I read your recent article about how to tell loved ones you are leaving the family religion. I am having a hard time understanding how my family thinks if someone leaves their religion they are automatically going to be a bad person, who will end up in Hell. What is it about religion that makes people judge others and determine their worth or worthiness, instead of the kind of person they are? And how come we tend to see people with different beliefs as the wrong or bad ones, and think ours are the only right?
It will help to understand some things about human behavior. All human beings (without exception) struggle with some fear that they aren’t good enough. We all compare ourselves with others, worry, and stress about our appearance, property, and performance. Since we naturally struggle with insecurity, our subconscious minds have been working, since we were children, to figure out ways to quiet our fear and feel safer in the world. Here are some of the ways we do this:
Psychologists call this practice of creating “us” versus “them” groups, othering. We see us as good and those other people as bad. This requires us to see the world in a very binary way. There are only two options, us and them, black and white, good and bad, righteous and evil, taller and shorter, or thinner and fatter. This binary, black and white thinking forces us to remove the grey area (where we might not be enough) and clearly put ourselves in a good group. By yourself you might not be good enough, but this group is good enough, even though you only think that because you are seeing the other guys as worse.
The dangerous thing about this human tendency is, it can be used against us. Advertisers know if they can present a cool identity that you could claim just because of the cool people who use their product, you will buy it because you need the self-esteem boost.
Any organization that wants to keep you buying it’s products or in its ranks, can subtly use this tendency to make you see them as the only good one and everything else as bad or evil. The truth is no person is ever all bad or all good (except maybe a few like Hitler, I will give you that). The rest of us are all grey, and purple, or blue striped, and totally diverse and different from everyone else. So, though othering (dividing yourself and joining groups) can provide a temporary boost to your ego, and quiet your fear, there is a cost.
The cost comes to your relationships. It’s hard to have mutually validating, safe relationship, if you tend to see everyone outside your group as bad or wrong. But that is what you need to do to get the self-esteem boost that being in the group provides.
This is the catch. How can you get the benefits of being in a special, elect, amazing group, yet be able to interact with “them” and not make them wrong, bad, un-elect or evil? There is a way, but let me explain about religion first.
The reason religion creates more fear than any other type of grouping is the beliefs are of eternal consequence (at least thats the belief) and God himself is involved in it. Religion makes us more scared and in this fear state, we are going to be less loving, tolerant, and open and more threatened. The more the other religious group insists they are right, they are obviously saying you are wrong, and that makes them a threat.
What you didn’t ask me was, How can you have safer, less threatening conversations and relationships with people, who have different religious beliefs or who see your beliefs as wrong?
The answer lies in removing the fear. Here are some ways to do that:
You can do this.
Coach Kimberly Giles is a sought after human behavior expert and speaker. She is the founder of 12shapes.com and claritypointcoaching.com and provides corporate team building and people skills training.
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These articles were originally published on KSL.COM
Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.