,) there seemed to be one common original goal of so many of the belief systems. And I believe that this common goal was to better understand love.
Not love through controlling or judging others because of their different beliefs. Not love through feeling powerless and as though one must worship a central figure who seemingly controls the whole world’s beliefs and who will punish eternally if their ideas fail to influence any particular human being. To me, that’s not love.
Love, to me, means freedom. It means freedom for all of us to find our own paths, in whatever ways speak the greatest to our own hearts. Love does not mean control and world domination of one particular group over another. Whenever these concepts are being acted out, to me, it is not a sign that real love is happening in those acts.
Real love allows for expansion of and tolerance of all beliefs, even those we may judge as “bad.” Because, to me, real love doesn’t actually judge harshly at all. Real love knows that there is a place for everyone in this world, no matter where they happen to be or how they happen to act. Real love may definitely choose to set boundaries if others try to hurt or destroy, especially in the name of a belief system. And, with healthy boundaries in place if needed, real love chooses love, peace, and compassion anyway.
So, for those of us who have chosen to remain in our families’ or our friends’ similar belief systems, we may give some thought to questioning if that particular system really fits with who we now are as an adult with full agency in this world.
For those of us who have faced harsh consequences from questioning, changing, or growing, we can know one thing for sure. We can know that we can always love those in our families or our friends who have possibly misunderstood our journeys and may have chosen to judge us harshly. We can learn, even if we don’t practice a particular religious or spiritual set of beliefs, that we still are able to find compassion for these people and to forgive them for any way we may have felt hurt by them. We can set healthy boundaries. And we can also find the same deep love, compassion, and forgiveness for ourselves.
If we feel constantly judged by others, even if those others are in our own families, we can still choose whether or not we want to be in relationship with these people, and we can choose the terms of these relationships. That can be part of setting healthy boundaries. But we can know that we can always love them, even from a very long distance, if we choose that it feels healthier for us to do it that way.
Because one thing is for sure—the love we have within ourselves is always there. It is always there for us, and we can choose to share it freely with everyone around us. We don’t have to let our instinctual needs for survival or for connection rule our beliefs any longer. We have the choice.
We can choose to find what resonates best with us. And ultimately, we can choose love.
Because whether devoutly religious or peacefully atheist, one thing is for sure that I have observed—we all have a never-ending well of love within our hearts. And we can offer that love to ourselves first of all, and then to all others around us. As much as we may try to separate ourselves, or even feel that we really do need to physically separate ourselves from those who may treat us harshly, when we realize the love we all share, we can know how deeply connected we all are at a very human level. To me, that is what matters in life most of all.
Did you like this reflection? If so, please share it on Facebook or other social media!
Just copy and paste this link!
And feel free to leave a comment about it below. You never know who may be inspired by what you share.
Are you curious to explore more of what you may have come to believe in a deeper way? I’ve written a great book that may be a resource for you to do just that. Check it out here: http://www.francinebrocious.com/all-about-me-book/
No matter what, always remember this: You are deserving, you are worthy, and you are good enough. Keep being you, keep shining, and keep growing!
With great love,