People believe what they want to. And rare indeed is the person who changes his beliefs, once he’s settled on what’s his own. That’s pretty much why most folks don’t spend much time examining or discussing their beliefs. Everything’s already settled in their mind. No reason to stir the pot.
There’s a reason for this. For the most part, belief comes in two stages. The first stage is childhood. We are taught what to believe — either directly or by example — by our parents, family, friends, neighbors, community — all the people with whom we identify. Because we identify with these people, this first stage of belief is closely associated with our sense of identity. We believe the things that tell us who we are.
The second stage of belief is adulthood, particularly early adulthood, when we begin to test our childhood beliefs. The transition into adulthood involves rebelling against parental and other authorities in order to strike out on our own and shore up our own sense of individual autonomy, which we will take with us into the world for the rest of our lives. This latter stage of belief is tied to our sense of personhood.
Our beliefs give us our world views, tightly knit together with a sense of who we are and how we should live our lives.
Generally, this two-stage process produces adults who possess beliefs which stabilize and strengthen the solidarity of their particular cultural or social group. Because our belief systems serve to hold our society together, when there is a diversity of cultural “communities” within a single society, the cohesiveness of the greater society is threatened. Each sub-group tends to hold onto its own beliefs, while drawing lines to differentiate themselves from the rest.
When this problem is expressed politically, it is called Balkanization, after the Balkan region, which has been fragmented into smaller, quarrelsome regions because of unresolved differences in belief systems about history, politics, religion and ethnicity.
The key issue here is that problems will continue to create national disunity as long as the differences between our beliefs remain unresolved. If the United States are to survive as one, united republic, then the many must become one. That’s what “E Pluribus Unum” means: Out of many, one. That’s what was meant by calling America a “melting pot”. People from all over the world with different cultures, politics, religions, languages and ethnicities all melted together into “Americans”. The ideal of “melting” involves a decision to change one’s sense of identity and personhood, which requires the changing of one’s beliefs.
That kind of positive self-examination and willingness to engage with a vision that is greater than one’s culture of origin is what produced “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.
But that description isn’t as popular as it once was. “Political correctness” — the approved agenda of the thought police — ordains that we embrace “diversity” as an expression of “equality”. While this assertion may reflect a theoretical truth, in essence it displaces the idea that equality applies to the individual. The “new think” (approved or politically correct thinking) replaces individual equality with group equality.
Perhaps that’s putting too fine a point on it, but the end result is that the more group equality is emphasized, the more our nation becomes divided into groups. When we thought of the nation as a conglomerate of individuals, we thought of it as indivisible. But when we think of our nation as a compendium of distinctive groups, then we are no longer united, but become divisible by those very groups that make us up. The more that special recognition and special guarantees are given to the so-called “equal rights” of certain groups, the less liberty and justice there will be for all.
For instance, the premise of equality in the case of same-sex marriage is bogus, because in order to enshrine the belief that two individuals of the same gender should be free to marry, the belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman must be demolished. The two beliefs are mutually destructive. Similarly, in order to remove the religious underpinnings from government or law, skepticism of the existence of God must replace belief in God. Again, these two positions are mutually destructive.
Because each belief carries with it the presumption (of its believers) that it has the best interests of everyone at heart, the most dynamic area of conflict between beliefs is in convincing enough people to support one belief over another, thereby creating a consensus, in order to resolve the conflict. In other words, opposing world views cannot peacefully co-exist. Eventually, one must dominate the other. One world view wins and another loses.
Every conflict in society, whether it is cultural, moral, political or religious, represents the unresolved opposition of beliefs. Survival as a homogenous whole is the byproduct of winning beliefs. If we want our beliefs to win, we must learn to honestly examine them and openly discuss them. Our founders knew the importance an open society plays in preserving freedom. That’s why they crafted the Bill of Rights. The way men remain free is by preserving an environment which fosters the free flow of ideas, so that everyone has the opportunity to examine and defend his beliefs.
But at this present point in our history, groups with opposing beliefs are more prone to insult each other than actually have a reasoned discussion. Rather than hearing an opponent and responding reasonably to the points of his argument, more often than not, opposing sides will resort to the use of deprecating labels, ad hominem rants and out-and-out lies. Most don’t bother to check their “facts”.
Yet, those who are willing to let their beliefs be challenged are more able to defend them. Open, respectful debate and examination strengthens and develops a person’s beliefs. And if he is proven to be in error at some point, he is better for it. The notion that it is somehow more civilized or more dignified to avoid discussing our deepest beliefs is dangerous. It drives us all further and further apart, into little Balkanized “communities”, until the only option left to reunite is by the brutal use of force.
When that happens, whichever group wields the most force will win, regardless of the relative merits of their beliefs. And those who lose will no longer be free to believe as they choose. In a free country, people are free to believe whatever they want. But unless most of us are willing to honor our beliefs by publicly discussing them, only politically correct beliefs will be expressed by any of us.
If you value your beliefs, then have the courage of your convictions to discuss them with others. And as far as freedom of speech is concerned, use it or lose it.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. — 1 Peter 3:15