Estimated read time: 8-9 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim addresses how differences in beliefs can create fear and judgment and how to move past that into love.
I read your article about different ways people do religion and in my family, the problem is a little different. I have some children who are very religious and some who have left our church and are choosing not to be religious at all. There is tension and awkwardness at family gatherings when anything spiritual or religious is mentioned. Everyone gets uncomfortable, and then I have children in both camps who feel judged by the others. Our religious children see their siblings as wrong and gone astray. The nonreligious ones think the religious ones are wrong and even stupid for not questioning what they've been told. Knowing they both think this way, it's hard to foster mutual love and respect. Do you have any advice for how can we be comfortable together when we all have such different, yet strongly held beliefs?
When your religious beliefs are different from the people you love, it can trigger some fear in both of you. The discomfort you feel is that fear showing up; in fact, all differences create fear.
Whenever there is a difference between two people — be it race, religion, culture or color, or preferences of any kind — you both tend to believe that someone is right or better and the other wrong or worse. You do this because you are subconsciously programmed to compare everything.
If someone gives you two apples, you will immediately notice which is better, bigger or brighter. If you see two people, you will likely see one as better and one as less, even without meaning to.
"It is impossible to meet someone and make zero internal judgments about them," says Marwa Azab, an adjunct professor of psychology and human development at California State University, Long Beach in an article for Psychology Today.
None of us want to be this judgmental, but unconscious biases make us compare and judge. Our brains are just wired for judgment.
When you are around another human, you are immediately going to feel either feel comfortable with them because you see them as a peer, intimidated by them because they seem better than you, or superior because you see them as less than you. The more different they are from you, the more likely it is that you will see them as less. This is a harmful human tendency we all must constantly watch for; it is the core of racism.
Differences in religious beliefs can be weighty differences, too, because people often see them as having grave, eternal consequences. This means these differences create a great deal of fear.
Here are some common fears that arise with religious differences:
- Fear that I won't be with the people I love in heaven.
- Fear that I may lose other people I love, too.
- Fear that I might get tempted to follow them if I am not very careful.
- Fear that people will think I am not intelligent.
- Fear of judgment.
- Fear of disapproval.
- Fear that people will see me as wrong, bad or deceived.
- Fear that people will think I am evil or have evil desires.
- Fear that we won't have major things in common anymore and this will divide us.
These fears make us feel unsafe and can drive a wedge into relationships, but they don't have to.
Here are some thoughts you can choose to have to make these relationships better:
What you (or they) believe is not a fact
Belief in God and in any particular religion is based on faith, which Merriam-Webster defines as "a firm belief in something for which there is no proof." This is what makes religion tricky: There is no way to prove or disprove anything. When you have religious differences with people you love and care about, it is easy to forget that whatever you believe, you can't prove you're right — which means you could be wrong. Never forget that.
What you believe feels like truth to you, but the other person is probably having the same feelings about their beliefs. So, instead of saying, "My church is the only true one," maybe go with, "this is the right church for me" or "this church feels like truth to me, though I know it doesn't feel that way for everyone." You might even want to make this clear to your family and acknowledge that you respect everyone's right to their personal faith and beliefs.
Every person as having their own perfect classroom journey
This means the perfect classroom for you is probably not the perfect classroom for everyone else. Trust that God and the universe are wise teachers who know what they are doing, and each person is right on track in their unique classroom. They are learning different lessons than you are, and you cannot compare journeys on any level.
Allow each person their unique path and trust that God loves them and has them safe in his hands on that path. There is nothing to fear. Choose to believe nothing exists that God did not create for the purpose of our education on love, and this includes differences and different religions. They are here for a reason and we need not fear them.
No one group has the market cornered on God or spirituality
People all over the world, with a vast number of different belief systems, experience a higher power, spirit, intuition, connection with divine and spiritual experiences. It appears that if there is a source of divine power, it is no respecter of religions. God speaks to everyone and his spirit is found everywhere. Never think because someone has different beliefs from yours, that they are less connected to God than you are. They may have a different type of connection to spirit, and it can be different without being less.
Think before you speak about religion or spirituality
Think a minute before you say anything. Ask yourself why you want to make this comment, tell this story, or talk about this thing. Is it going to just make you look or feel good? Does it serve anyone else? Is there anyone here who it might make uncomfortable? Do you really need to say it? There is not always a need to talk about your religion, your ward, or your spiritual experiences at every family function. Before attending a family outing, think about some other topics or questions you can ask others to give them a chance to shine.
If you really feel prompted to share a spiritual experience with another person, ask permission to do so first. Ask if they would be open to letting you share a spiritual experience or if they would prefer not to talk about religious stuff. Give them a wide, safe, window to decline. This is respectful and will strengthen the relationship.
People might judge, but that doesn't change your value
Remember, people will always judge — they subconsciously can't help it — but you have the same intrinsic value as every other human on the planet and nothing, especially the opinions of others, can change that. Your value isn't in question, cannot be earned or lost, and is based on your uniqueness as a one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable human soul.
Never let anyone's opinion change your opinion of yourself. You are safe, bulletproof and good enough no matter what others think, say or are experiencing in their classroom.
Members of your family who are different from you are your perfect teachers
Everyone around you who is different from you has the potential to stretch you, grow you and expand your ability to love. It is easy to love people who are the same as us; it is much harder to reach beyond those boundaries and love people we don't understand or like. These people show us the limits of our love and the places where we have work to do.
If you don't like a person or aren't comfortable around them, jump right into that and commit to the work of loving them anyway. Show up for them, ask questions to get to know them and who they really are. Choose to see them as amazing, unique, beautiful souls having a different journey than yours. They can teach you so much. Instead of dreading seeing them, ask God to help you feel his love for them. Work on finding love inside yourself to replace the fear. Other people are, for the most part, just like you: scared, struggling, students in the classroom of life.
You get what you give
Choose to trust God that your value is unchangeable and your journey is perfect for you, and theirs is perfect for them. Trust that you are in each other's lives to bless and grow each other. Choose to love them where they are and don't allow differences to matter.
Despite the differences you have, you and the other person still have much more in common than you think. You are both scared and you both want to be loved and seen. You both need validation and want to feel accepted. Remember, you get what you give and the more you give all these things, the more it comes back.
I am hoping this article will help, but I wrote another article on KSL a few years ago about not letting religion define people, and it would be worth the time to read too. I recommend maybe sharing both of these articles with everyone in your family. Let them know that your only desire in sharing these is to have everyone feel safer and more comfortable with each other and honor and respect each other's beliefs.
You can do this.