A belief is a state of mind or a conclusion about reality. We spend quite a bit of time shaping our beliefs, both consciously and subconsciously.
Beliefs can have consequences, good or bad, and this makes beliefs important. We naturally seek to make our beliefs correspond with reality, and no one purposefully wants false beliefs. Thus, we can quickly become defensive about our beliefs, as though they are possessions in danger of theft.
When I say, “People are more important than beliefs,” I’m not minimizing beliefs or rendering them unimportant. I am saying that we should rethink the way we are sorting each other; the way we are filtering the worth of a person based on the sum of their ideas and how closely they match ours.
When beliefs become more important than people, you wall others out and subsequently wall yourself in.
We are social creatures and religious institutions happen to control a lot of our opportunity for social connection. A few years ago I found myself without the necessary beliefs to fit into most of these institutions. According to a Pew Research study, I was now a member of the fastest-growing “religious” demographic in America: the “nones.”
The religiously unaffiliated are a pretty big group of people, but because we don’t hold certain dogmatic beliefs we are without the benefits of being a part of a community. Religious communities connect young parents, engage seniors, enrich teens, and much more.
They work great if you already believe all the things you have to believe to be a member of that community, but what if you don’t? What if you don’t think Jesus is the son of a God, or if Muhammad is a prophet, or that Joseph Smith was visited by Moroni? Then where do you go for community? Where do you find that human connection that we all seek and need?
This is why our first value at Kansas City Oasis is: People are more important than beliefs. It shouldn’t matter if we vote the same, worship the same, or like to eat at the same barbecue restaurant. What should matter is that we are people, that we are human.
So you may or may not be into religion. That’s fine. My opinion of you isn’t contingent on that. You might even be a Denver Broncos fan. Nobody’s perfect. My acceptance of you into my life and community won’t be based on a litmus test of your beliefs.
We shouldn’t be pressured into adopting similar ideas and beliefs before we’ll impart/receive connection. Connection and community are not bait for which beliefs are bartered; they are their own ends. When beliefs usurp people, the people lose. Therefore, people are more important than beliefs.
Helen Stringer is one of The Star’s Faith Walk writers. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.