No, this article isn’t about abortion, or anything have to do with the debate between “Pro Choice” or “Pro Life”. This article is about an entirely different choice that may well impact everything you do in your life – as well as how you perceive life itself. The choice is how you ask and answer one simple question:
Before I get into that question, let me share two personal experiences with you:
When I was in the 6th grade, I attended a private school that was of a different faith than my family’s. Every Wednesday morning there was a school wide assembly and during part of it any student who wasn’t of the same faith as that running the school was identified. It was done very carefully but ultimately the message was the same – You don’t believe as we believe and therefore you’re going to hell. Even at the grand old age of eleven I wondered how anyone could be so arrogant as to assume that their understanding of God’s will was the only correct understanding of God and his will.
A while back I was at a funeral and found myself in casual conversation with the minister overseeing the service. He asked me what faith I was, and I told him. The look on his face said, “What a shame.” When I asked why he suddenly looked like something was wrong he told me that he felt sorry for me and that he’d pray for me to find my way to God’s enlightenment. When I inquired when I would know that had happened, he assured me it would be when I joined his faith. Hmmm…
So, “Do you believe in God?” A simple question, one would think, right? The answer is either “yes” or “No” if you take the question at only its face value. However, few questions are simple and fewer still have only yes or no answers.
There are many names for God. Amongst the more popular and well-known religions you may find the names God, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, and others. All are different names for the same deity. In some circles, to avoid friction caused by disagreement over something as simple as a name, a generic term is used that is respectful and acceptable without being religiously specific. By referring to the supreme being as the Grand Architect of the Universe, people of different faiths can discuss their differing beliefs without insulting each other’s sensibilities regarding the name of God.
The differing beliefs, detailed by the rules and protocols of each religion, are often the tools of worship. Billions of people around the world worship their deity in compliance with dictated protocols. Unfortunately, quite often, people who worship differently or not in strict compliance with the delineated “rules” are considered non-believers.
I submit to you that a person can believe in a deity – their God – and do so in such a way as to seem like a “non-believer”. Such would make answering my opening question difficult. You see, if the person asking the question is of a particular belief structure, then it’s given that a “yes” answer can only be given by someone who believes the same way. The implied, but unspoken, part of the question is often, “…as I believe in God?” Then the only time a “yes” answer is correct is when both the asker and the answerer are of the same faith.
Because of this restrictive thought process, the question may be asked and only have “no” as the correct or honest answer. It is imperative for us to understand, however, that such is the case only when the person asking refuses to acknowledge that other belief structures – other religions – may be as valid and valuable as their own.
The challenge we humans face is that in recognizing the possibility that other faith structures may be valid we must also accept that our own faith structure may be imperfect or incorrect. We cannot believe that only our faith structure is correct and at the same time open our hearts and minds to the possible correctness of others. The people I mentioned earlier who were convinced I am going to hell held such conviction because if they stopped to even consider that my faith might be right, then in that same moment they would have to face their own doubts about their own – if any.
This single challenge isn’t faced by all humans. Some people don’t believe in any deity at all. An atheist denies the existence of or simply doesn’t believe in a supreme being or deity. Agnostics, although often thought to be the same as atheists, are different. Agnostics maintain that if there is a supreme being, we mere humans are incapable of understanding his existence or will.
Typically, neither atheists nor agnostics present a threat to those of faith. After all, to them a believer is merely silly. A look at history clearly and easily shows that many of man’s conflicts are motivated by a difference in belief structures; by those of one belief structure trying to impose their rules and protocols over or in place of another.
To promote peace then, amongst all mankind, our goal should not be to spread a truth or any single religion / belief structure. Our goal should be to promote the tolerance and acceptance of varying belief structures. Our goal should be to accept our own fallibility thereby recognizing, without pain or penalty, that others may be just as right – or wrong – as we are.
The benefit we stand to gain isn’t anything major – just world peace. Can you imagine? A world where no one lost their life over a disagreement of faith; a world where you were truly free to believe as you chose; a world without wars or acts of terrorism committed in the name of a disagreed upon deity.
Now some might argue that a simpler solution would be to prohibit religion. First and foremost, we’ll never wipe out human faith. It is far too intricate a part of our everyday lives. Second, prohibiting structured belief is akin to policing thought. Finally, a belief structure; a faith of some kind is required for morals to exist. The belief in right or wrong and the difference between the two requires a belief in something beyond human law. Such implies a deity.
So, after all that, I now ask you: Do you believe in God? I do – but it may not be the same god you believe in. If it is, we may not believe the same way. I believe that you have an inalienable right to choose what god you believe in, and I further respect your right to worship him as you see fit. The only condition I place on my respect for your right to choose both is that your right to choose stops short of causing harm to another or impeding another’s right to the same choices.
Only you can choose how you answer the question if it’s asked of you. Only you can choose what answer is acceptable if you ask it of another. I pray you make the right choice… because I choose to.