Dept. of Alternative Facts: Empathy, part 4, Belief

belief: (n) a strongly held set of conclusions about some phenomenon which can neither be proven nor refuted based on information; assumptions which provide meaning and purpose to someone

Beliefs, faith and values, are our course of meaning, purpose, and moral codes of right and wrong actions. Unlike facts and data, which should be verifiable by experimentation and experiences, beliefs are based on assumptions. If we start with a seed, which germinates into a plant, which produces food, we will draw different conclusions if we have an assumption that God created the universe, and therefore earth, to provide for us (e.g. food), versus if we have an assumption that life evolved through a series of spontaneous events based on physics and biology, such that living species developed together to become each other’s food sources (e.g. plants for us, our decaying bodies for bacteria). Ultimately, beliefs cannot be verified, but accepted. This is the realm of faith.

Faith was very much part of my childhood, but mostly in the way of “trust me, I’m right” and “Faith of our Fathers” (i.e. the Founding Fathers knew what they were doing). I was supposed to accept faith without question. Doubt was to be left up to Thomas, who was cast as just about as bad as Judas.

Faith should be the pearl of the evangelical Christian’s oyster. The beautiful result of beliefs. But, 400 years of protesting what they considered corrupted faith of the Catholic leaders, from Popes having armies to pedophile-priests, and the assault on Christian beliefs from the Enlightenment philosophers (have you ever looked at Jefferson’s Bible to see how much he cut out as questionable by his determination), has left the evangelical Christians skittish about faith.

They either proclaim it as a chip on their shoulder which they dare you nock off to bait you into an argument which they plan to win. Or, they sheepishly apologize for imposing their belief systems, while simultaneously promoting legislation of Christian values (before Muslims impose Sharia Law)

This brings up the concept of moral codes: what is right an wrong. Simply stated a right action is one which in consistent with one’s beliefs. A wrong action is one which is not consistent with one’s beliefs.

Here is the dilemma for the evangelical Christian, specifically Christian Nationalists. They hold contradictory beliefs. They believe in the right to life, which I have no issue with personally; and, they believe in personal liberty, free will in theological terms. The first belief supports their opposition to abortion, yet they also believe that killing people is justified such as in the executions of people, or shooting threatening people (like teenagers who happen to be black, wearing a hoodie, toting a bag of Skittles) to stand their ground. The second belief supports their call to freedom of worship for them, while they try to restrict other faiths from doing the same (banning Muslims from coming here, deporting Catholics back to Central American countries…).

I suspect that some of this dilemma traces back to the early church. Followers of Jesus, The Way, were persecuted and rejected by their heritage of Jewish tradition. From the stoning of Stephen, Saul’s rounding up of followers of The Way, to the Jewish rejection of Paul’s teaching at synagogues throughout the Roman empire, the early church was rejected for their faith in Jesus’ resurrection and New Covenant.

Moreover, the early church leaders were suspect by the Roman authorities. They did not like social unrest within their territories. They tossed Jesus to the crowds to let them throw him under the chariot. They arrested Paul and would have done the same, expect that he was a Roman citizen and claimed rights of due process through the Roman courts. But, eventually corrupt emperors killed/martyred many of the early church leaders.

This fear of rejection from other Christians and the state fuel the fear which I earlier wrote about.

How do we empathize with someone who holds different beliefs from us, even within the large range of beliefs of Christians. As I stated earlier, we are not going to be able to determine that our position or their position are ultimately true. What we can do is allow each other to present our positions. We must accept that our faith is base on assumptions, and we can profess what those assumptions are. We can look for how those assumptions guide us to various conclusions. Rather than beating each other with Bibles or petri-dishes, we can listen and understand.

Through this process we may begin to revise our beliefs. We may have some good points. They might have some good points. We may find common ideas and ideals. We may see that our differing moral codes are based on different assumptions. We may accept that we cannot agree on certain points.

If we empathize with each other’s beliefs, maybe God’s love, through our love for each other, might smooth off some of the rough edges of each of us. Those rough edges are usually what annoy us about each other. (full disclosure, the above statements are based on the assumptions that God exists, love is a requirement for empathy and forgiveness, and we may all be wrong anyway).

About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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5 Responses to Dept. of Alternative Facts: Empathy, part 4, Belief

  1. Brother Dave says:

    Thanks for the detailed exploration of forgiveness through the lens of empathy, knowledge, and beliefs. I suspect it will be helpful in committed, casual, and even difficult relationships. For toxic relationships, Forgiveness 3.0 (bearing burdens) might be all that’s possible. Even Jesus remained silent in the midst of the accusations of the high priests before Pilate (according to The Bible).

  2. Since the 1970s, I have watched the rise of the religious right, and even in early days I could tell that they were going to be a force to be reckoned with. My father, a Catholic, dismissed them as a flash in the pan. I suppose in terms of history they might be, but in our little lives, fifty years is not a flash in the pan. I wish I could share your optimism, but I really do fear for the future of this country. However as the historian Heather Cox Richardson has noted, the future is not set, so perhaps pessimism is not the appropriate response. After all, who could have predicted Georgia would elect two Democratic senators and thus turn the tide in the Senate?

    • hermitsdoor says:

      I’m not optimistic on the world-history scale. The thinking that we see today has been going on for… thousands of years. On the other hand, for people whom we directly can interact with, I have optimism. Together we can potential influence each other. The questions is can we make those connections without world-history getting in the way.

      • That is the question. However, I am a little more optimistic than you are. Societies—people—can change. Think about cigarette smoking. We’ve come a long way. The question is, can we go far enough fast enough? The jury is out, that’s for sure.

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