Thursday, June 14, 2007

I Believe I Believe You Believe

My friend V is a first-grade teacher. Raised a questioning Catholic herself, she works at a non-denominational Christian school in which the kids pray every morning, attend a school-wide chapel every week, sing songs about praising Jesus recreationally while doing art projects. This year, if I've mentioned to her a problem that feels intractable, she asks, knowing my lack of commitment to a particular religious belief, if I would like her kids to pray for me. And I've taken to saying yes, and upon learning my cousin would not leave the ICU, I called V and left her a message requesting that her kids pray for my cousin and my cousin's children.

Now what was that all about?

It's perhaps inaccurate to say I lack commitment to a particular religious belief; rather, I lack commitment to a particular organized religion. Culturally, it being my own background, I favor Judaism, but as I've said before, art comes much closer to being a religion for me than any established form of worship. I believe that art can change people, can solve problems, can offer experiences of transcendence where little else in the world can. I'd say that's a personal belief, but I've come to it because it's through art that I've experienced the deepest, most complex, most surreal—that is to say, least defined/limited by conventional logic—relationships with other human beings. And I consider religion to be about proscribing, or at least directing, relationships among human beings.

And yet, the next belief I'd put forward is that human interaction is my god. What many people in my life, including but not limited to bunches of my own adult students, attribute to an act of God I attribute to the power of human connection. I attribute a limitless power to connection between human beings—which is not to say that limits don't exist, but it is to say that I don't believe they have to. I think mobs and ensembles have tremendous power for evil and good (respectively, though that's reductive); they can do things far beyond what any individual could, and I don't consider that a miracle, although I think such a group could do anything that fervent Christians believe would be a miracle. Maybe not *anything*, but anything that I believe has ever actually happened.

It's beyond that, though; it's almost a belief in karma. Though I don't believe that the prayers of V's students are reaching God's ears, I believe in their belief. I think that the power of seven-year-olds praying could change the world, just by virtue of seven-year-olds believing in something that strongly. I think those children putting that energy into the universe is going to change it. Perhaps it's because I still trust seven-year-olds to act on their professed beliefs, to genuinely do good works in the world, but even if V's students never meet my second cousins (my deceased cousin's children) themselves I still somewhere believe that the fact that they prayed for them will make a difference. On a certain level it's delusional, or at the very least too abstract to be relevant; my second cousins are going to have a very difficult next several years of life no matter what happens, whoever has prayed for them and whoever concretely, actively supports them. But it would also be sad if we wasted prayer, and belief, on things like "making things not difficult." I believe that support in the world has been created for my cousins by V's students' belief. Not because God will provide it, but because seven-year-olds are putting that kind of thought and love and energy into the world, which means there's more of it, and will somehow make its way to my cousins.

I don't really understand why I find that so much more plausible than God.

Is it all semantics, to belief that it's your belief that changes the world, rahter than an all-powerful deity (or set thereof) responding to the power of your belief? I know some believers who'd say it is and some who'd say it isn't, and there's always the thrillingly circular question of whether and how semantics matter(s). And it may be that I'd prefer to believe in something over which I could conceivably (and ethically) exercise some level of control. I can make decisions about what I put into the world and what I ask for and let my judgment, rather than the judgment of something I could only pretend to understand, be the ultimate arbiter. Certainly my judgment's been influenced by any number of sources, among them religious people, but I think it's beyond semantics and into pragmatics. I believe in, and am devoted to, other people's belief—not automatically or indiscriminately, but I think there's abundant evidence that it makes a difference, for good and/or for ill. Can I direct it, does my belief in a particular form of belief influence what goes into the world? Is there any way to decide that for certain?


At 12:12 PM, Blogger tyromaven said...

What you're writing about here is true in the way Rumi and Camus talk about truth, in a humanitarian sense, in alliance with life, and in a way beyond semantics and disputational arguments. Intersubjective, interobjective, interbelief, inter-religious truth--the bridges between two formerly separate truths--these are really useful truths. They are tools when you wield them, because they give you the power to reach someone else's deep truth from within your own deep truth and form an alliance.

Yo, I'm with you. But to add some lightness, the "i believe i believe you believe" and the cummings above remind me of another thing:

"I think that I think that I think that I think that I was thinking about you...."

At 12:11 AM, Blogger Lawrence said...

what is the difference between mobs and ensembles

or maybe rather

what is the missing space between mobs and ensembles


At 5:24 PM, Blogger Ammegg said...

Usually I say it's simply that ensembles do good and mobs do evil, but I've never liked that answer.

Really what I think it is is that members of ensembles make the deliberate choice to relinquish individual control, or at least to enter a space where they might have to relinquish individual control. I don't think mobs, or members of mobs, can ever enter into it with that sense of purpose. Or any sense of purpose.


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