Thursday, March 3, 2016

I Want to Believe, Maybe

In the last post, I talked about how people understand the world differently and our ideas of what is or can be true are at odds. Why does Mulder believe in aliens but not God, and why does Scully believe (sometimes) in God but not aliens? In an empirical materialist’s mind, both are equality unlikely. There are different philosophical proofs that could weigh the two, and psychoanalytics into why someone believes one over the other. I think it sometimes comes down to cost assessment. Will believing this ruin my good life? Will it improve my bad life? What do I have to sacrifice about myself to pursue this path that I find true? What purpose or obligation comes with believing? 

In the same episode I mentioned last time (s3e11 “Revelations”), the priest repeats a line that Scully keeps hearing throughout the investigation: “Sometimes we must come full circle to find the truth.” When she doesn’t say anything, he asks, “Does that surprise you?” She replies, “Mostly it just makes me afraid.” He asks, “Afraid?” She replies, “Afraid that God is speaking, but that no one’s listening.” 

How many coincidences were signs that were ignored, either by unbelievers or by believers afraid to demonstrate their belief? Mulder is a true believer, and his life is overrun by his beliefs. He always sees connections. He’s given up the prestige he had to work in a dead-end, basement job. He is shunned by his peers as “spooky.” He has no home life. He puts himself and his family in danger. It’s a total sacrifice, but worth it for the truth, right? Until the truth turns out not to be true, and his faith crumbles. Then it was all a wasted life. Commitment to faith is high risk.

In mid-season 5, Mulder has abandoned his faith in aliens, believing instead that all the alien evidence is diversion for the government conspiracy. That his faith in the lie was used against him. He no longer believes his own memory of events. He believes in nothing, not even himself.

Scully, although skeptical to his beliefs, finds a believing Mulder better than one who believes in nothing. When he asks for her help (s5e14 “The Red and the Black”), she asks why she should. She says, “Five years ago when I met you, you told me your sister had been abducted. By aliens. That that event marked you so deeply that nothing else mattered. I didn’t believe you. But I followed you, on nothing more than your faith that the truth was out there, based not on facts, not on science, but on your memories that your sister had been taken from you.” Why should she take any risk when there isn’t anything, not even faith, for to risk herself? Mulder urges, “If I could prove that I was right, and I what I believed for so long was wrong.” She replies, “Is that what you really want?”

Scully recognizes his dark night of the soul. He wants to believe, but can’t. On the other side, Scully strives to remain skeptical, but experience after experience makes her question her own stance. She returns to church more often, and she continues to believe in messages from God. But she also sees the dark side of believing—a man who’s given up everything, who gullibly chases every rumor, who can’t let go of the past. Why would she want that?

In many ways, we don’t choose to believe. We just do. But at the same time, we do choose. We choose to live in accordance with that belief system. We alter ourselves to align with the truth as we understand it. Regardless of what the belief system, that change, that alteration, that radical upheaval, is usually difficult. So many of us believe, but we choose not live as if we believe. We compartmentalize our beliefs into manageable boxes, certain places and certain times of day. We believe when it makes sense, when it won’t be ridiculed, when it brings comfort. That helps starve off a dark night of the soul, that lingering feeling that all is wrong, all is loss, all is outside of our control. Less risk. 

I want to believe. I want to be the kind of believer that lives like I believe. But I don’t. I want to play it safe, hedge my bets, fit in—a myriad of other excuses. I want to believe and also be in control. But I’m not sure that’s how it works. 

There was a time that I thought that being comfortable or thinking that you had the answers was a bad form of faith. Then I got comfortable and liked the answers I had. As Mulder says in one episode (s7e9 “Signs and Wonders”), “People think the devil has horns and a tail. They aren’t looking for a man who tells you what you want to hear… Somebody offering you the answers could be a very powerful thing.” Faith isn’t as simple as affirming a creed or answering an altar call; it involves work and risk. James 2:26 says, “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” While I don’t think works could ever merit salvation, I do think that works demonstrate faith in two ways. First, one can do works without giving assent to the belief, kind of “fake it until you make it.” Second, one can do works because belief is so strong, that it is all-encompassing, spilling out from the intellectual, mystical abstract into a measurable, tangible demonstration.  

On a good day, my apathy is brought on by a dark night of the soul. But mostly, it’s brought on by my own insecurities, my own laziness, my own comfort, my own weak faith. I want to believe, but it’s really hard.

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