The recent political tragedy got me thinking about the influences that have shaped my beliefs. What brought me to my current beliefs? Am I an independant thinker or just another member of the flock?
First I need to look at what I believe. Politically I’m somewhere around the centre, leaning slightly to the left on most issues except perhaps economy. I’m a skeptical rationalist and a strong atheist. I believe people should be free to marry or not marry whoever they choose regardless of gender. I’m not a racist or a homophobe. I’m a strong believer in free speech and freedom of expression. I’m pro-choice. I’m a pacifist and see peaceful negotiation as the primary solution to conflict, but accept that war is sometimes inevitable.
So where did all that come from? My parents? Well I never really had political conversations with them. To be honest I’m not entirely sure where they stand either politically or religiously. They chose to have me christened, probably more out of a sense of duty than any religious conviction. I have vague memories of being sent to Sunday school, but that was probably just to give my mum a morning off. So no, I don’t think I’ve been significantly influenced by my parents.
What about my peers? I grew up in a very white neighbourhood, mostly working to middle class. The norm there was racism, sexism and homophobia but somehow I managed to avoid most of that influence. None of my friends were overtly religious, but they weren’t overtly atheist either. Politics was rarely discussed at all. Throughout my life I’ve had friends spanning the full spectrum of political beliefs but none of them have had a dramatic influence on me. I married a lefty liberal, but her political beliefs are very low down on the list of reasons I’m with her.
Is it society in general? Society has certainly become more tolerant in recent years (although the past few days feel like things are going backwards again) so has that made me more tolerant? If I’d been born 400 years ago would I be a racist homophobic witch hunter? I’m sure I’ve been influenced by society, by the media, by societal norms but obviously only certain aspects of it have influenced me. I can choose which parts of society I want to accept.
I’ve certainly been influenced by the people around me in some way, but I like to think I’ve been able to make my own independant choices. I left a place rife with racism with a bit of residual racism in me but I knew how wrong that was and I made the effort to overcome it. I examined religion and decided it wasn’t for me. Nobody ever said to me “you must be an atheist, it’s the only way.” Nobody has ever spent time indoctrinating me into believing there is no creator; in fact the opposite has happened more often. I made my decision on my own using the information I had at my disposal.