God and I are Ignored Magicians

Sabio's Hitch across Eurasia

In my youth, I hitchhiked from Europe to India over a 1-year period with no money and went without food for days on end.  One of the things I learned in order to obtain food was to do magic tricks.  After two or three days of not eating, it became easy for me to beg for food after humoring people with my simple childhood slight of hand tricks.  Fortunately, some people, along with a piece of fruit or bread, also taught me one of their favorite tricks and thus both my show and my nutrition slowly improved.

When I do a slight-of-hand disappearing tricks, nobody actually believes they happen.  They all ask to see again so they can see what I really did.  But some of my tricks, if I set them up right for the right audience, get people so amazed that they think I am indeed special and have amazing yogic skills.  These tricks include mind-reading, moving objects from a distance and breaking objects with the slightest of touch.

But what really amazes me over the years, is that even though many people really believe I have these magical powers, they often question no further.  They ask for no teaching to bring them to such a high level of control over nature, they take it all in stride even though they are convinced I have super powers.  It is as if the supernatural bores them.

Likewise, it seems a similar thing that even though people say they really believe the Bible is God’s only true guidance in their lives — his special message to them, they still don’t study it or really read it.  They may read a little, but not as often or as diligently as one would imagine if you believed the Bible was a personal message to you from the creator of the world!

My explanation is that large parts of most believers really don’t believe the whole thing — not my tricks, nor God writing a book.  What do you think?

__________
Addendum
:
After discussion in the comments, I thought I’d add this short summary of what I believe in order to explain my above statement:

(1) We have many inconsistent beliefs (for example: Belief in God, doubt in God, no belief in God)
(2) The inconsistent beliefs present at different times depending on our social setting and events
(3) These amount to “Many Selves
(4) Lack of true wonder with Magic and God reveal these co-existing inconsistent beliefs
(5) They do not reveal “laziness”, “stupidity” …
(6) They reveal that we do not have ONE set of beliefs and that we are not who we think we are (and certainly not who we say we are).

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “God and I are Ignored Magicians

  1. Temaskian

    I think some people just don’t think as much as others. They’re contented with their lives; why think so much?

    A rich kid will not bother to ask where his rich dad is getting all the money to buy him his toys. (For example, and generally speaking.)

    It’s not enough to say they don’t really believe. We don’t really believe too, which is why we seek to expose the reality. But some just simply have no great desire for truth.

    We’re the real romantics, perhaps? 🙂

    Truth enamors us.

  2. First, let me say that I’m envious of your travels abroad.

    I really can’t agree with your assertion that the majority of believers don’t have confidence that God wrote a book.

    Many new converts voraciously digest the holy books of their particular religion. However, as time passes, the fact that they have a book from God becomes such an accepted facet of their reality that the original wonder diminishes (and, therefore, the time spent studying the book).

    In most cases, I don’t believe it has anything to do with latent disbelief regarding the inspiration of the book.

  3. Ian

    Its a great question, and one I’ve often thought about. And in the context of the believers I regularly interact with, something I’ve often asked.

    If you really did believe in God, and in the things the bible taught, wouldn’t that affect your whole life, wouldn’t there be nothing but nothing more important than willing people to Christ. Wouldn’t you live in the sure knowledge that God would provide. Wouldn’t you spend every waking moment in prayer?

    I’m not sure it is a sign of lack of belief, however. Because as far as I can tell these folks genuinely struggle with the sense they should be more consumed by it. There is a conflict about what they think they believe and how they act.

    For example, a woman I know how is relatively rich is really pained by that. She feels like she is not serious enough because she isn’t giving her money away.

    But ultimately, I think, the lack of follow-through is a sign to many believers that they are sinful and wretched, and need the grace of God. Rather than that they are experiencing the perfectly obvious cognitive dissonance of trying to believe in something that is irrational.

  4. Steve Wiggins

    I believe people are not taught to think about the implications of their belief structures. I see it all the time in university students: when faced with a glaring contradiction, they simply blaze ahead with belief because it is deeply ingrained. Critical thought in not taught and is not sought.

    Another reason may be that humans have evolved to be impressed by appearances. “Perception is reality” as any good marketer knows. Again, even otherwise intelligent people are easily drawn into clever displays. Nature trumps intellect.

    I’m aways fascinated by magic shows myself. Perhaps because, like Mulder, “I want to believe,” but like Scully, at times I just can’t.

  5. CRL

    I think people tend to get complacent in their beliefs, especially if they were raised with them. While the idea of a great, all-powerful, supernatural, etc., god seems exceptional to one who has been outside the faith for even a short time, when you are born into such a belief, one looses interest, and accepts god as just a part of “the way things are.”

    If people grow up believing in the supernatural, I’m sure the same thing must happen. To one who grows up believing, they are the way of the world, to one raised a skeptic or without an opinion, they are the stuff of legend.

  6. “Critical thought is not taught and is not sought.” – SW

    Amen.

