October 16, 2007

Suspending Disbelief

The Exorcist I am a fan of horror films, especially those with ghosts and other supernatural forces. When I explain this to Christians, it is fairly common for me to get a reaction along the lines of, "But how can you enjoy such films if you don't believe in demons, devils, ghosts, etc.?" It is as if the believer thinks that I must watch the film criticizing every supernatural aspect. I suppose if I were to watch such films this way, it probably would limit my enjoyment of them. However, I have no trouble temporarily suspending disbelief for a good scare.

Atheists are perfectly capable of suspending disbelief in instances like this. I have little difficulty turning off the rational part of my mind to heighten my experience of watching a good horror film. It is not that different from turning off the lights beforehand.

Where atheists and believers part ways is that I reactivate that part of my mind after the movie is over and actually use it. In fairness to the believer, he or she does the same in most contexts save that of religion. The believer seems to engage religion as I might a horror film, with the rational part of the mind muted.

Christians are fond of claiming that they cannot understand how we atheists could possibly enjoy life. They perceive us as coldly intellectual, blind to their "truth" by our need for evidence, and incapable of experiencing awe in the face of beauty. They think that a world stripped of mystery through the application of science is somehow less inspiring. Such misconceptions are unfortunate, and I am saddened by the thought of anyone thinking that the experience of awe, inspiration, or joy has anything at all to do with nonexistent supernatural entities. We atheists embrace of reality over delusion and find that our appreciation for the beauty of nature is enhanced.

We are perfectly capable of suspending disbelief, but we recognize that doing so in real life (especially when faced with complex decisions) would be a mistake. When the movie is over, we return to reason. I can't help feeling sorry for the Christian who does not do this, preferring to dwell in a fantasy world where imaginary forces of good and evil are in constant battle.