Home > Uncategorized > Being and Atheist XVIII: Ecumenical Discussions and the Suspension of Disbelief

Being and Atheist XVIII: Ecumenical Discussions and the Suspension of Disbelief

What is known as “suspension of disbelief” is an idea that we normally ascribe to us when we are watching movies. We, for instance, will accept for the purposes of a story that certain things which we view as either impossible or implausible as being normal. For instance, in Avatar, we accept that humans have intergalactic travel, flawless cryogenics, and the ability to transfer the mind from one being to another—yet somehow our protagonist still rolls around in a wheel chair. We may laugh at this seeming contradiction but for most of the movie we just accept the science fiction elements without really questioning it, because we want to enjoy the story, the 3d (for those who can), and in a Cameron film—the explosions. We can only enjoy certain things if we suspend disbelief for the duration of our experience with it, only the most annoying pedant is going to go see a Lord of the Rings movie complaining that the whole thing is bullshit because there’s no such thing as hobbitses. Hold that thought for a second we are going to come back to it.

In a relatively calm face-to-face conversation I asked a person how they could believe in the stories, the mythology of their religious tradition. Having come out of the Christian-Catholic tradition myself, we shared the same background, in that once upon a time we both believed the same things. Now this person, was no literalist, they didn’t believe that god really stopped the sun from turning to Joshua could keep on slaying Amorites (Joshua 10: 12-13…even though it says at 10:11 that more people died from god’s hailstones than the swords of the Israelites so it’s really unnecessary for him to do this) for the reason that not only did it probably never happen but also that the sun is in a relatively fixed position in the sky and again proving that to hold the bible as a book of science is ridiculous. He also wasn’t the type that believed there were links between the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation as Tim Lahaye would have us believe. This person was fully aware that literal interpretation is not a test and is not the point. Pointing out weird inconsistencies between the numbers of people that Moses killed at such and such a battle, or where Job’s second wife came from. To him it didn’t matter, it was the theme of the story, the lesson involved.

This is at least a reasonable position to take. One could be like Thomas Jefferson—writer of the Declaration of Independence for the non-Americans out there—and cut out every supernatural reference in the bible in order to gauge the moral system inherent in it. It’s a terrible moral system, but it is a moral system. A lot of non-fundamentalists will make this claim. They don’t care where Cain’s future wife comes from. I know quite a few Catholics who despite Papal rulings on the subject think Mary just died the normal death instead of being carried up to heaven body and all (this was the last time a Papal decree was made from the position of being infallible), do not believe in literal transubstantiation, and practice birth control. Other religious people might think that the rock in the dome is just a meteor, that Jesus never showed up in the Western Hemisphere, etc. Such reasonableness or rationality is probably more of a threat to religious dogmatism than the existence of Atheists like me. It represents a slipping of belief that questions the metaphysical foundation of the world’s religions. After all, from the perspective of a devout follower everyone not like them is a disbelieving atheistic idolater. For the most part my partner and I could laugh at people who really think that Jonah was swallowed by a whale or those literalists that think the moon generates its own light. We have the same kind of views of the world, the supremacy of rationality and that of claims needing evidence to be supported but at the end of the day aren’t we just at a cease fire?

He is going to believe that there is something missing in my life while I know that part of him believes in something that he would not believe were it not for his religion: by this I mean that he accepts that at one point in time snakes could talk and communicate with people. For the three of the world’s major religions there exists the story of the fall, Adam and Eve, and most importantly, the eating of the apple. This story deals with the initial turning away from god by the first humans. We can talk about the fall but in order to do so we have to talk about the snake. See the garden thing is pretty easy, eat anything you want but don’t touch that tree. Pretty simple command, but then god clarifies that it’s the tree of knowledge, and knowledge is a good thing but we don’t want it for some reason. Simple divine fiat is all that makes that tree and its fruit forbidden. Nevertheless there is a tree and that tree is to be avoided.

And it is. Until the snake comes along and tells Eve the deal with the tree. It’s not poison according to him, it gives you knowledge. So Eve eats it and thus we are all struck with Original Sin because some woman listened to a talking snake 6000 years ago. A crime, it should be pointed out, that no one living for thousands of years had any part of. Every single person who died from that point went to hell, until Jesus came and died, went to hell himself to absolve them of a crime they were innocent of. That’s the whole point of Christianity right? That Jesus had to absolve the world of this original sin and that while we are not directly guilty (or we are, depending on which sect of Christianity you subscribe to) of what they refer to as Adam’s sin (and not Eve’s because she is a woman and does not matter) his transgression is an act that gives us our sinful nature. Remarkably, only one person was born without this taint and it wasn’t Jesus.

The theological issues of Original Sin are fit for a theological dissertation rather than a blog post. But the point remains that “the fall” is a foci of the Jewish-Christian-Muslim tradition, and in order to be so we require the talking snake. Guilt, either explicit or not, cannot transfer through generations. This violates every principle of justice that exists. To blame a person for something that their grandfather did is quite ridiculous to go beyond that is to reach into the realm of insanity.

If a talking cricket told me to do something it may be understandable that I would at least want to listen, everything I know about crickets indicates that they do not talk so I might listen. Would I act on what the cricket told me to do? Perhaps or perhaps not, but no matter any action I do does not make my daughter guilty. Sure people might say, “There goes that girl whose dad listens to talking crickets.” That should however be it, her children would have no connection to their crazy grandfather—other than a visit to that special place he lives in. Their kids would be more than likely ignorant of me. Those kids in turn would have no knowledge of my existence (depending on what the cricket told me to do) and with each subsequent generation the blood gets thinner and thinner. Yet somehow we are to accept that the guilt of that crime remains unsullied. That, at best, a crazy woman who listened to a snake still gets us several millennia later.

We suspend our disbelief for stories that we know are fictional, but in this case we are told to live as though this outrageous story were not only true but that it continues to affect us. If I said that a cricket talked to me, you would be right to disbelieve it unless I said, “no just bear with me it’s a story,” and then I told a funny story about a talking cricket and our funny adventures. Of course the other time you would have to suspend your rational mind and accept that what I was saying was true is if I prefaced it with, “According to my religion there were these talking crickets that used to exist.”

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