The topic of personal beliefs can get pretty touchy. Let’s start by stipulating that we all think we’re correct to some extent. We all know that there are limits to our knowledge, but none of us intentionally holds beliefs that we know to be incorrect. Nevertheless, our deeply-held beliefs frequently lack an evidentiary basis. Meaning they are simply theory—a postulation that sounds good but lacks evidentiary support. Anecdotal evidence doesn’t count unless it is independently verifiable, and even then, it can be pretty shaky. Neither does someone else’s opinion. “So and so believes it and they went to seminary” is not valid support for an argument.
In general, much of our worldview is based on a framework of other people’s opinions. We absorb cultural narratives into our worldview, and because “everyone knows that that’s just the way things are,” we accept those narratives as fact. Take any prevailing religious or political position, and you’ll see that most people who hold those positions do so based on peer pressure. This is often referred to as herd mentality or group think. Unfortunately, Christians seem to operate like this about as much as any other group. (Note for the record: cultural narratives should not be recklessly discarded, but they should be evaluated critically.)
I know many Christians who hold beliefs that they are certain are The Truth, but they cannot substantiate them. Any defense of their belief starts with “the Bible says….” Then they can’t substantiate the bible’s authority. They simply choose to believe their interpretation of the biblical narrative. Yet these same Christians are often the most adamant that everyone else must agree with them. Usually, their sense of urgency is founded on their belief that one’s theological understanding is what “saves” him and that one’s moral code is what keeps him in good standing with God.
When the authority of The Bible is questioned, they start by condemning the questioner for questioning the Word of God. Were you to point out that asking for the reason why the bible is the ultimate authority is actually an honest approach to the issue, they would most likely eventually admit that they just take it on faith. When someone says they are taking a belief on faith, realize that their “faith” has to come from somewhere. If it doesn’t come from evidence, it is coming from a feeling, from some other human “authority” figure, or from peer pressure.
Having been raised in a very conservative Christian tradition, I encounter many of these types. When they find out that I disagree with them on some point of doctrine, their responses range from “you’ve been deceived” to “you believe a bunch of lies” to “you’re letting your ego get in the way of the truth.”
I’ve had family members question whether or not I’m actually “saved.” I’ve had friends walk me down the Romans Road—just to make sure I understand God’s plan of salvation. I’ve had people tell me that I deny the Bible and that I’ve called Jesus a liar. All because my understanding of the bible isn’t exactly the same as theirs.
I will freely admit that I don’t have all the answers. I may be a skeptic, but I’m willing to be convinced. I just need to see evidence before I’ll accept something as true. I refuse to assent to an assertion as being true just because someone else believes it. I don’t care if someone thinks that that particular assertion is a requirement to get into heaven. If I don’t understand it as true, then I refuse to affirm it as the truth. Telling me to state that I believe it and just take it on faith is disingenuous. That’s asking me to be a liar.
Why is this all important? It’s important because followers of Christ spend an inordinate amount of time arguing over religious doctrine, splitting hairs over personal interpretations of texts that are thousands of years old, and segregating themselves into intellectually homogeneous cliques so they can surround themselves with peers that will reaffirm that their beliefs are, in fact, the correct ones.
Again, how each individual believes is his or her choice, but it’s disingenuous for me to tell you that you should hold certain religious beliefs if I don’t have an evidentiary basis for those beliefs. In other words, it’s ok to hold an opinion that you might not be able to articulately defend, but it’s wrong to coerce others to adopt said opinion.