The Courage of Conviction

February 6th, 2012

Jefferson Bethke is a 22 year old guy from Seattle. He recently created a video that went viral. It was about Jesus hating religion. It was viewed over 18 million times on You Tube and shared on multiple Facebook walls and Twitter streams. His basic message is that Jesus was cool but religion is NOT cool. As he says, Jesus is the cure and religion is the infection. Religion makes you blind but Jesus makes you see. Jesus was interested in healing and love, but religion is phony and rigid. Jesus had integrity, but religion is full of hypocrisy. He said, “Jesus came to abolish religion. Religion puts you in bondage, but Jesus sets you free.”

He no doubt tapped into a feeling shared by millions of people inside and outside of churches who are disillusioned with institutional religion. Personally, I think it’s healthy that people are claiming their personal power and freely questioning any institution that appears to be rigged at the top and rigid at its core.

The musician Sting expresses what many people feel about this issue-

I don’t have a problem with God. I have a problem with religion. I’ve chosen to live my life without the certainties of religious faith. I think they’re dangerous.

I resonate with the video in many ways, even though I don’t share Bethke’s belief that we are all sinners and need Jesus to save us. And apparently he attends a church whose pastor thinks that yoga is demonic, which is bizarre in this day and age. In terms of beliefs, we probably have little in common. What moves me is his conviction, passion and sincerity. Conviction is powerful and lessens limitations. I remember a drama teacher saying that if you forget your lines, mumble with conviction. This seems to hold in life. If you’re not sure what to do next, do something with conviction and see where it leads you. I don’t need to agree with everything people say, or like everything about their style. But conviction is contagious, and covers over all sorts of disagreements.

Not everyone likes Bethke’s video. An offshoot video called “Why I Dislike Your Poem, But Love God” has been viewed over 500,000 times. This is not surprising. Unfortunately, after people started criticizing him, Bethke changed his mind, saying that he was wrong to base his views on experience rather than scripture. It was a pity he folded so easily. I thought he was on to something, at least a partial truth. Not all religion is bankrupt, but the fact that so many people are now forging their own spiritual path with or without religion says something about the institution and about the independent spirit of our age. Bethke was bold in his video, but he lacked the courage to follow through. He wilted under pressure, lapsing into Groucho Marx style pragmatism, “Those are my principles. If you don’t like them I have others.”

In this series I’m writing about worldviews; knowing what your worldview is, why it’s important, letting it expand your life, and living it with passion. The second piece looks at the convictions and communication, how to hold your convictions AND communicate in open ways.

Have the courage of your convictions. Stand up, speak up and be bold. You won’t always feel the way you do today, but that’s okay. Believe what you believe now, and believe it boldly. When the time comes to change your mind, do it humbly, but not because other people criticize you. Change because it’s right for you to change. Then live your new views with just as much conviction.

One of my favorite quotes about courage comes from my mentor Bishop Spong. He has given me a lot of great advice over the years but one statement has stayed with me. He said, “When you’ve done a bold thing, don’t tremble at your own audacity.” An initial authentic step is bold. It takes courage to follow through and not become frightened by the shadow of your own boldness.

What does this look like for you? How are you stepping out in bold ways, and then following through with courage? If you put your own vision for life on trial, would there be enough evidence of courage to convict you, to empower you, to keep you on the path of change and growth.

For me this path has taken me away from my hometown, out of the mainstream church with its doubled edged security and into independent spirituality. There have been detractors, doubters and doomsdayers at every step, but an intangible inner power has kept me moving forward. Conviction is part of this power. I have come to realize the truth of Victor Hugo’s words,

No army can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come.

Here is a 10 point conviction checklist. I have learnt the importance of these principles the hard way. Remember that you are judge and jury in your own trial. No one else can convict you or make you guilty. It’s all about your own motivation.

  1. Are you being yourself? It’s not your responsibility to please others, and you can’t possibly please everybody. (the authenticity test) Read more here about authenticity.
  2. Is your determination stronger than any doubt? (the commitment test) Read more here about perseverance.
  3. Would you persevere even if it took your whole life to get where you want to be? (the stickability test)
  4. Would you work just as hard if your name wasn’t associated with the idea? (the ego test) Read more here about ego.
  5. Are you open to feedback without being ruled by feedback? (the personal responsibility test) Read more here about personal responsibility.
  6. Will you find a way no matter what obstacles you have to overcome? (the optimism test) Read more here about optimism.
  7. Are you driven more by your own sense of satisfaction than other’s praise? (the intrinsic motivation test)
  8. Are you prepared to take risks to keep your dream alive? (the surrender test) Read more here about surrender.
  9. Are you prepared to sacrifice popularity/fame and fortune to stay true to your dreams? (the priority test)
  10. How creative will you be to find the necessary resources, support and partnerships? (the resourcefulness test)

Speak your truth, no matter what needs to be said. Follow your path, no matter how it twists and turns. Let your heart lead you through any ache and burn. There is nothing more frustrating than a voice trapped in your throat or a dream trapped in your mind, like a bird stuck inside the house. On the other side of boldness, there is nothing more liberating and magically powerful than a voice or a dream finding its freedom like a bird finally finding its release through an open window. This is the reward that awaits your conviction. Your voice, your life, and your vision carry conviction, clarity and commitment. Let them free to do their work.

