Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hiding behind belief?

Untitled - By Me.

Ever become aware of a "story" that you've been telling yourself?  A convenient fiction that you habitually use, because it's easier and more comfortable than really engaging with the truth?

We all do it.

It starts when we're kids.  'Oh, he's just a "boy's boy"!'  (he's really rough and aggressive but that's okay)

"She's such a little princess!"  (she's spoiled and self-centred, but we'll humour her)

Sometimes these stories remain unchallenged into adulthood.  But even if they don't, we will go on to make up new and better fictions. 

One of mine is  (now shhh... don't tell ;)  "Oh I'm just very open and social".  Well, I am.  But that blithe pronouncement is something I have used, at times, to avoid more honest examination, of my interactions with people.  It can be a little mental censor's board that I hold up;  shielding me from the fact that I'm... maybe...  letting my own neediness show...  or what's infinitely worse, toying with the vulnerability of another. 

These little fictions gain more power, the more people participate in them.  Unhealthy relationships thrive because of them ("I'm helpless" and "he needs me to look after him" are common mutually supporting fictions).  As more people buy into a fiction, the fiction becomes stronger.  And harder to spot.  If you don't believe me, think for a moment about racial segregation, slavery, the fight for women's suffrage...  the list of collective "fictions" used throughout history to keep people within a certain "status quo" is infinite.  Did (do?) people really believe that some human beings are "lesser" and can be owned?  Did women and men in our society really believe that "the weaker sex" was not capable of thinking and deciding fairly?  (Tildeb brought this up in a recent comment... it is very true, and history is full of glaring examples)

Of course, once a fiction is pointed out, it loses its power.  Once I become aware that my "open and friendly" interactions sometimes have less pure motives, I can no longer comfortably fool myself about it.  My beliefs have been exposed, examined and altered, and my behaviour is likely to change.

We will always need narratives.  We are social creatures.  Collectively held stories and values help us to build communities.  And we naturally "filter" our perceptions.  If we did not, our worlds would seem overwhelmingly complex.   BUT - are all of the narratives we accept true?  How many of them are hiding realities we would rather not face?

It seems to me that the tighter we hold onto a particular story, the more likely it is, that the "story" is in fact a "censor's board", shielding us from a reality we fear to face.  I've come to see a lot of what goes on in Churches as just this kind of story.  Not all of it.  But how often do we nod "Amen" to something that is said because it keeps us comfortable in our fiction.  We often attend church to be assured that we are on the right track, that we are spiritually safe, and that all will be well. Very often, we are participating in a collective fiction that keeps us safe from belief.  Look beneath, and you might find fear and doubt.  You might find that your "spirituality" is quite shallow.  And this is frightening.

But step back for a moment.  If God is really God, then He is what you will find when you have peeled back every layer of fabrication.  Something that is ultimately and universally true can never be revealed, understood, or served by fiction.  So when we participate in collective story-weaving in order to assuage doubt - we are really concealing our unbelief.  Did you catch that??  How much of what we "assent to" in our communities of belief (whether they be christian or otherwise) is really just concealment?  How often are we holding on to a raft of fiction, to escape a sea of doubt?

Every social grouping has its fictions.  However church should be the one place where it is safe to discard them.  Are we brave enough to make it so?


  1. I don't know that I've ever been a part of a Christian institution that I've been comfortable with discarding my personal fictions. However, I have definitely met people and am friends with people who I'm comfortable doing that around. And that is exactly what I define as a church.

  2. Here's a question, Adrian - are all of those people "churchgoers", or even "Christians"? Why or why not??

  3. Perhaps the ultimate fiction is God, followed by the scriptures. That's worth thinking about.

    For my part, most of my friends aren't church goers. Some are. Sure many of my friends would call themselves Christians. They wouldn't measure up to any AOG or any Evangelical standard though.

    Basically they don't think too hard about religion. Frankly a lot of my friends try not to think too hard ever - they've got better things to do than navel gaze - families to keep - jobs to do.

    1. Stu,

      If God is real, he's not doing to disappear if we dare to question. If he's not real, then there's nothing "ultimate" about either him/her or the Scriptures.

      Your "non-thinking" friends might surprise you... and what does any institutional church "standard" have to do with what is real, anyway? They are specific minority cultures - even within the broad scope of official "Christianity". (Well, perhaps within Christendom they are not so minor - but certainly two of many different communities.

    2. Well, god is a fiction in the sense that no two people can seem to agree on what this term actually means, what it actually describes. It's one of those very fuzzy notions that when examined often boils down to a sense of awe and wonder about life and the universe. The religious tend to go one step farther and assign a potential for some kind of hidden agency to it. That would be fine... right up until stuff here is affected by various assumptions about cause and effect, purpose and meaning, obedience and piety to this unknown, unknowable agency. Then we get into all kinds of problems.

  4. Dear Kerry a fabulous drawing by the way. It's so cheeky and alive. My friends often surprise by how much they never really think. not that it's always a bad thing. I was very surprised once, after explaining some politics for a friend, that he had never registered to vote and couldn't comprehend preferential voting. religion or even philosophy are not Important to them. They are happy to often repeat what they might read in the telegraph or see on current affair, and think it is gospel. They aren't stupid, they are preoccupied with their lives and thei families and their work.
    When it comes to religion, they will baptize their children, marry and probably have a church funeral, but those are the main times they will enter a church. It seems to be totally irrevelant to them.

  5. Stuart, I think you have just described the majority of 'the faithful' in all religions ... if this poll out of Britain is any indication.

    It's a very loose identity but one that is used by various religious organizations to pretend their mouthpieces are backed by huge number of supportive people when, in fact, many of those people reject much of the mouthpieces tell us is widely believed.

  6. I think it describes the majority of people including atheists. Many atheists I know, give evolutionary reasons not to be liberal to gays for example. Not all atheists are clear thinkers or liberal thinkers.

    I doubt the results of that poll would be repeated in Afghanistan or even India, if they were asked about the influence of islam or hinduism. That results of that Poll would only relate to the UK, or perhaps the first world and probably not the USA, lol.

  7. Sport, is more important to most people than religion or non religion.


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