Sunday, August 10, 2014

August 10 2014. Believe it or not—belief was invented by a writer.

“A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.”
Oscar Wilde

“I go to seek a Great Perhaps.”
François Rabelais

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about dying is that you don’t get to find out what happens next. Or if there is an afterlife, perhaps you do.

I’d like to believe in an afterlife, but in the absence of any evidence to that effect, I remain an agnostic. In fact, I debate whether I believe in belief. I like to think I have a rational mind (though I’m not sure there is much evidence to support that thought).

Actually, there is some evidence of afterlife—if you choose to interpret it that way—and that is the existence of life itself itself. What is it? It is hard to categorize, but you certainly notice its absence.

Spend a little time with a dead person and you’ll soon catch on that there is something missing. The dead don’t talk as much for starters—and they have no social graces. Worse still, they rot after a couple of days—and they are difficult to lift. Damnably inconvenient.

Life is a truly amazing force when you think about it—yet we know absolutely nothing about it. Let me stress the word “know.” We’ve made up stuff to fill the gap, but we don’t know that it’s true. Not to worry—we’ve come up with a useful concept called “belief.” It’s a really useful word because it requires virtually no work. In particular, you don’t have to think. What a relief! Thinking is useful but tiring. It’s probably best left to marginal members of society like writers.

One of our jobs is to fill the gaps. We writers come up with stuff to stop the natives getting too restless. In fact, it was almost certainly a writer who invented the concept of belief—probably at the request of the movers and shakers.

I can see one of them rushing to a writer’s cave (belief was invented a long time ago) and screaming: “The natives are trying to think. That’s bad for us and exhausting for them. We need a stress reliever. Any ideas?”

“Dinosaur hunting?” the writer probably said. We rarely get it right first time.

“You need to get out more,” the mover and shaker probably replied. “Dinosaurs are big and dangerous.  Besides they seem to be vanishing so we’ve made them a protected species.”


“Not invented yet.”


“What’s a ball?”

“Most men have two of them. Football is where you kick one of them around. Or something like that.” Writers are rarely sports oriented. Football hadn’t been invented either—but sometimes we writers spot  a trend.

“I don’t see how kicking each other in the gonads would relieve stress—though I guess it would be distracting.  Can’t you come up with something better than that?”

The writer probably stood on his head for a while. Exercise helps thinking, but we writers try not to do it to excess. Being upside down does give you a different perspective.

“Belief,” the writing would have said finally. “We just tell people to accept stuff without questioning. We’ll explain it’s much less tiring than thinking. More energy efficient too.”

“Brilliant!” the mover and shaker would have said. “Why didn’t we think of that before. It will make controlling the natives so much easier. How does it work?”

“You keep on saying the same thing over and over again,” the writer would have said, “to the point where even if the natives know it’s not true, they will accept it—and you have to speak with absolute certainty. Start off by telling them that thinking is tiring and not good for your health—and that belief is easier and faster. Then repeat yourself until their eyes glaze over.”

“And that’s all?”

“Absolutely,” the writer would have said—with absolute certainty. “People hate thinking. It’s far too much like hard work. So repetition beats evidence any day of the week. Now let me tell you a story.”

“What’s a story?”

“A story is something you tell people to make them feel better,” the writer would have said. “Meds for the mind. Repeat one enough and it turns into belief.”

“Is a story true?” the mover and shaker would have said.

“A story is whatever you believe it to be,” the writer would have replied.

“Belief is a very powerful and dangerous idea,” the mover and shaker would have have said. “We movers and shakers can do a lot with it. What will you come up with next?”

The writer would have got to his feet. Standing on your head makes you dizzy after a while. Reverting to normal posture was generally understood as indicating politely that the issue had been talked out.

“I’m working on something called politics. It’s a blend of belief, ignorance, and greed.”

“Sound like just our sort of thing,” the mover and shaker would have said.

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