What makes one person’s beliefs better than someone else’s?
The answer, most would agree, is nothing - they are both entitled to their beliefs and to have their beliefs respected. If you observe a Hindu and a Moslem arguing about whose faith is superior, as an outsider you would think both are entitled to their opinions and they should respect each other. But this is easier for this to occur if these are not your beliefs. What happens if you are also a Hindu or Moslem? Could you still remain truly impartial and objectively assess the opposing belief for its merit? Would you focus on the similarities or differences? Would you see the beauty or the unsightliness?
The truth is it is easy to have your judgement clouded when it involves your personal, spiritual beliefs. In some ways this is a good sign - it shows we are passionate about what we believe in - but it also indicates the potential for passing judgement and adopting a superior position when dealing with others.
This can be observed in any group sharing a belief. It is not limited to or more prevalent in any one group over another.
So how can you both respect and treat other belief systems equally when it involves something so close to our hearts? The bad news is there is no one answer that will fit all, no proven method guaranteed to work. What if we eliminated all religions and adopted atheism en masse? This would also become a belief system and equally be likely to discriminate against any new emerging thinking.
While there is no simple answer to the problem, identifying and acknowledging these feelings is a good place to start. If you are discussing with or observing someone with differing beliefs you need to learn to sense the feeling rising in you - “This person is wrong”, or “I feel sorry for them”. When you hear these or worse voices in your head you need to learn to take note. You will not be comfortable doing this and ignoring the little voice in your head and keep listening to the person is very hard.
It is only through recognising our own bias that we have any chance of overcoming the my-belief-is-better-than-yours mentality. Each of us has the ability to identify our bias as we sense it rising. How we act upon it, hopefully to overcome it, will be different for each of us.
I do not have the answer. I know what works for me but even then I cannot admit to overcoming these feelings all of the time. But I sincerely believe that recognising the problem is the first step. Knowing how you feel is perfectly natural but coming up with a plan for dealing with these feelings is critical. Failure to do so surely takes away not only from comprehension of other views but also the practice of your own beliefs.
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