Y’all don’t even know what belief even means.
Greetings, haters! Much love to you. I’m here to correct you about your incorrect beliefs about what belief even means. After you’re done reading this, you’ll understand everything and we’ll all be laughing and slapping each other on the back and smoking a peace pipe. That is my guarantee to you, and it is ironclad. Follow along if you dare.
You think I actually, literally, unquestioningly think Jesus rose from the dead. I don’t, silly. Nobody does.
We’re all human here, we all have the ability to think. It’s a story, folks. We Christ followers just immerse ourselves in the story of Jesus rising from the dead, and God flooding the planet because humanity was ruining his happy time, and all the way back to that whole bit about the Garden of Eden with the talking snake and the disobedience of Adam and Eve, because all of this gives us a common mythos to stand on and rally around and do right by the world and love one another.
“Hold up,” say my fellow Christ followers. “What is this, are you some kind of turncoat?
Are you selling us out? Vile witch! Infiltrator! Liar! Sellout! Cruel, cruel deceiver! Uncharitable destroyer of the church! Lukewarm hipster!”
Great, now nobody understands me. I’ve just doubled my workload. Now I have to correct two sets of beliefs about what belief even means. This is like whack-a-mole. That’s okay, I’m up to the task. You too, dear fellow Christ followers, will soon understand all there is to know about the nature of belief.
How can a man both subscribe to the stories in the bible and yet call them mere stories? I’ll tell you how.
How many movies have you watched in this lifetime? How many books have you read? Don’t answer that second question, I’m not here to depress myself over the state of education.
Anyway, how many? And how do you speak of those stories when you describe them to other people? “So and so, he’s an FBI agent, right, and he’s got to stop a bomb from going off, so he cancels his dinner with the president and gears up for some radical action.” You speak of the character as if he is real, as if the events are really occurring. You don’t really believe the things are actually happening, but your mind works in such a way that you speak of it as if it were in the very same plane of existence you bodily inhabit.
Follow so far? How many of you have I lost? None? Great!
You’re a great class, love you guys. So, now that I know you’re up to the task, I’m going to raise the bar a bit. You got your thinking caps on? Fantastic. I can already tell you’re going to ace the midterm.
When enjoying fiction, you use your imagination to immerse yourself in the experience. There’s no other way to do it. In theater, they call this the “suspension of disbelief“. You think and act as if it were real. And in a way, it is real: There are moral dilemmas in drama, there are representations of love and hate, there is comedy and tragedy and sometimes even adventure. These are all things that occur in real life, and so when they occur in the movies, we can insert ourselves into the story, even if the events themselves are made-up.
That’s how it is with the bible. Don’t lie, that’s exactly how it is.
If it were otherwise, then the bible would have nothing to say about our existence. If it didn’t speak to eternal themes that we have physically experienced in the course of our lifetime, then we wouldn’t be interested in the bible at all. It speaks to us on the level of the soul, even while supplying a certain escapist fictional account.
The stories the bible tells are just the clothing on those fundamental human experiences.
Daniel in the lion’s den, the parting of the Red Sea, the war between Satan and God over the fealty of Job, the healings of Jesus, every story in the bible — they are just the colors painted onto the exterior of the house of the human heart. We Christ followers rally around these stories because they provide a common text, a common tongue, through which we can come to view and understand life and everything.
We speak of these stories as if they are real, and we commit to speaking these stories and professing belief in them. But why? Why must we carry on this charade? I tell you now that this is no charade. This is storytelling at its most serious. We live our lives as if these stories are real, and we rarely speak openly of the truth that they are fanciful, because if we did that — if we constantly placed it in the open as I am now doing — we might lose the incredibly powerful binds that keep us together as a family.
(Incidentally, the word “religion” is, according to some scholars, etymologically related to a word meaning “to bind fast”, as in to connect to a deity. This position has shifted to imply a connection to other believers, i.e., the church. There is a biblical basis for this: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” [1 Corinthians 12:27, New International Version].)
Belief is not the same as credulity, folks.
Belief is when you jump with both feet into the story, and then let the walls of the story grow, and grow, and grow, until it fills up your entire life. You become a character in the story, and you run your life by the inner logic of that story. There’s a reality that exists within ours, and while that reality may be made up, it has the ability to act on our souls in such a way as to make us live our larger reality better, with greater love, with greater motivation, with greater and greater levels of commitment to doing right.
There is no way around it: The human mind depends on stories.
We embrace and fully commit to the stories that improve us — and not necessarily just the ones that can be seen through a telescope or under a microscope. As far as our interface with reality is concerned (the study of which is called phenomenology), the only thing we have going for us is stories.
When we allow ourselves to trade places with those stories, placing ourselves inside them instead of placing them inside us, we become enveloped in a worldview that protects us and guides us. Let us not view this as heresy, but as a deepening of our understanding of the supernatural miracle of the human experience.
Whatever your mythos — be it a fanatical adherence to observable phenomena or the warm, milky bliss of high adventure and morally ambiguous plotlines as found in the bible and other religious texts — I encourage you to embrace your mythos with all your might.
This, ladies and gentlemen, has nothing to do with what is “accurate”.
It has nothing to do with correctness. This issue is far more important. It has to do with why we give a damn, it has to do with what fills us with joy, with volition, with authentic human emotions. We’re nothing without our stories.
Gaze through your telescopes, dear friends.
Investigate the innermost secrets of the most fundamental particles and waves of the physical world. Vivisect the universe. Apply your sciences to the improvement of your fellow man. Follow curiosity down the infinite path. Engage your entire mind. Do not relent.
At the same time, please get completely absorbed in your mythos of choice. Speak of it as if. Throw both arms around it and squeeze tightly. Your stories are, for lack of better adjectives, holy, sacred, beautiful, powerful, and mad, mad, mad in the highest and most glorious sense of the word.
The world is upside down and backwards.
Belief is who we are. It is beautiful. It is mysterious. We shall never know everything, for our minds are smaller than the whole world, but we can embrace everything through the beliefs that nurse our souls.
I believe our souls come from God. We are oceans within oceans derived from oceans. This I believe. And now it is my turn to fully embrace my mythos. It is my turn to submit to the specific at the expense of orderly objectivity. I lay down my arrogant robes. I am not superior to my fellows who need to inhabit stories. I must humble myself to the inescapable call to belief.
Just as I would never disrespect, say, a native American’s belief in Wakantanka,
or an Australian aborigine’s Dream Time, I shall not hate myself for living inside of the specific brand of beauty my own culture offers. I shall state my commitment as it is stated by the creed of my spiritual leaders:
I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Okay, maybe I wouldn’t agree with reciting that last part about the “one church”. I don’t mindlessly embrace everything my ruling institutions decree. But I think you understand me now: I don the larger story and take ownership of it.
May your stories lift you into the heavens.
May you look with grace upon those who earnestly profess beliefs you reject, and may you suspect that they may in fact know a little something you don’t. May we all be kind towards one another as we live this short, bizarre physical existence of ours.
Science isn’t going away, and neither is religion.
We must reconcile these forces within us. Let us embrace not cognitive dissonance but cognitive harmony. Let us recognize the vastness of our own minds and of our own ability to sustain multiple realities simultaneously, and let us never, ever be afraid either to think or to believe.
And now your thinking has been corrected, and now there will be world peace starting now. Ahem. Er, Amen.