Religious Beliefs Matter: Stop Stereotyping, Start Understanding

Religious Beliefs Matter: Stop Stereotyping, Start Understanding September 24, 2022

The research was thorough and worldwide and the results clear: Religious beliefs matter AND religious people hate to be stereotyped. As in, stop doing that. It doesn’t help.

Religious beliefs matter, especially those of Vladimir Putin

Why religious beliefs matter so much

The Faith and Media Initiative conducted the study using an impressive set of participants from countries around the world representing multiple faith groups.

The full report can be found here. But the summary is fairly simple: for multiple reasons, the media does a truly awful job of covering faith issues.

Furthermore, religious beliefs genuinely matter to close to 80% of the world’s population.

And that failure puts us all at risk. We simply cannot understand each other and the world without some fairly significant knowledge about the religious beliefs that underlie both personal and national decisions.

Take, for example, the avid support that many truly fine people have given to Donald Trump, despite his non-stop litany of lies and a very obvious lack of character or respect for the institutions that underlie the governmental processes of the US.

How can that be? Many of us who were horrified by his Presidency and even more horrified by his extreme narcissism have been critical beyond words of those who have continued to show support for him and would like to see him back in power again.

But if we would take the time to enter that world of belief, to respect those people as rational human beings with deeply moral cores, we would discover that he makes sense to them. Their commitment is not to democracy or the democratic process or to the better economic health of free societies. Their commitment is to bring about their understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the necessity of some apocalyptic events to usher it in.

Furthermore, certain core parts of the most conservative segments of Evangelicalism operate out of a sense of there being a conspiracy against them and mounting an attack upon them. With that in mind, it is an easy leap to believe that there was/is a conspiracy to steal the 2020 election from Mr. Trump. I have written more about that here.

Do I agree with them? Absolutely not. But I do understand it because I lived in that world for some time. Again, I know that most of those holding to those beliefs are good, kind, and generous people. But the ideals of a more free and more just society take a back seat to the more pressing concerns of preparing the world for the Second Coming of Jesus.

But it is so easy to ridicule, to stereotype them as backward, ignorant, and “deplorable.”

This solves exactly nothing. We can seek understanding without having to agree on these larger matters. We can offer respect–and request it in return. That is the only way we can bridge these differences.

Religious beliefs underlie Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine

Let’s put this on a larger stage: Vladimir Putin’s horrific invasion of Ukraine and the unreal destruction and human suffering that we see daily splashed all over the news.

Without understanding the religious overtones of his decisions, it is easy to dismiss him as a dangerous and increasingly cornered and desperate madman. And yes, he is exceedingly dangerous, because he is, at some level, convinced that God has directed him and the Russian Orthodox Church to reclaim that territory.

The cost is immaterial. For him, God has spoken.

Biblical support for his actions abounds: on multiple occasions, it appears that God ordered wholesale destruction of people groups and their societies so that the Chosen Ones could continue to take territory they were convinced belonged to them by orders of the God they worshipped and believed was directing them.

Here’s just one example: According to I Samuel, chapter fifteen, the prophet Samuel reminds Saul, the first King of Israel, that the Lord has anointed him to that position.

So, here’s what follows (I Samuel 15:2-11a, Common English Bible, bold type mine):

This is what the LORD of heavenly forces says: I am going to punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel: how they attacked the Israelites as they came up from Egypt. So go! Attack the Amalekites; put everything that belongs to them under the ban. Spare no one. Kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

Saul called out the troops and counted them at Telaim: two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand more troops from Judah.

Then Saul advanced on the Amalekite city and laid an ambush in the valley. Saul told the Kenites, “Get going! Leave the Amalekites immediately because you showed kindness to the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. Otherwise, I’ll destroy you right along with them.”

So the Kenites left the Amalekites.

Then Saul attacked the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is near Egypt. He captured Agag the Amalekite king alive, but Saul placed all the people under the ban, killing them with the sword.

Saul and the troops spared Agag along with the best sheep, cattle, fattened calves, lambs, and everything of value. They weren’t willing to put them under the ban; but anything that was despised or of no value they placed under the ban.

Then the LORD’s word came to Samuel: “I regret making Saul king because he has turned away from following me and hasn’t done what I said.”

Make note: the LORD God was angry with Saul for one reason: he had NOT killed every living being in that people group. See it? There is no mercy here. Obedience to God is everything. Death and destruction are not only immaterial; they are mandated.

This is likely the kind of thinking that is behind Putin’s decisions. If we do not understand this, we risk not finding better strategies to contain this dangerous person. Sadly, it is nearly impossible to stop someone convinced that God has called them to this particular task and placed them in this particular position.

And, when/if such a one is taken down, it is likely his devoted followers will immediately make a martyr out of him, catapulting him and this scary theology to even greater and more ingrained power.

So, I’m not saying that becoming more theologically astute will solve problems; I am saying that the lack of knowledge makes things worse.

One case in point is the absolute disaster of Afghanistan. Trying to turn a nation steeped in Taliban-type theology into a more democratic society was, obviously, a very, very expensive venture into total failure. The core belief system of most people simply could not accommodate those earthquake-level changes in that short period of time.

Could it ever happen there? Yes, but only if women are educated. Which is why women have long been barred from education in more oppressive, especially religiously oppressive, cultures. This is a truism: the more thoroughly women are educated, the more the local societies benefit in nearly every area of life.

But for now, let’s circle back: theology matters, and especially matters on the world stage. What people think about God, and remember, nearly 80% of the world population hold some belief structure, quietly and powerfully informs many of their decisions.

Ignorance is no longer an option. But ignorance is what we have. And that needs to change.

Photo credit: 89305241 / Nuclear Explosion © Roman Baiadin |, modified by Christy Thomas

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