Religion — Talking about belief systems is totally normal
OK, maybe not. Religion is one of those two things you never talk about next to politics, and for good reason; it’s horribly uncomfortable. Like politics, people hold their religious beliefs very closely. This makes it very difficult to have a casual conversation with another person on the subject unless their views are identical to yours. And overall, it is simply easier to avoid the topic altogether to prevent conflict. I personally have never witnessed a calm chat between a staunch conservative and a far left liberal about the state of our country (at least not without awkward tension), and it would seem strange to expect the same between a strong Christian evangelical and a devoted Muslim or an agnostic Atheist. However, this is exactly what anyone should expect and create.
I am a Christian. I grew up in the church, was raised in a conservative family in a small country town, and already you have begun painting a picture of what my core values are. Whether you have judged me as a person based on these characteristics or not I will never know, but based on those key details about my life, you have begun assembling an image of my beliefs. This is simply human nature. Our innate curiosity is strong enough to begin piecing together someone’s personality off a few details, but too weak to ask any questions about it before finishing the puzzle. The image we create then dictates what kind of questions we ask or wonder about that person. Someone might ask me, “So do you believe gay people go to hell?” or ask a Muslim “Why don’t you guys do more to stop Islamic terrorism?” or ask an atheist “How do you live life with no hope of something better?”. Obviously, these questions are a bit extreme and not typically asked on a regular basis, but the fear of these assumptions existing within others or ourselves and being brought to light prevents conversations about our core values and belief systems.
So, let’s talk about it.
One way I have found it very easy to bring up this topic in a constructive, non-threatening way is simply asking a friend about what they believe in. Ask questions like “What do you want out of life?”, “Do you believe in anything that affects how you live?” or “What are your thoughts on religion/spirituality/God?”. After asking questions like these, listen. Actively listen. Affirm everything they are saying, let them know you care about what they believe in, and most importantly, don’t correct them. Also, don’t immediately talk about your beliefs. Ask more follow-up questions. Remember the example of assembling an image based on someone’s beliefs? You will still do that even after hearing them out more. It takes more than one question to truly understand what someone believes in. Ask them why they believe in what they told you, how they came to believe in it, how it affects their everyday life, if they feel strongly about their beliefs or are more indifferent.
People like to talk about themselves, and seeing someone light up when talking about what they are passionate about is exhilarating.
This kind of conversation will not only help you get to know them better, it will make them more comfortable talking to you, build more trust, educate yourself on different beliefs, and begin a train of thought that is often stagnant. Talking about religion, spirituality, faith, belief systems, core values, or whatever you want to call them is essential to form an accurate world perspective, educate oneself, and build a better relationship with those we are in constant contact with. The best way to go about these conversations is to courageously bring it up, eliminate assumptions, and actively listen and engage with the conversation. I challenge you, no matter what your beliefs are, to bring up this topic to someone this week and see what you can learn.