Suspension of Disbelief in God vs. Professional Skepticism
Here’s another article where I compare things that ought brook no comparison: religion and accounting.
…Over at Things of My Soul, Ray/Papa D had a great post about the Mormon emphasis on “knowing” the Book of Mormon and church are true — and how such an emphasis could actually discourage and kill faith.
As a bit of a sidestep, I continue to be interested/piqued by his first paragraph.
I have no idea whatsoever if I chose my beliefs or how much control I have over my choices now. I believe I can choose, because I don’t like the alternative – and because I personally feel like I am choosing. What I feel most strongly is that I have made a conscious choice about HOW I reach conclusions – that I sit down, weigh my options, analyze what has brought me joy and decide to make decisions that will enhance and build on that joy. Perhaps that isn’t really a conscious choice; perhaps it simply is part of my inherited, genetic make-up. I don’t worry much about it, since it feels like conscious choice to me.
This idea of choice of beliefs intrigues me.
For me, I perceive a definite distinction between actions and beliefs. Of course I perceive that I can choose one action over another. On the other hand, I don’t perceive that I can choose one belief or another. On the other hand, I recognize that when I sit down (action), weigh my options (action), then some options will make more “sense” to me (feeling), and I’ll agree/identify more with these options (belief). I can analyze what has brought me joy, but I cannot consciously change or choose what does bring me joy.
This distinction has been important to me. I know that in many cases, I can seek more or different data. Look at things from a different perspective. Seek different information. And with that, maybe a different conclusion will make sense or feel right. However, at some point, I am always — always — at the mercy of an internal framework, worldview, and way of processing all the data that comes by. I don’t choose (and perceive no direct, conscious way to change) such framework. So, trying to “believe” something I don’t or to “feel” something I don’t immediately seems out of place, foreign, hostile to myself.
Well, that was a bit of a tangent (although it relates to what I’m going to talk about next). Ray had a commenter who phrased things in an interesting way.
Sometimes I think we have to be willing to suspend our disbelief.Since I’m prepared to do that in a theatre,I feel I should be prepared to give God the benefit of the doubt.
This comment made me really chew over the concept of suspension of disbelief. My thoughts are that suspension of disbelief already have a few “requirements” to begin with, and it also has a few “goals”…these goals, I don’t think, are entirely too consistent for God.
For example, performers are professional liars. Their professional task is to immerse us in a fictive world. Even when performers are performing non-fictional accounts, the performers are trying to immerse us into characters that aren’t themselves.
But they have to lie well, first of all. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote:
It was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.
The endeavors of the actor/writer/performer/whomever are to transfer a human interest and a semblance of truth that are sufficient to procure…that willing suspension of disbelief. So, there has to be somewhat of a semblance of truth, or some relatability to some human interest. These are, I think, requirements.
Meanwhile, what are the goals? The goal of this suspension of disbelief is, essentially, to deceive us without us being focused on the deception. (Wow, this essay sounds really meanspirited to artists, performers, writers, and the like…but I don’t mean to make you guys sound like terrible people! [Also, I can feel some literary/film/art expert is going to thrash me soon.]) When writers are poor at this, we can’t force suspension of disbelief further. Instead, we say that the plot or characters or setting is unrealistic and undeveloped, or that the work of art is substandard. We give bad reviews and perhaps tell our friends. However, when the performer has done his task well, we can easily forget that this is all make believe, become immersed in the performance, and be entertained or otherwise emotionally moved.
But is this how everything in life works? Well, as I’ve studied accounting, there are a few things that have been drummed over and over. Suspension of disbelief isn’t one of them. Rather, professional skepticism is tremendous, and when auditors aren’t skeptical enough, bad things happen.
So, in financial reporting, the (lofty/unattainable) goal is to achieve “transparency” (at least, outside of China) and material fairness. Regardless of the improbability/impossibility of creating “objective” or “neutral” standards, one thing is clear: if auditors suspended disbelief about questionable transaction data under any set of accounting principles, then eventually, bad things will happen.
I guess I’m really getting off on a tangent. My question was and is…to the anonymous commenter or anyone…do we really want to place religion in the realm of theatre or in some kind of realm of accounting, or in something else?
For myself, I feel that if I have to suspend disbelief as to the alleged most powerful, knowing, and loving being of the universe, then there’s something very fishy going on.