Secret Mojo Dumbs It Down for You

July 21, 2006

The burden of belief

Filed under: Literature,navel gazing,religion,television,writing — secretmojo @ 12:48 pm

Continuing in my rabid consumption of Bill Moyers’ Faith & Reason, I watched three interviews that were so packed with chocolately goodness that I could feel my own thoughts converging toward a realization that none of the three addressed explicitly, but which somehow arrived through the subtle nudging of the subtexts swimming underneath these three interviews. Is this not exactly what television should be doing for everyone?

None of us will ever be smarter than the world. I can be smarter than Bill O’Reilly, for example, and he can be smarter than a slug. But even a genius will tell you that the Universe wins, hands down, in the brilliance department. As the saying goes, our attempts at describing the Universe are similar to a chihuahua’s attempts at grasping long division.

It only makes sense, then, what a great burden belief is. Especially the belief of being Chosen. Filling the unknowns of the Universe with beliefs is a daunting task. It’s like maintaining a dreadful lie. Hiding evidence, fearing someone will call bullshit on you, and even risking the chance of your belief deteriorating through your own logical mechanisms all put pressure on a you to strengthen the ferocity of the belief, or risk losing it.

It’s not just religious belief I’m talking about. The burden falls upon anyone wishing to transcend their own situation as well: they’re believing in an unknown, which is “I will become famous,” or a more humble “I will be better than this,” yet are confronted every millisecond not by their enemies, but friends and mere life who challenge the veracity of this belief. “It’ll be hard.” “Don’t quit your day job,” “Dammit, I screwed up again,” and so on. Indeed, a belief like this has no veracity, because it is unprovable until the deed is done. And the burden of this belief is just as great as a religious one, and no less like a dreadful lie you must maintain.

The interviews I saw were author Jeanette Winterson, who discussed her retelling of the man with the biggest burden, Atlas, in her book Weight. In addition, I watched Anne Provoost explain how she arrived upon the unique point of view of her book In the Shadow of the Ark: a teenage girl doomed to endure the flood because she was not chosen. Finally, I watched David Grossman, one of the coolest and smartest heads in Israel today, discuss what a burden the Samson in his book, Lion’s Honey, carried around by being chosen, and how he serves as a metaphor for both Israel’s strength and its (and by extention the Palestinians’) dysfunctional repetition of bad decisions.

All are worth the time to watch, and are sure better than reading me.

However, one thing I’d like to mention about all these characters—Atlas, Samson, and Noah—is the individual burden all of them carried for believing in something. Atlas, who believed enough in humanity (dysfunctional, crazy, impetuous and evil) not to put the Universe down. Samson, who believed in his righteousness as an agent of God, but also, at his end, believed in the love of the wrong woman who ultimately delivers him death. And Noah, who, by virtue of being chosen, becomes complicit in the wishes of a genocidal God. All of them were selected for some grand purpose, and suffered for it.

David Grossman, and to some extent Anne Provoost, also spoke of the idea of strong individual beliefs being hermetic (Grossman’s term). That is, these are beliefs that have only self-validity, without the need for—and in some cases disrespect for—outside reality.

Neither addressed it the way I do, in which I say: the One Red Paperclip guy required a hermetically sealed belief, impervious to detractors, to achieve the amazing feat that he did. There’s a burden there. To trust yourself, to suspend disbelief—which is coming at you from a million angles—far enough to follow through on your actions in a world that, by the way, thinks you’re nuts.

On the side of evil, however, I think a person (or even a state) with a self-propelled belief is tempted to use disdain to protect himself from attack. Furthermore, a person holding a belief who is not as confident in it as say, Frederick Douglas was when he fought for abolition and reconstruction, has a much higher risk of going off the deep end, resorting to disgust, stubbornness, hatred, and finally murder to strengthen and defend his chosen belief. These are the kind of people who think “crusade” is a great word.

But in either case, the burden of belief is huge, and its maintenance cost is high.

I’m not advocating a Zen-like disbelief system here, if that’s the impression I leave. I’m just bringing up the challenge of what a belief system demands of us: high maintenance, extraordinary will power, and some rejection of the reality around us.

In the case of righteousness, we should police our disdain, our hatred, our tendency to berate; these are sure indicators of not only our insecurity in these beliefs, but are the sacrifice of our humanity whilst trying to protect them.

In the case of personal transformation, we should constantly look for ways to strengthen the belief in our own greatness (while of course re-checking for that disdain and arrogance mentioned above) by, for example, finding confirmation of our worth everywhere, and acting upon that belief in full confidence (even if it is nuts to the outsid world).

Belief is a great burden. Therefore, we should choose our larger beliefs wisely and of our own free will, so that we can maintain them civilly, with respect for the rest of the world. Because if we do not choose them wisely nor of our own free will, we delegate our decisions and acts to a third entity (be it God, or genetics, or our own sorry situation), pridefully granting ourselves impunity in all matters. Which is a very dangerous situation, indeed.

Now, stop reading this and watch one of those interviews!



  1. Interesting discussion. Burden of belief… I believe you’re right!

    I’m glad I found your blog… will read more on it.


    Comment by fencer — July 22, 2006 @ 9:43 am | Reply

  2. You say that belief systems demand “some rejection of the reality around us.” I would say that, in general, I accept reality around me, but I also recognize that the reality around me is insufficient. Is this included in your use of ‘rejection,’ or is idea in conflict with your’s?

    On a more personal note, where do you (as you say) find confirmation of your worth? I realize that this could be a quite personal question, and don’t need an answer, but I am quite curious.

    The idea of a ‘burden of belief’ is new to me, but it makes sense. Thanks for the thoughts.

    Comment by Aurenande — July 25, 2006 @ 3:23 am | Reply

  3. Aurenande, you correct me well. I say “rejection,” and perhaps this isn’t the right word choice. I mean to say that belief systems make up for the deficiency in the material world to fill the gaps on big questions like purpose, intent, etc., and if I commit myself to a purely empirical interpretation of reality, I cannot divine any worth from it.

    Further, “reality” to anyone, is basically a hardcoded selective bias because of the limitations of the 5 senses, time, space, and mental capacity. So I can’t put all my trust in it, and if I’m brave enough to attempt idealism, I must downplay it. Not entirely, but enough to get by, which means I may have to embrace some pretty loony conceptions, which is quite alright with me.

    One confirmation of my personal worth comes when I see the minute changes I effect. In 200 years time, I may not even be part of a statistic. I have to derive earthly merit from somewhere, so I create a belief that my itty-bitty actions contribute to massive future revolutions. It’s ridiculous, of course (No it’s not, dangit!). But I can’t countenance the true probabity of it, so I permit myself to “fudge” a little when defining reality.

    Thanks for your provocative comment; it certainly helped me think more clearly. And helped confuse me, which I think is more valuable anyway.

    Comment by secretmojo — July 25, 2006 @ 5:15 am | Reply

  4. Thanks for the clarification. Glad we’re (more or less) on the same page.

    And I’m happy to help clarify or confuse, whichever may guide you to Truth. 🙂

    Comment by Aurenande — July 26, 2006 @ 8:49 pm | Reply

  5. […] The whole interview is worth a gander. Beats the hell out of American Idol, for sure. I have two other posts on this series, if you’re interested: The Burden of Belief, and Bill Moyers Delivers again: “Faith & Reason”. […]

    Pingback by Secret Mojo Dumbs It Down for You » Morality precedes religion? Salman Rushdie on Faith & Reason — August 19, 2006 @ 12:21 am | Reply

  6. a016070970 –

    Comment by int. — February 16, 2007 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

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