I recently watched and reviewed Prometheus. Chuck it a squiz first if you’re of the context-loving persuasion.
There’s a line at the very beginning of the film that ground my gears. In a dream, a young girl asks her father what happens once we die. He says we go to heaven, or paradise, or somewhere nice, and when his daughter asks him how he knows he simply replies “because that’s what I choose to believe.”
He’s wrong. Nobody ever chooses what they believe. It just happens.
The line is repeated a bit later on in the film, when the crew of the titular spaceship ask protagonist Dr. Shaw why exactly she believes that the aliens of the film, the ‘engineers,’ were responsible for the creation of life on earth, as opposed to the forces of evolution or the omnipotent hand of God. Again, she says “because that’s what I choose to believe.”
Belief doesn’t work like that. You believe because you are convinced, not because you consciously will it to be so. You can desperately want something to be so, and given time and a messed-up enough psyche perhaps eventually faith can grow from it, but you cannot ever deliberately believe it.
It reminds me of my imbecile 4th-grade teacher. I went to an international school with children from all over the world, and our class environment was built from many ethnicities and faiths. Naturally we grouped up at some point to do a project on the religions of the world. Inevitably, some 10 year-old intellectual asked of our teacher’s beliefs, and even as a fourth-grader I was completely blown away by the nonsensicality of what she said. “I don’t believe in anything right now,” she answered.
“But I like Buddhism. Maybe I’ll start believing in that.”
Belief isn’t a mineshaft you can suddenly pick up tools and start hammering away on. The human brain is not a vending machine that you can just push ‘I wish’ coins into until belief falls out. Belief is a conviction, and a conviction comes from being convinced.
I am not especially religious, as I am not yet convinced of anything in that domain, but nor am I an atheist, since I’m not 100% convinced of the falsity of everything spiritual. If faith of either kind builds up within me, it will be a natural process, not something I can manually direct in the way I feel most comforting, like a builder creating his dream home from blocks he’s just invented himself.
My 4th-grade teacher might show a genuine interest into Buddhist precepts, and a fascination is certainly a strong jump-off point for faith, but the two are not the same. Maybe she’s been studying the Buddhavacana all this time, and given it some thought, and gradually accepted it into her beliefs. Maybe she’s a Scientologist.
Belief is a funny old thing. Growing up, certain things are impressed on us – the Earth is round, swearing is bad, etc etc. Often spiritual belief is just another core concept – surely there are many, many children growing up in religious households for whom faith is just the default, children who have never asked the Big Questions, but never really accepted and understood what they think is their ‘belief’ either. Real belief – religious or otherwise – either comes later, more gradually, or is consciously rejected, at least in our faith-obsessed culture.
Perhaps Dr. Shaw’s fictitious father hadn’t reached that point for himself. Maybe he’d never given it enough thought to call it out, or to personally reaffirm his convictions.
Either way, I hope my old teacher is happy.
- The Thought Police… (girlygirl.typepad.com)
- Ernest Becker: An Introduction (donemmerich.blogspot.com)
- 81. ‘We’re all going to die anyways’ (marlenvargasdelrazo.wordpress.com)
- Information, Ignorance, and God Abuse (perfectdivine.com)
- Christianity Does Not Care About The Truth (new.exchristian.net)
- Business boost for young Ugandan mother (itv.com)
- Would Religion Survive The Discovery Of Alien Life? (outsidethebeltway.com)
- Why Do People Fall for New Cults and Religious Movements? (unbiasedtruth.net)
- The Third Mandala – Free Excerpt from the Responsive Universe (responsiveuniverse.wordpress.com)
- We want to become Scientologists (independent.co.uk)