It's hard to know what to believe. But could our beliefs impact us more than we realize?
Give us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for—because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything.Peter Marshall, US Senate Chaplain 1947
If we’re being honest, sometimes we just don’t know what we believe. Or we think we know, but then our beliefs are challenged and we’re not sure what’s true anymore.
There’s an expression that says, “The older I get, the less I know.” People seem to believe in things or relationships until those things disappoint them or let them down. As life goes on, what we once believed seems less reliable because it didn’t prove true a time or two (or twenty)—so we shift our beliefs to accommodate these changes of heart.
What seems to matter more than our beliefs is what we do and how we act. It becomes a question of priorities and actions, not beliefs.
Often we don’t even stop to think about what we believe. We just “do.” We exist. We get up and do our jobs. We interact with our families and friends. We plan for our future.
So does it really matter what we believe?
There are two contrasting perspectives that we must first be aware of. The first is absolute truth and the second is relativism.
At its most simplistic level, absolute truth holds that there are some universal truths that are valid at all times and in all places, even if we don’t believe them. Relativism says that many forms of truth are relative and not absolute; these truths shift over time and culture.
What you believe is affected by the perspective from which you view truth. For instance, if there is no such thing as absolute truth, then no particular belief can be more important or moral than any other. However, if you think absolute truth exists, then what you believe about a supreme being is likely going to be impacted.
Many scientists refute the idea of relativism. They point out that the universe itself operates under basic principles—“laws of nature.” Gravity is an example of one such law.
Other critics of relativism have pointed out that the assertion “all truths are relative” contradicts itself. A definitive statement about relativism is, in itself, an absolute.
Truth and Belief
Most religions speak about absolute truths. For instance, Muslims teach predestination, believing that Allah decreed everything that will happen. Hindus believe that dharma, a power behind all of nature, holds all things in harmony. Christians believe that the resurrection of Jesus provides the way for reconciliation with God and the hope of eternal life.
These “truths” are a part of what the members of each of these faiths believe, even though none of them can be proven.
However, truth is not the same as belief. Sometimes we make judgments about others based on how they fit our expectations and beliefs regarding what is true, right, and agreeable—whether mentally, physically, or spiritually.
History is filled with examples of beliefs that have had nothing to do with truth. For instance, Hitler massacred six million Jews during the Holocaust, because he sincerely believed they were detestable and that eradicating the Jewish race was the right thing to do. Yet that belief was not true.
But, you see, beliefs impact behaviors.
The Impact of Beliefs
Somewhere along the way, our beliefs inevitably influence our actions, even when we don’t realize it. What we believe shows up in our interests and our activities. We generally spend time on things that affirm our beliefs and with people who agree with us. And whether we admit it or not, we tend to agree with others who have beliefs similar to our own.
If we believe that the earth is flat, as did ancient mariners, we will avoid sailing too far from home. If we believe that life exists on other planets, we may spend time studying the stars and the universe. Likewise, if we believe that a supreme being could exist, we may want to explore what that being might be like and what that would mean in our lives.
Christians teach that there is a God who created everything. They teach that he is perfectly loving and fair and that he will judge the world, holding everyone accountable for their actions in light of his truth. The Bible says that “anyone who comes to [God] must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”1 In this particular view, our beliefs matter because they affect our relationship and standing with God.
Belief and Decisions
Whether we choose to accept, reject, or passively ignore something can have a profound impact on both our lives and the lives of others, whether or not we intend it to.
Our beliefs guide us in making decisions. Whatever we believe, it shows up in our choices every day. In this way, what we believe matters immeasurably.
Some of our daily decisions have the power to change lives at any moment. Identifying what we believe—and choosing what we will do with our beliefs—matters.