I just recently saw the movie Inception, with Leonardo DiCaprio. I thought it was good, overall. There were a few times when I winced because the pseudo-scientific explanations for how the world of the movie operated hurt my brain. But I put it aside; I allowed myself the suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy the movie on its own merits. I allowed myself to be absorbed by the mythology of the film, in order to enjoy the narrative, characters, resolutions, etc. And then I enjoyed the movie.
Then I started thinking about mythology. I started to think how that suspension of disbelief, that acceptance of the mythology of the world I was watching, felt familiar to me. And then it struck me while I was in the shower (of course; why do such thoughts always seem to hit me in the shower?).
See, I’ve thought before that worldviews; the set of assumptions, beliefs, and (hopefully tentative) conclusions which underlie our navigation of the world, are made up of mythologies. Each of us have lenses (metaphorically speaking) with which we see the world; we often see very different worlds than those with different lenses. Stepping into someone else’s worldview will result in lack of understanding, feeling out-of-place, or possibly offended.
Then it occurred to me that in order to step into someone else’s world, one would need to suspend their disbelief. Further, they would have to first suspend their own belief, for a little while. They would have to try and take off their lenses and try on the lenses of another, in order to understand the world; to accept the slightly different world which is presented to them.
It is much like going to the movies.
I remember when I was first fascinated by religion, I would enter into situations such as church discussion groups, lectures, etc and I would try and lift my cultural assumptions in order to try and understand how they saw the same event. See, I studied anthropology as an undergrad, where we learned how to be good ethnologists. In order to understand cultures different than our own, we had to be able to become open, observant, and to, well, suspend our own worldviews as much as we could.
And the better we became at being aware of our own worldview, the better ethnologists we could become, right? The better we know what our own lenses do with our perceptions (our biases), the better we can identify how another bias might skew the theoretical objective reality that we are supposed to be sharing. (This makes me want to comment about the problems that this would bring up for an inter-subjective reality, which I prefer to the idea of an objective reality…but I shall resist the tangent).
So, back to the worldviews of others….
For a time, I was able to see the beauty, the inspiration, the enticement of the worlds I would visit. I could understand the draw of the love of Christ, understand the greatness of Allah, see the wisdom of the Buddha. I was able to comprehend, if only superficially and perhaps only as a simulacrum, why people had faith; why they maintained religiosity. Yes, my dear reader, I was once a faitheist, an accommodationist even, even while I had always been an atheist.
But I never accepted the worldview. I never became part of it. I watched it, with interest (and the appropriate disinterest at times) that accompanied my genuine desire to understand, but never accepted it as true. I couldn’t accept it as true, even when I saw it as beautiful, profound, or insightful.
I was able to enjoy the show.
This leads me to wonder; how often do theists do this?
How often do theists try to see the world through another religion’s eyes? How often do they really adopt skeptical glasses? I know Lee Strobel claims to do this, but I’m skeptical of this claim, for many reasons.
The Outsider Test for Faith deals with a related point, and I suggest that all theists consider this test for themselves.
But something has changed for me over the last several years. My genuine desire to understand has not changed, so what has? I no longer can comprehend how a person can continue to wear the glasses of the mythology of religion–I’m thinking specifically of Christianity but not exclusively–with the world as I see it around me. I do not claim that the world I see it is the TRUTH or that my worldview is superior (although it may be), but I have learned enough, been exposed to enough skepticism, and have thought about it enough to dismiss faith out-of-hand.
I no longer can respect faith. I can understand why people are stuck there, but not how they can remain to be stuck there with all that the world has to offer in terms of information, contrasting mythologies, etc.
This will remain a point of reflection for some time, and perhaps it is time for another episode of an atheist in the pews. (See part 2, as well). Perhaps I can regain some of the appreciation of religion.
Or maybe not. Perhaps that was an idealist’s dream that died with the cynicism that often accompanies growing up. Perhaps m more recent feeling, that the supposed beauty of religion is really hidden de-humanizing emotional traps, will prevail.
Time shall tell….