Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Belief and Reality

Commenter Ben Franklin made the following remark in response to my post about the movie Expelled:

Reality is that which, after you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.

Ben attributes the quote to the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick.

As a thought experiment, suppose I try to stop believing in things, just walk out my front door, and with as innocent eyes as I can muster, just encounter things. What would I encounter? Initially, just streets of houses, more or less the same, with more or less well-tended lawns and pools in the backyard. (My house has one of the more poorly tended lawns and an oval patch of sand in the backyard where the previous owners had a pool.) The houses continue for a while until, a quarter mile down the street, I encounter a very peculiar building utterly unlike anything around it; a stone building built in the Romanesque style. But, it turns out, the architecture is the least peculiar thing about the building. Every day in the building, a two-thousand year old religious rite is reenacted, including the recitation of a dogmatic creed that has not, I am told, changed since at least the fourth century. The religious rite and the creed are far, far older than any of the houses in town or even the town itself; in fact, the rite is not only older than the town, but also of the state and the nation within which it exists. And that by a lot.

How has the religion endured for so long? Not everyone in town believes in it. And many of those who say they do, don't have much to do with the Church, visiting it maybe once a year. Even of those who do seem to visit the Church regularly, many seem to put little stock in it beyond that weekly visit. I wonder if they can be said to really believe in it. Here is something that very few people seem to truly believe in, yet hasn't gone away in two thousand years. It seems that, by Dick's test, I have encountered reality in the Church. I learn that the religion of the Church, the Roman Catholic religion, is far and away the longest surviving publicly organized institution in the world. The Church down my street has Romanesque architecture because its origin is in the Roman Empire; the priest inside wears robes because he is in effect a Roman Citizen living in the twenty-first century. Believers come and go; faith waxes and wanes; nations and empires rise and fall; tyrants proclaim the irrelevance of the Church (Stalin: "How many divisions has the Pope?") and yet the Church endures. What will reality be in one hundred, two hundred or a thousand years? Being of a skeptical mind, I am inclined to the view that was has long endured will continue to endure beyond the recently minted. Whatever people believe or don't believe, in a thousand years reality will still be the Church... it doesn't go away.

1 comment:

edtye said...

Dave,
Another thought provoking entry. Keep up to good work.
- Ed