The Evolution of Belief

Evolution is an integral part of the human experience. Without evolution, there is no progress. Without progress, there is no change and without change, there is no growth. These principles ring true in a multitude of ways in our lives. Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually we are always moving in one direction or another. Progress or regress. There really is no middle ground.

In my last post, I briefly discussed my personal evolution of belief. While I can only share my own experiences, I do think that those experiences have value for others. They have been essential to my growth. I firmly believe that continued evolution is necessary for long-term success. I want to focus specifically on the religious aspect of this principle for the sake of this conversation. It’s very easy to highlight the issues you might have with a particular system or people group but it’s another thing altogether to propose a solution.

Before I propose a solution I think it necessary to address a large issue at the forefront of our society. In our current climate, religious extremism has become a hot button issue. Often people of faith, specifically the Christian and Muslim faiths, are as a whole judged on the actions of the few. Especially those holding the most literal or fundamentalist beliefs of each tradition. While there are moderates in each group we rarely hear of them because well, let’s be honest here, bad news sells. Fear sells. Division sells. Hate sells.

If we take a look at these extremes we will find little open-mindedness with any group. Whether it’s radical Muslims or fundamentalist Christians, you will be hard pressed to convince people of the ideologies that they’re misguided or acting outside of reason. Why do we see this? I would argue that these groups haven’t evolved but in fact have devolved. In the process, they have adopted a confirmation bias. A bias that takes even reasonable and logical arguments against their positions and uses them to reinforce their beliefs. While it may sound extreme I’ve seen this play out in a lot more people than you’d think.

My aim here is not to critique. I don’t believe that I’m saying anything that we haven’t all witnessed in some way, shape, or form. I’m simply illustrating the importance of evolution. Evolution is by definition “the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a complex form”. In others words, evolution is about developing something deep and complex, not something shallow and rigid.

We will never see progress if we continue to hold on to ideas that promote unity only by conformity. We will never see change if we continue to build walls rather than tearing them down. We will never have peace if we don’t evolve as a whole into a deeper more nuanced, more complex social organism.

I’m sure by now you’re wondering what type of solution I propose, you may even be mad at me for the broad strokes I’ve painted with, or for highlighting your group. That’s okay. If this is the case, I think my suggestions could do you some good.

I have spent a considerable amount of time, by my own standards, in religious settings, yet some of my deepest spiritual experiences occurred outside of that environment. They have occurred in places like a yoga studio, a meditation group, and a Native American Sweatlodge. They occurred in communion with nature or laying in a field staring at the stars. The most profound, impactful, moments in my life happened nowhere near a religious atmosphere. Further, they only happened because I was open-minded enough to participate in them.

Here is what I’d like to suggest; challenge yourself to a spiritual journey. A journey that seeks to understand a belief system apart from your own but does so objectively. A journey without reservation, without judgment, but with an eager heart ready to receive new insight and experience new depths of understanding. Whether it’s reading critiques of religion or giving up God altogether for a season at Atheism for Lent or visiting a Buddhist Temple to meditate. Maybe it’s something simpler like inviting a Muslim coworker to lunch and asking them about their perception of God. Maybe it’s visiting a church of a different denomination. The possibilities are endless but it starts with a choice.

We must be willing to explore ideas outside of those which we hold onto so tightly! Take a second to ask yourself a legitimate question; how deep can one’s “faith” be if one is never willing to critique it? How can one grow if the only ideas one entertains are ideas that serve only to reinforce that which they already believe? The answer seems obvious, they can’t!

The choice is simple, progress or regress? Staying in the same place is as good as moving backward. Do we evolve, do we learn and grow? Do we fight for understanding and unity in the midst of ignorance and division? Or do we accept the status quo, let fear rule the day, and let hatred have the loudest voice?

I don’t know about you, but I choose to fight, I choose to seek, I choose to evolve!