    “Nature trumps intellect.” – SW

    Amen (sorta – the intellect can play some pretty strange games of its own).

    General human laziness would be my explanation. It’s a lot easier to be just wowed by something and go with it than by questioning, studying or practising a skill.

    I think almost every religious authority has had intimate knowledge of this part of humanity.

  7. So, here is a summary of your theories:
    — Don’t think. No Desire for Truth (T)
    — Looses wonder (N)
    — Not taught to think or easily fooled (SW)
    — People get complacent (CRL)
    — People are lazy (A)

    I think my theory of “Many Selves, No Self” offers an explanation of how we holding conflicting beliefs with different weighted valence triggered by different environments. Thus, there does not have to be laziness, stupidity, attrition, boredom or the like to account for this lack of follow-through. Instead, I think we fundamentally misunderstand ourselves and how we believe.

    Any thoughts?

  8. Ian

    You missed my theory in your summary 🙂

  9. Let’s see, Ian. You are saying they act differently than they believe which causes “cognitive dissonance”. Is that really a “theory”?
    😆

  10. Ian

    No I am saying they are (more or less) aware of the gap between how they act and what they believe. But that gap is construed as more evidence for their belief.

  11. Ah, I see. But I still don’t think it counts as a theory because it does not seem to answer my question of WHY they don’t act as they believe. You only explain how they adapt AFTER they don’t follow through with their belief.
    So, what do you think about my theory? (it is a constant theme on my blog)

  12. Ian

    I have a lot of time for the idea.

    So a person might claim to “believe in God”. And you are saying that, (in this case) you can determine what behavior you would expect to see from a “belief in God”. But you aren’t seeing that. So you are positing that they do not “believe in God”. But the person certainly claims to “believe in God”. So presumably you want to say that, actually they merely “believe they believe in God”. I.e. you can separate their beliefs into a second-order belief to affirm, while denying the first-order belief.

    Belief in belief is an important idea (h/t Dennet). But I think he uses it in a different way to you. He doesn’t claim that the second order belief is mistaken, just that the second order belief is more important to people than the first order belief.

    I’m fundamentally pessimistic about the ability to clearly dissociate those kinds of meta-level beliefs, certainly to the extent you would need to determine that a person has mistaken their beliefs about their own beliefs. I think we have to take people’s claims about their beliefs seriously. Particularly as, in this case, they have good beliefs about why you are mistaken in your analysis.

  13. Ian

    > Ah, I see. But I still don’t think it counts as a theory
    > because it does not seem to answer my question
    > of WHY they don’t act as they believe. You only
    > explain how they adapt AFTER they don’t follow
    > through with their belief.

    This is all true.

    I didn’t realise those were the grounds for passing your threshold for constituting a ‘theory’ though. Otherwise I’d have used an alternate term.

  14. @ Ian:

    I am saying:
    (1) We have many inconsistent beliefs (be IN God, huge DOUBT in God, No God)
    (2) The inconsistent beliefs present at different times depending on our social setting and events
    (3) These amount to “Many Selves”
    (4) Lack of true wonder with Magic and God reveal these co-existing inconsistent beliefs
    (5) They do not reveal “laziness”, “stupidity” …
    (6) They reveal that we do not have ONE set of beliefs and that we are not who we think we are (and certainly not who we say we are).

    Do you disagree?

  15. Ian

    No, I agree with all 6.

    But the last line of your post said “My explanation is that large parts of most believers really don’t believe the whole thing”. I think it was just the phrasing that lead me to think that you were saying something other than what you were.

    I thought you were saying that they didn’t really believe. Now I understand you as saying that they have many selves, and at least some of them do believe, while others don’t. The latter I can agree with, the former not.

    Feel free to delete the snarky comment, by the way…

  16. good post and discussion. my only comment would be to weigh in on the only phrase that many seemed to have missed: “My explanation is that large parts of most believers really don’t believe the whole thing — not my tricks, nor God writing a book. What do you think?”

    you may have done tricks, but God didn’t write a book. many people have done so about God, some of which may have indeed been inspired by God, but God didn’t write it.

    had to keep the progressive Christian front moving and represented.

  17. @ Ian
    Nah, I will keep the snark to illustrate how hard communication can be. Smile ! Thanks.

    @ Luke
    Keep pushing for the progressives, Luke. I think all Christians have a little progressive in them. But your comment is prophetic — I am about to post something in the next week or so to address your objection and hopefully to show why I don’t think you are as free from this criticism as you may like us to think. For I strongly feel their is a fair measure of “God-is-the-writer” in most of you progressives too ! Stay tune and do refute me!
    Smile.

  18. look forward to it.

  19. “I think we fundamentally misunderstand ourselves and how we believe.”

    Yea, this gets a big “Amen”. I think I was looking more at the symptoms rather than giving a proper diagnosis.

    Looking forward to the future incite-ful criticisms.

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