An article in the winter issue of the campus publication Williamscene quotes a leading member of the Williams religious community as saying the following: “It weighs heavily on me when I hear other religions are less good, less right. That’s a prejudice we’re all steeped in whatever our tradition.” He favors the belief that “my religion is right for me” instead of “my religion is right,” and says that such a distinction would “help alleviate numerous complications and headaches.”
Rather than specifically addressing the validity of this assertion, I want to examine the underlying assumption out of which it grows: namely, that to criticize someone’s beliefs is to attack his or her worth as a human being.
It is no surprise that such a notion thrives in our culture, which too often derives a person’s value from his ability to contribute to society, either through actions or beliefs. Within this framework, weakness or error in one’s beliefs undoubtedly reflects harshly on one’s sense of worth. The correctness of one’s beliefs and one’s worth as a person are wed.
But what if a person’s worth were measured not by what he can do, but by who he is? Jesus taught that God created human beings in his image and that he loves each one of us equally, regardless of whether we are rich or poor, born or unborn, educated or without schooling. Though his followers sometimes misrepresent him, God loves both the Christian and the atheist with (equally) perfect love.
Indeed, God’s love for every person gives us a reason to love others other than the fact that we were taught to love as children. This truth liberates us from viewing an attack on someone’s beliefs as an attack on his worth. The intrinsic dignity of an individual does not waver depending on how right he is; a man can love his neighbor just the same even while disagreeing with him on matters as central to our existence as religion.
In fact, loving others based on who they are, not how useful they happen to be or what they think, frees us to challenge their beliefs candidly; it leads to greater motivation for understanding others’ perspectives because we seek to gain and spread more truth.
It weighs heavily on me when I witness people’s conception of the derivation of self-worth inhibit their ability to search for truth in the most meaningful questions in life.