Last weekend, one of the pastors of the church I go to was telling me about a book he is reading on Christian theology. The book explained how religious practices often come before beliefs in peoples’ lives, meaning that they go through the actions of religious practices and then connect them to beliefs instead of practicing according to belief. This means that we preach what we practice, instead of the other way around.
This certainly holds true in my own personal path to faith. I started by going through the motions of being Christian, such as attending church and getting involved in church activities, before actually becoming Christian. After a while of acting like a believer, I began to realize that I did actually believe. Some of what led me to that point was that I enjoyed the practice of the religion even without the belief, but then realized that believing was an extension of those practices, and in return made them much more meaningful.
This is also interesting from the point of view of a teacher. Children may not support their actions with belief until later ages, but they can get to that point by practicing a certain action. For example, maybe it takes many years of being told to share before a child comes to believe that sharing truly is the right thing to do. But hopefully after a year of “share, please!” multiple times every single day, my students will start to think that it’s a good idea.
To give another personal example, I was brought up vegetarian, although it was my sister who had qualms with eating meat. Once I reached high school, I started to think about why I didn’t eat meat, and realized that I believed that it is healthier, more economical, and kinder to animals not to eat meat. It’s true that I am now an omnivore, but I still believe that it is better not to eat too much meat, and much prefer to cook vegetarian meals for myself.
The idea that practices come before beliefs shows us that a lot of what we believe now is not based on what we decided to believe, but on what we were taught to do by our parents, teachers, and mentors. I find this encouraging as a teacher, as I hope that after telling my kids every single day to throw out their own trash and eat their vegetables, they will grow up to believe that they should be independent, tidy, and health-conscious. It could also be seen from the opposite perspective; many conflicts begin because people have clashing fundamental beliefs. I guess my objective as a teacher is to figure out which practices lead to which beliefs and make a point of instituting those in my class. Because everything really is much better when shared!