One of the catchphrases from the most recent Supreme Court decision is “sincerely held beliefs.” I’m in the middle of writing a really detailed analysis and explanation of that court decision, but I’m procrastinating today by instead writing a tangent about “sincerely held beliefs” and what that means. I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and I think I’ve figured out a test for whether a belief is sincerely held or not. It won’t fly as a legal standard, but I think I’m going to start using it personally.
Here’s the test: Whose life is your belief making more difficult? If it’s somebody else’s life, then your belief is not sincerely held. I simply do not believe that you actually believe that thing.
Frankly put, I don’t think any belief that makes the lives of others more difficult is in any way helpful to the world. Life is already hard. It’s hard for everyone for different reasons, some of which you may not, personally, take seriously, but I promise you that the subjective experience of almost everyone on the planet, from billionaires to the happiest child, is that LIFE IS HARD. Insisting that it be harder and people figure out how to deal with it just straight up isn’t helpful. It’s also pretty disingenuous. What you are in essence saying when you insist on making someone else’s life more difficult is that you want the world to be a better place, but making it so is their responsibility and not yours. And oh, if they fail, then that’s because they are flawed and not as good as you are. That’s not a sincerely held belief. That’s an excuse to sit around judging people and feeling superior.
Let’s take the contraception/abortion/women’s right to choose issue as our first example. Let’s say you sincerely believe that abortion is wrong because it is taking a life, and you believe this because you value human life. I mean, that does sound like an important thing, right? Now what kind of actions are you taking because of that belief? Are you fostering and adopting children? Helping single mothers go to college? Supporting free healthcare for the poor knowing that your tax dollars will pay for it? Those things make your life a lot more difficult. I believe that your belief is sincere. Are you insisting that low income women have children they can’t afford and don’t want? That doesn’t make your life harder, that makes their lives harder. I don’t believe you. Your belief is too easy. Not only is it easy, but you are using it to make the lives of others, but not yourself, harder. How can you possibly think your beliefs are making the world a better place when this is what you are doing?
But let’s not let liberals off the hook, right?
We liberals care a lot about equal representation and equal rights for all people regardless of gender, color, or nationality. Or at least we say we do. And we really would like Hollywood to start making movies with, say, more female people of color in the lead role, or a trans character who isn’t just a quirky sidekick. We say we want this, but most of my geeky liberal friends are pretty psyched about Guardians of the Galaxy, a superhero movie about a ragtag group of criminals led by. ..oh. A white male. (And if it’s not that geeky movie, it’s some other geeky movie with a white male lead.) We’re all going to go give this movie our money. Meanwhile, only one of my friends saw Belle in the theatres. ONE. We want more movies like Belle, but we want to put that responsibility at Hollywood’s feet, not our own. We want to make their life harder. We want filmmakers and the media to assume the risk on stories and demographics that don’t bring in as much money as the tried and true root-for-the-underdog-white-guy formula. And some filmmakers and storytellers do this and we laud them. . .but a lot of them try and fail. For the most part, if you are telling a story about a transperson or a female person of color, you are not doing it for the money, you’re doing it because you think it’s important. You believe in it, and you are intentionally making your own life more difficult to practice your beliefs. So I believe you. I believe that you believe this is important. But you, my liberal geeky homies, don’t really believe this, because if you did you’d be seeing a lot more independent films made by and starring the kinds of people who lack representation in traditional media than you are, and a lot fewer big budget geek-bait films. It’s hard to change and it’s hard to opt out of participating in your chosen culture, but if you’re doing it, then I believe you believe in it.
So ask yourself: Is your belief too easy? Does it make your life harder or does it make someone else’s life harder? If you realize your belief is too easy, start thinking about what you aren’t doing to actualize it. Then maybe I’ll believe it’s sincere.