I am sure that it has a lot to do with their age. Around our house, with our freshly minted adolescents, we have been having multiple discussions about “beliefs”. Some of that revolves around politics and particular issues.
But on a long car ride a couple of weeks ago, the discussion even moved into theology: about differing ideas about atonement, why Jesus died, what resurrection means, what this faith in which we are raising them means spiritually but also practically for their lives.
We are Christian and are raising our children in that tradition. Yet, we have a somewhat broader view of the Christian tradition since, between my wife and I, we have read widely through Orthodox and Catholic traditions, in addition to the Protestant traditions in which we were both raised.
So when our teenagers ask questions, we sometimes answer, “Well, there is one view that says . . . and there is another view that says . . . .”
And then my daughter asks, “So what do you believe?”
Maybe that question is to suss out what the “right” answer is, as if she is asking her teacher for the answer that is going to be on the exam.
Or perhaps that question is about her own understanding, her own struggling with what she believes in respect to her peers.
Yet ultimately, I think the question is about relationship; she is trying to locate her relationship with God, with her friends (who may hold very different belief systems), and with her parents (who may even hold different belief systems from each other).
For me, I get frustrated with the very idea of “belief”.
As a culture we seem to have been caught in a trap of having to be ideologically pure, of having faith be a set of ideas that we mentally agree to. To me, that makes “belief” a sort of effort, a work of our own, that we need to check off to make sure that we have it “right”, whatever “right” is at the moment.
This ideological purity also means that we separate ourselves, needlessly. So, if you believe a specific way, then you are in my tribe; if you believe another way, then you are not in my tribe. And if you are not in my tribe, then you are the other: wrong and dangerous, frightening and even evil. That sort of division does not speak to me of faith.
What it does recall is the old story about theologians debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.
A helpful illustration I heard recently talked about the root of the word “creed”, a creed being one of the many sets of beliefs that the Christian church has decided on through the years. And even though the creed usually begins with “I believe . . .”, the root of this word “creed” could be better heard as “I give my heart to . . .”.
My perspective is also informed by my work as a clinician, working with children and families, with individuals and couples. Relationships are not necessarily about people believing the same thing; they are built on loving each other, holding hands, meeting each others needs, the sharing of both good and difficult experiences.
My work in mental health has also taught me that clarity of mind is not a guarantee. And since illness can affect our brains as much as it can affect our pancreas or kidneys, we cannot always judge a person based on what their brain is thinking in that very moment.
Faith is about relationship.
For my daughter, my son, and my wife, … we are a family. No matter what they “believe”, I will love them. I give my heart to them. As communities of faith, when those communities are living into the faith, then there is a willingness to disagree and to love each other anyway. Beliefs should not be more important than relationship. Our belief is in God; our belief is not a god.
And frankly, I do not believe that God cares all that much about what you believe.