I had a conversation with someone yesterday that was in every way enjoyable- he and I disagree about much, but don't focus too much on that too much when we talk.
However, one comment my friend made was something like: "We really don't know why we believe what we believe- our beliefs are really due to influences and factors way beyond our control. Things work on us and take us places and we don't even know that they are doing it... So the idea that anyone would hold us responsible for what we BELIEVE is silly."
I suspect that at the heart of this comment was a desire to move away from the idea that there's anything I have to believe in order to be made right with God- that God would judge us by what we believe.
My answer was that I'm with him on the influence part- it's very true that our beliefs are more inherited than we would like to think. Sometimes we parrot our parent's politics, sometimes we consciously oppose them- but either way, our politics (in this example) are due largely to someone elses.
However- we also make very conscious choices about what we'll believe. My example was alcohol. How do I pull myself out of addiction? The reasons (nature or nurture) why I might choose to abuse alcohol aside- I can only move in the opposite direction when I choose to believe that a drink (or a couple) is NOT what I really need. I change my thinking, and so change my actions.
And there's really the rub of the whole thing for me- actions are nothing more than beliefs acted on. You don't lynch someone without first being a racist in thought and heart or sexually harass someone without harboring sexist and chauvinistic thoughts. So, if I'm not culpable for my racist or sexist thoughts and beliefs, does that mean I'm not culpable for my racist or sexist actions that are simply those beliefs acted out?
We are born into systems and paradigms and then consciously examine, weigh, test (or fail to do so)... and so choose to believe one thing over another. Otherwise, we're all locked in a universe more deterministic than that of the most ardent hyper-Calvinist.
Further, we have influence on what we allow ourselves to be influenced by. Read certain authors, listen to certain talk shows and over time, your attitudes and feelings WILL move in a certain direction. This is why Scripture urges us to test, examine, and weigh what we hear, read... even what we think. (Favorite t-shirt lately: "Don't believe everything you think.")
Far from God NOT holding us culpable for our beliefs, the biblical picture is that our beliefs are EXACTLY what God will hold us culpable for- do we root our existence and choices in the belief that I am the most important thing in the universe, that I am my own God? Do I make something else (money, sex, my race, my philosophy) my god? Or do I turn my heart and mind towards God Himself, the only thing I can give myself to that will ultimately bring me and this world life? Because at heart- all our actions are just extensions of THAT question. If I'm IT, my heart will find great warrant for all kinds of selfishness, sexism, racism, hatred, theft... But when God and His character become the ground for my beliefs and actions, when His love fills me with a love for all those made in His image, then my actions become very different.
And the question of which way I turn, which belief I consciously move towards, is very much a choice. A choice I'll be held accountable for.
"Then they asked him, 'What must we do to do the works God requires?'
Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'"