I end with the inspiring words from Kenny Loggins song, Conviction of the Heart.

Where are the dreams that we once had?
This is the time to bring them back.
What were the promises caught on the tips of our tongues?
Do we forget or forgive?
There’s a whole other life waiting to be lived when…
One day we’re brave enough
To talk with Conviction of the Heart.
And down your streets I’ve walked alone,
As if my feet were not my own
Such is the path I chose, doors I have opened and closed
I’m tired of living this life,
Fooling myself, believing we’re right, when…
I’ve never given love
With any Conviction of the Heart
One with the earth, with the sky
One with everything in life
I believe we’ll survive
If we only try…
How long must we all wait to change
This world bound in chains that we live in
To know what it is to forgive,
And be forgiven?
It’s been too many years of taking now.
Isn’t it time to stop somehow?
Air that’s too angry to breathe, water our children can’t drink
You’ve heard it hundreds of times
You say your aware, believe, and you care, but…
Do you care enough
Where’s your conviction of the Heart?

One with the earth, with the sky, one with everything in life.
I believe it will start with conviction of the heart.
With the earth, with the sky, one with everything in life.
I believe it will start with conviction of the heart.
One earth, one sky, only one world, only one chance for one life.
When will we live?
One child,one dream, only one life.
You’ve but one chance for one life.
When will we live?
Only one earth, and only one sky, and only one world.
We’ve only got one chance to live in one life.
I believe, it’s only gonna start when we begin with some conviction of the heart.

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  1. Miriam says:

    Great Blog Ian, thank you!

  2. Beth says:

    I am a member of a dying religion, so watching his video stung a bit.  In my opinion, I think he might be basing his views on one religion only…maybe because he had an awful experience.  Has he really experienced ALL religions, honestly and thoroughly?  How can he say that no religion blesses mankind?  I agree with you that it takes conviction to follow through with your beliefs.  Today’s society relies on instant gratification, constant entertainment, and, for lack of a better phrase, everything handed to them on a platter!  Could it be that attending church services and adhering to your religion’s guidelines are just too difficult for the modern man?  How terribly, terribly sad that we have traded God’s greatest (human invention) gift to us for convenience!  Yes, the man-made trappings of religion is flawed, but I do believe we can still call ourselves “religious” without subscribing to what we believe is the wrong direction.  P.S.  Thank you for saying we are not born sinners…we are born in God’s image and likeness…no room for sin!  

  3. Ian, a great post and a strong reminder that being able to ‘live our truth’ is within our power, if we’re willing to own it.

    The dream that was, for years, trapped in my own mind was that of uncovering my life purpose.  I think two of my biggest challenges with that were: 1) a subconscious difficulty with being authentic (#1 on your list) – I always felt the weight of expectation on me (largely self-imposed), and let that impact my actions, stalling my persoanl development until I couldn’t take it any longer; and 2) finding quiet headspace where I could actually delve internally long enough to ponder the right questions in order to arrive at the answers that I needed.  

    Finally, though, the need – and conviction – to determine my purpose became strong enough to propel me forward, and I sought the assistance of a life coach to guide me through.  (The life coaching was really important for me, so that I didn’t shy away when the questions got uncomfortable).  It was such a liberating experience, overcoming hurdles I had built up over many years. 

    Conviction is an amazing thing!  Without it, I’d still feel the same dissatisfaction.

  4. Ali says:

    What a wonderful post, Ian! So many resonant phrases that reflect the truth about the potential of a wider, inclusive spirituality that comes from the heart. Beautiful ripples you’re sending out into the world…

  5. I have just subscribed to Meg Lawton’s blog and for the same reasons I am now subscribing to yours. I suppose in a nutshell it comes down to authenticity and you are both the real deal. I for one am fed up of people trying to sell me stuff and using their blog as a way to lure me to their shop. It has all become quite seedy and people have got to be in a state of stupor to imagine that we don’t see through this deceit.

    Like you I do not believe that we are all sinners needing to repent and requiring Jesus to save us. I believe that this world is an illusion, a construct of the ego. God did not create the world , the ego did and the illusion is maintained by having enough of us subscribe to the belief in separation and lack. Unable to do anything except perceive we are designed to interpret everything we see and experience  and that is why there are as many opinions about anything as there are people  in the world. We make it all up and call it reality. When we don’t like it we blame God. We project on others what we don’t like about ourselves and then proceed to attack them completely oblivious to the fact that we are in effect attacking ourselves. I’ll stop there but it gives you an idea about the man behind the comments as I am now sure to be a regular visitor unless you ban me! 🙂 Thanks again for a great read and I love your 10 point conviction list. 

