There is a shirt I remember people wearing from my childhood that was popular with the party crowd that read “Everyone believes in something. I believe I’ll have another drink.” I’ve always thought that shirt was very revealing about our culture because is concedes that a structured belief system is important for every human being, but at the same time it confesses that many have no set of beliefs which really matter to them. The beliefs of many of the people I encounter are something more akin to opinions: they aren’t held with strong conviction, they aren’t based in truth/reality, and they are subject to change upon the shifts of the cultural landscape. The only thing many people really believe is that they want to have fun, to be happy, to take care of themselves, to have another drink.
Add to this our Western penchant to fiercely defend individualism. We value individual freedoms and the ability for each person to make his/her own decisions. Every person’s opinions matter and no person possesses the authority to judge those of another. Whatever opinion a person holds has value simply because they hold that opinion, regardless of how closely that opinion resembles truth. And so tolerance has become the word of the day: we must be tolerant of every one’s beliefs because we have no right to judge the opinions of others.
What we have, then, is a culture that vehemently defends the individual’s freedom to believe in… not much at all. People don’t hold to any convictions outside of themselves really, but they don’t want anyone to challenge them either. We live among people who don’t believe anything and don’t want to be told that there is something worthy of believing in.
Which is why the opening words of the Apostle’s Creed is so significant—I believe. The Creed begins with a bold statement that there is something worth believing in. The first confession from the church is that collectively we stand together against our culture in belief. Not a belief that is akin to an opinion, but we stand together in conviction that goes to the very core of our beings. Life is not meaningless. Life is not haphazard. Life is not flighty. There are pillars which uphold this world and cannot be denied. We recognize together that there is something to believe in. We stand united on the verdict that every person’s opinion doesn’t count equally; that there is a story, a meta-narrative, that we are a part of and indeed defines us; and that we can affirm this truth as a reality that is greater than ourselves. We are not like the rest of our world. We believe in something, and that belief defines us not only collectively, but individually as well. For a person who has not the conviction of belief neither has the knowledge of self.