All of us have a lot of beliefs about a lot of different things. In this article I am writing particularly about the most basic beliefs which we hold. These might be called our presuppositions, those basic beliefs we hold before we start thinking.
Those basic beliefs are rooted in our worldview or faith commitment. But why do we believe what we believe? Where does our faith come from?
Faith/beliefs are the result of what we have learned—from other people or from our own experiences. Our basic beliefs (faith) begin to be formed first at home and then in the primary community of our formative years.
Our early community nexus creates what sociologist Peter Berger calls our “plausibility structure.” That is the framework by which, or the lens through which, we understand the world around us.
Our plausibility structure determines what seems to us to be “common sense.” It is the basis for how we interpret all we see and hear.
Like for many of you readers, my plausibility structure was shaped by regular church attendance. From the time I was about seven years old I attended church activities nearly every Sunday morning as well as on Sunday and Wednesday evenings In addition, during most of those formative years, I read some from the Bible almost every day.
My theological understanding (and please note that theology is basically “faith seeking understanding”) has changed quite a bit through the years. But my basic faith has not changed.
It is important to distinguish between faith, which is closely related to one’s basic presuppositions or worldview, and beliefs. It is possible, and usual, for beliefs to change more than faith.
There are many who have a faith journey similar to mine. But for many of us perhaps, our faith is not as strong as it used to be. That is because our plausibility structure has been gradually re-shaped by things other than a community of faith and the Bible.
For many people today, it may not be erroneous to say that their plausibility structure is now shaped far more by the media—CNN, Comedy Central (Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart), or, Heaven forbid, Fox News—than by the Bible or a faith community.
And, unfortunately, for many who are active church members, that “faith community” may be more like a religious club, or a service club, than a real community of faith.
In reflecting on my own experience, now nearly ten years after leaving my full-time work as an educational missionary and as a pastor, I sense that my faith has weakened somewhat.
I don’t spend as much time studying the Bible, preparing sermons, reading theology books. On the other hand, I spend more time reading and thinking about politics and social issues.
True, I attempt to read and think about politics and social issues from a faith-based or theological viewpoint. I claim, I think validly, that my political views are shaped by my worldview (faith) rather than my worldview being shaped by politics.
Many others, with all the emphasis in contemporary society on entertainment, seem to have fallen into a worldview, or lifestyle, that is predominantly hedonistic.
We believe what we believe because of what we think about the most and/or consider the most important. If our lives are centered on the Bible, worship, devotional and theological books, and on Christian fellowship, our religious faith will be and likely remain strong.
But if politics or entertainment becomes our main focus, our faith will weaken and gradually become inconsequential.
May it not be so.