01 December 2013

You have to be willing to suspend disbelief

One of the clients I work with is for an educational website. I create educational resources for teachers and students to use when they study novels/books. It's a great client, and I really love doing it.

One of the topics I covered for this site recently was willing suspension of disbelief. For those who don't know, willing suspension of disbelief is the reader's acceptance of the author's world as it is created regardless of the likelihood the world could exist in reality. Essentially it means that when you read something set in a world outside of reality (particularly in science fiction and fantasy) you accept the constructs of the author's world for the sake of the story. Magic is real. Dragons exist.

So I've realized that willing suspension of disbelief is a wonderful analogy for religious faith. People who believe set aside what is known and proven in the world to accept the constructs of their belief system in order to believe it. The world was created in six days. One man built an ark that saved his family and two of every animal on earth from a flood.

When it comes to literature, people easily accept the world as the author creates it. We know we're reading fiction, so it's okay that these impossible realities exist on the pages of the book. When I read Ender's Game recently for work, I didn't bat an eye that children are sent to train for a war with an alien race.

But the difference is that, generally, people don't base their world views on the fictional worlds they read about. They know that, in reality, what they're reading just doesn't work, so there's no sense in accepting it as fact.

Then why is The Holy Bible held up as reality, while the Harry Potter series is not? Why are the stories of Noah and Job and Jesus heralded as true, while Harry Potter continues to be seen as a fictional character? After all, at the core, both are stories of good vs. evil, are they not?

One important thing to remember when it comes to willing suspension of disbelief is that it is willing suspension of disbelief. The reader knows that the world created inside the book cannot exist outside of it, but believes it for the sake of the story. And I think that's what happens when it comes to people who believe in Christianity (particularly those who take the Bible as the literal, inerrant word of god).

Their logic-brain says, "There's no scientific evidence for this. The stuff in this book can't have happened in real life. It doesn't make sense."

Their faith-brain responds, "Shut up. I believe!"

They are willing to ignore the reality of their world for the sake of believing the stories they read in the Bible. They just take the stories a step further and apply them to their actual lives.

Just as, I suppose, there are people eagerly waiting for their letters from Hogwarts.*

You have to be willing to ignore what your brain is telling you is not real to have that kind of faith. Especially when what you believe thumbs its nose at what has been scientifically and tangibly proven. But, I think, to have a real, fulfilled, successful and well-adjusted life, you have to be willing, at some point, to put the book down and come back to reality.

*No offense.


  1. That's an interesting way to look at it. I think there's also a certain moral suspension of disbelief that goes on in the minds of many believers in the Abrahamic tradition. If you really think about it, the things that go on in the Old Testament are absolutely horrid. There's no way God asking Abraham to kill Isaac is okay, for example. Not to mention all the genocide. But if you've been raised with the belief that my religion = good, you find excuses for these acts, even thinking of them as morally good, even though there's no way you'd think your god would tell you to kill someone you loved as a burnt offering.

    1. That's a very good point. People can find ways to justify anything they want if they want to badly enough.

      Though, in my experience, "God's will" seems to be a pretty standard justification. I was told many times, when facing a difficult or even traumatic situation that I should thank God for it because it was being used to strengthen my faith. Trial by fire and all that.


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