Suspension of Disbelief
I found this article on i09 called Why We Love Suspending Our Disbelief, and I thought it fascinating enough to blog a few thoughts about it.
I’ve always loved fantasy, make believe, science fiction, historical fiction, and the like. Certainly they provide an escape from the reality around us, whether good or bad, but often they are just fascinating and unique and different. Star Wars was obviously the first major fictional influence in my life, although as I grew up there were others, such as Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, The Hobbit by Tolkien, the Shannara series by Terry Brooks, the Tripod books by John Christopher, The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, The Northwoods Adventures, and so many more. It wasn’t that they were fantastical, but that they were fun.
Now, just because of who I am and my background, I have to filter everything through Christianity and my history in the Church. Growing up, my parents always encouraged me to read fiction, granting me the keys to suspend my disbelief and experience different realities and planes of existence. Yet many of the leaders around my family didn’t approve of it. I’m not exaggerating, I’ve heard pastors (and those under them) say that fiction has no place in the life of a Christian, because to tell fiction you have to tell an untruth, therefore a lie, therefore a sin. You may hold up Jesus’ parables as an exception, but those fit in with their worldview, because they were “for the sake of the gospel”…which also allows them to spin tall and wild tales during their sermons (in short, lie to influence and save).
Having accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior at a young age, reality was firmly set in place for me. Most works of fiction didn’t come until after that, so I was always able to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Yet many of the warnings I heard growing up were that by simple exposure to fantasy I would not be able to distinguish from reality…a claim that has been demonstrated as wrong. Yet I’m certain other people may have had those struggles from time to time. Certainly, I can see someone older coming to faith in Christ having to “suspend their disbelief”…aka, proceed by faith…into accepting Christ and Christianity and the Bible and the whole package.
I appreciate this quote from the io9 article:
Suspending your disbelief isn’t as simple as not asking too many questions, or just taking things at face value. It’s actually a kind of hard work. And that’s why we enjoy it so much.
Christians, especially those who engage in evangelism or apologetics, love to throw it in the faces of agnostics or atheists that “you are always on a quest for truth, and yet you will never be satisfied, so even if you find truth, you will keep on looking because you can’t accept it!” I’m sure there is a small sliver of truth in such an ungracious, un-Christ honoring thing to say. But really, we ask too much of most atheists and agnostics. Accepting Christ, especially after having lived for many years, IS a suspension of disbelief. Nearly everything in life and this modern world is so stacked against God and faith that suspension of disbelief is the only way to salvation. Haven’t you seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? The concept of a “leap of faith” was alive and well in ancient Christianity, yet the modern church has lost it (another by product of Modernism and certainty).
Atheists and agnostics enjoy the search for truth. They enjoy disbelief. And sure, many will not let go of their disbelief in order to suspend it long enough to move forward in faith. But that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in, and we forget that.
What happens when we stop suspending disbelief?
We’ve all felt it give way, like a paper bag full of too-heavy groceries. There’s that moment when you just stop trying to buy into whatever the story is selling you, and you’re like, “Screw it. This is dumb.” You start laughing at the story, rather than with it. You may even feel a bit triumphant, as though you’ve outsmarted someone, but you also feel a bit let down inside — like you and the story both tried to make it work, you really did, but in the end it just wasn’t enough.
That right there is how most atheists probably feel. They haved looked, they have sought, they have studied…and they have witnessed that in fact, there is no God. There is nothing. This life is all there is. They probably grew up in the church, were taught all these stories, encouraged to have these experiences…and they were exposed to hypocrisy, saw God not come through on his promises, saw God abandon them, saw…whatever. Anything and everything that points to there not being a God.
Look at the history of the world. Throughout countless centuries, there has been ZERO activity from God. Nothing. We have many great psalms and prayers in the Bible of people crying out to a silent God to answer them, to remember them, to not forsake them while they are in Babylon, to remember Jerusalem and his promises. And God, from time to time, has responded. To all intents and purposes, looking at this world, there is no God. Faith is the one agent that changes whether you accept the easy conclusion that there is no God, or accept the harder conclusion that in fact there is a God.
Once, I suspended my disbelief. Most days I still have to do so. I hope I never lose the ability.