  6. What a fantastic post, Ian! I happen to be one of those folks who is re-discovering my faith in a different way from the traditional religion I was raised on. And I’m feeling much better for it! Faith is a great thing, I’m still working on growing mine, but being able to accept that you CAN have a relationship with God or Jesus or whoever your “higher power” is WITHOUT having to invest in the greed, hypocrisy and guilt that comes with certain religions. 

    However, that’s not to say that all religions are evil. Or possess the aforementioned traits. As much as I believe in not having to be tied to a “religion” to have found faith, I believe folks have the right to follow whatever religion gets them to theirs. But you’re right – whatever they do – it should be borne of their own conviction – not the conviction of others.

    And I agree wtih Xavier – your 10 point conviction list is wonderful! 😀

    OH – and one more thing – I’ve found my yoga practice actually enhances my faith and growth and think that the belief that it’s demonic is ABSURD! And clearly ignorant of what the yoga practice is all about. Overall, that’s exactly the kind of narrow-minded nonsense that reaffirms my choices when it comes to my own relationship with God.

    Thanks as always for a great read!


  7. Marie says:

    Good questions, Ian!

    I was raised Catholic, but during my teen years, I started to question the institution. Fortunately, my dad didn’t force me to keep attending church (tho’ Mom was a bit upset). Over the years, I grew to appreciate her beliefs and felt that when she was saying her rosary, she was using another form of healing energy, with love.

    Original sin? Not sure any baby is born with original sin. I understand trying to connect with the Divine, and how being in an Earthly body can weigh down a soul… but years of being taught it’s bad to feel or think a certain way certainly can be detrimental to a soul.

    Perhaps we are really gods and create gods in our minds because we are afraid of what will happen if we live up to our true potential. Many times I’ve gotten “this close” to some great success or idea, and run into someone who sneered at me or took great pleasure in telling me I was wrong. Being brought up to be nice and to accede to authority, as in the Catholic religion, and as a woman (what’s up with women not being allowed to be priests?), I did take some of this to heart. 

    My mom recently passed away. She died two days before her birthday and was cremated on her birthdate. I feel her around me and her love, not the stricture of her religion. Everything happens for a reason, and “the Universe is unfolding as it should.” (

  8. Thanks for the GREAT blog, Ian! Your inner strength and own authenticity are very apparent in this piece, and I felt both inspired and empowered by your words of wisdom. Looking forward to reading more. 🙂

    Peace to you–and happy writing too!

  9. Gwen says:

    Great post.  I will say that the word “religion” really irks me…I’m a child of God, saved by his grace and love.  When someone asks me what my religion is…I simply say I am a christian, but I don’t have a religion.  I have faith.  They are always confused…Doesn’t matter…I know who I am, and whose I am.  That’s enough for me.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful piece, as usual. Thank you so much for the encouragement 🙂

  11. Thank you for this.  Pinned it on my How We Change and Grow Board.

  12. Xavier Morrison says:

    A quote from Vonnegut comes to mind – “Say what you want about unquestioning faith. I consider the capacity for it terrifying.”

  13. Ivannee Bongosia says:

    Dear Ian,
    You (and Meg) are heaven-sent. I have been battling with these thoughts in my head and heart. I am a Catholic, born-and-raised, and now at 24 I (still) am, although a lot of people my age have either converted to other branches of Christianity, or have completely left the church. (no comparisons here, but here in the Philippines, it has somehow become a “trend” for youngsters, largely because our country is seemingly “governed” by Catholic church leaders who meddle in politics & social-developmental decisions of our government such as reproductive health and freedom of speech, thereby making the Catholic Church herself appear like an antagonist in social justice, which is very ironic). My mother has always been the straight-laced Catholic, my dad was the nonchalant type (though he exhibited such great faith & ease, and I find him very spiritual), and me and my 4 siblings have different spiritualities. I don;t think religion is truly destructive, as Bethke claims/claimed, because my personal experience with it was wonderful in many ways, & comforting. Meanwhile, I also frown upon the rigidity & impositions of institutional religion. I think the balance lies in being mindful that religion is only one path of spirituality, not the totality. I do feel the Sprit’s loving presence when paying the Lord’s prayer and holding hands with the community, but I also find such spiritual nourishment in Buddha’s teachings, in my Reiki practice, in nature, in indigenous spirituality, and so on. With these said, my personal experience with religion is that it shouldn’t be treated as the “rule”, but simply a path. I have no intention to leave my religion, i love it, though I get annoyed with our bishops sometimes especially when they include politics in their sermons (believe me, they do it a LOT, and the less educated people in our country actually BELIEVE them). Thank you for your articles, they always ALWAYS inspire me to be a better person and spread the “good news” of love. Thanks!

  14. Ian, I LOVE your 10-point conviction list!!! It is so inspiring to read your words of wisdom. What’s more, it’s inspiring to know that there are so many of us (you and everyone who wants to read your work) who share the same values of integrity, honest, authenticity, and heartfelt connection. Thank you for taking such time to send this message and sustain it in the world!

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