How Important are our Beliefs?

It’s interesting to see what Jesus thought about beliefs.  Jesus, in his parable of the Good Samaritan, makes it clear that the righteous one is not the Pharisee or the lawyer, who are learned and who know about the law, correct belief, or so on.  The righteous one is the one who cares for his neighbor, who reaches out to the stranger in need.

Jesus has some of his harshest words for the religious authorities, who may know all about proper doctrine, dogma, and traditions, but who don’t embody the spirit of the law.  Jesus reserves his harshest words for those who may be strong in the knowledge and letter of the law, but who don’t live the essence of the law: Love.

For Jesus, belief wasn’t as important as it was to live in such a way that the Kingdom of God comes to earth.  Proper doctrine wasn’t as essential as it was to live one’s life in compassion, service, humility, peacemaking, and love.  In fact, it is when we get so legalistic about things religious than religion actually becomes a stumbling block for others.  Then, people start to think that the whole of religion is about belief.  Many people today are turned off altogether even from the word “Christian” because it has become associated wholly with belief- particularly belief being used as a spiritual gatekeeper- determining whether you are Christian or not, or whether you can be part of a church community or not.

Jesus’ attitude towards belief was starkly in contrast to such gatekeeping.  When Jesus called his first disciples, he didn’t call them over and ask them to recite verse by verse of the Torah.  He simply said “Follow me” and the first disciples followed.  For Jesus, a willingness to follow in the way of discipleship and risky love was more important than a set of beliefs.

Are beliefs important?  You bet.  The reason?  Our beliefs determine our behavior.  Or, as put in “The New Revelations” book by Neale Donald Walsch, beliefs create behaviors:

“All behaviors are sponsored by beliefs.  You cannot make a long-term change in behaviors without addressing the beliefs that underlie them.”

(The New Revelations, Neale Donald Walsch, p. 16)

Jesus questioned beliefs that became out of whack with love.  Was it a belief about Sabbath that got twisted around from its original intention?  If so, Jesus challenged it.  Jesus wasn’t so much concerned with the letter of the law as he was with the spirit- whether it led towards or away from love.

Today, in the name of Jesus, beliefs are offered and shared that turn many people away from the church.  Why?  Because many, including myself, do not see those beliefs to be resonant with a truly loving God and with the love we see modeled in the life of Jesus.  Some examples:

The belief that God created homosexuality to be a sin, thus leading to the treatment of homosexuals as sub-human, denying their basic human rights, or not welcoming them into the family of faith.

The belief that God created only one right way home, and that way is through Jesus Christ.  Anyone who subscribes to a different belief system or religion is condemned for eternity.  Thus, the primary approach to relationships with people of other faiths or no faith should be through a lens of conversion.

I know there are good and loving Christians who disagree on these very topics.  But, knowing that religious beliefs have been used to hurt, exclude, and judge others, let’s make it a priority to value love over belief.  Knowing that Jesus had strong words for those who clung too tightly to their beliefs and traditions, we would do well not to claim that we hold THE universal truth, or possess all spiritual answers for eternity.  As we affirm that “God is Still Speaking”, we would do well to hold our beliefs lightly, knowing that new revelation and wisdom is constantly springing forth from God’s well of abundant life.

As communities and as individuals, we are constantly evolving and expanding.  In humility, let us commit to be open to learning and growing from points of view different from our own.  Through dialogue, prayer, and discernment within diversity, let’s pray that as individuals, and as communities of faith and conscience, we might grow and mature from our differences, coming to a greater understanding of life, faith, and God.

I pray that we might live into the true intentions Jesus had for us.  May we move ever more deeply into alignment as the people that God created and called us to be, letting go of everything that stands in the way of that.

Review & Commentary

  • Nice reflection. It’s certainly true that too many Christians have hurt and murdered others because these others held different beliefs. One of my favorite medieval theologians, Marguerite Porete, was burned alive at the stake in 1310 because the Inquisition didn’t cotton to her beliefs. Although, one could make the argument that the Inquisition hated her “experience” of God and the revolutionary implications of that “experience.”
    Porete’s beliefs weren’t as solid as the Inquisition assumed. Sure, she wrote that “Love has freed the Unencumbered Soul from the Law of the Virtues.” She “believed” this, and this belief seemed to oppose the Roman Catholic (and Jesus’) teachings about the virtues–that one ought to practice them. But if the Inquisitors had inquired further they would have discovered that Porete wasn’t disagreeing with their beliefs at all. Rather, her statement in this case was a new kind of belief, one that transcends our merely cognitive schematic filters. Her belief reflected her experience that when one detaches from everything that is not God’s Love, there are no “shoulds” anymore. When one becomes Love, one always acts out of that love. Reflecting on how this works may sound like another belief, but it is only trying to find musical notes to express the symphony that one is becoming. Blessings, Robert A. Jonas (

  • Thanks for this article, Matt. I am a recovering evangelical and current Unitarian. Continuing revelation has been an important “belief” of mine for a long time. I believe that this includes the possibility that everything that Jesus said in his lifetime is not necessarily true in 2014. He spoke what he believed to be true, but his values of compassion, reaching the marginalized, etc are what is really transformational and timeless. I agree that beliefs “can” have an impact on how we behave, but we can also claim to hold the “right” beliefs and say the creeds and still be real a-holes! Thanks again.

  • Libby Macdonnell

    Yes, yes yes.

  • Carol Williams

    It is important for folks to know what they believe and just as important for folks to realize that agreement of beliefs among people is UNimportant and differing beliefs are VERY IMPORTANT. In fact, differing beliefs are good fertilizer for growth for all involved.

  • Devin Jones

    I, as a Unitarian Universalist and an eclectic Progressive Christian, passionately agree with what’s being said here. It makes me utterly SICK that good-natured, kind and genuinely loving people of all religions – let alone Christians – have to be associated with the horrible things that have been and are continuing to be done by others who would rather argue theology and fight to exclude those who profess different beliefs than be lovers of God and others. My advice: know what you believe, why you believe it, and most importantly, LIVE IT!! Let it speak through your actions and the way you live!

  • Bernard Brown

    Most of the problem comes from John’s so-called gospel, where we find a lot about belief, precious little about attitude or action and a very different Jesus from the one quoted in this article. Scrap John and you get rid of a lot of belief problems, including the dreaded Trinity, which even fairly enlightened Methodist ministers still peddle today in its most nonsensical “Athanasian” form. The Jesus I find in the (real) gospels would be horrified!