Divinity, or why what we value is so difficult to change
November 23rd 2022 on Dušan's blog
Religion is one of those concepts that has always fascinated me. The more I try to learn about it the more I realize how a simple descriptive approach is just not enough to truly understand it. Yes, you can read about it and there is a great deal to be learned that way, but unless you feel it you can never fully comprehend it. Because that's what this is all about, feelings.
The nature of the Divine
I am of the opinion that everyone has their own personal relationship with the divine, yes, even atheists such as myself. It's only a matter of perspective to what exactly constitutes the nature of that Divinity. For followers of abrahamic religions it's God. For pantheists it's the universe itself. Yet, let me re-frame the question another way. Is the God two Christians worship the same God? I'd say no, not even close. Their perception of God is inevitably colored by their most fervently held beliefs, the ones that form the core of their personality. Their God reflects the personification of those beliefs. If they value, say, courage, honesty and justice then their God is sure to be courageous, honest and just and is sure to embody those beliefs in their ideal case. That's to say that God is never afraid, never deceptive and never unjust. And now, here's the kicker. No matter how you understand the divine, be that in the literal or the figurative sense, the divine is not only shaped by these beliefs, the divine is these beliefs. This is what I mean when I say that even atheists have a personal relationship with the divine. We too have a system of values and beliefs that shape and guide our personality.
The Divine and your system of values
Now that I made the bold claim that what you value is how you interpret God, I can make yet another one and say that the reason it's so difficult to change someone's core values is that they're not held based on rational arguments, but are deeply emotionally entrenched into the very fabric of one's existence. This is also the reason "debates" based on "rational" argumentation are seldom effective and why approaching the topic from an emotional angle yields far better results. People don't listen to you when, from their perspective, what you're doing is deconstructing their system of values, figuratively (and for some very literally) killing their God. This is an endless point of contention. It took me a long time to realize this and even longer to admit that my mind works in much the same way.
Applying the principle in practice
Once I realized this, the pieces suddenly fell into place. Instead of making cold, calculated arguments I decided to treat discussions as if I was deconstructing someone's religious beliefs. I stopped being judgemental and actually started listening to what people had to say. This is the first step to building bridges instead of burning them. Listening conveys interest into someone else's point of view, making it more likely that they'll listen to you in return. The second step is offering your own perspective on a topic, even if it invites disagreement further down the line. The key here is to be open to dissenting opinions and reserve value judgement for later. At this point you can decide if continuing the conversation is worth it and if it is, work out your differences in an understanding and empathetic manner. It's important to note that you can never be 100% successful, but that's okay. What matters is that you treat everyone with the same dignity and respect you'd expect of them.
Religion and philosophy continue to fascinate me. Stemming from our collective desire to understand and influence the world around us it shines as much a light into our own nature as human beings as it does to our understanding of things bigger than us all. I think my life is much improved after adopting this new perspective. No, you can never reach out to everyone, but instead of giving up on people based on knee-jerk reactions, maybe try actually listening to them instead.