Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The cement that holds true belief

My sister died early Saturday morning, and since then I've listened to various assurances that she has gone home to Jesus, etc. The certainty with which such assurances can be made has reminded me of what it is that really holds a true believer in place. It isn't the true believer's simply believing a proposition is true despite there being no evidence for it (aside, perhaps, from some hearsay about there having been a divine revelation).

No. I think that what really holds the true believer in place is his additionally believing that his very act of believing, if performed with enough faith or intensity, will make the proposition true. In the present case, if he believes with unwavering faith that my sister has indeed gone home to Jesus or whatever, then surely he too will go home, etc.

We've probably all been there. I was there, for example, in 1989, when I truly believed that I was going to win the Publishers Clearinghouse $10,000,000 Sweepstakes. I'd even had a revelation—a personal revelation in the form of a dream. But that wasn't enough to hold me in place. I daily recited "affirmations" that it was (or would be) so. I fervently, intensely believed. I truly believed it.

But it didn't come to pass. Any more than Jesus returned in the lifetimes of his associates who fervently believed that he would. Any more than the world has come to an end on the schedule of any one of various true believers who have predicted it would. Etc.

I said we've probably all been there. The tip-off is the word "affirmations." We've all lived through a period of vocal New Age proselytization, abetted by any number of bestselling books about becoming a big success in life. That is, we've all, whether "religious" or not, been somewhat conditioned to believe that we can make something happen if we only believe it strongly enough.

Magical thinking. At least when it comes to influencing things outside our own nervous system over which we have no control.


  1. If faith gives comfort. More power to those with it. My two cents.

  2. On Saturday afternoon, "Anonymous" commented here and, because it was anonymous, I've deleted the comment. But "Anonymous" is probably someone I know, so I've preserved the text (with corrections):

    "I'm with Steve. Everyone has something he believes in and one has to believe in something.

    "Lots of nice things were said about your sister during her service and about her husband. They had to believe in something or someone. They led their lives the best they could. I think that is all we can do. Be kind to everyone and maybe someone won't step on you."

    It sort of sounds as though I'm being threatened for perceived unkindness. What would a Christian someone do to "step on" another person?