Frog and Esther Jones

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The Stupidity of Faith

There is little in the art of writing lazier than faith as a plot point.

See if these lines seem familiar:

“All we can do now is believe in X” (Where X is the protagonist or, sometimes, the plucky sidekick–usually uttered when X is off doing momentous things and there’s a group of people basically just sitting around believing)

“If enough people believe at once, all together, then X” (Where X is something highly improbable to impossible)

“No matter what happens, I believe in X” (X=protagonist.  Generally line is uttered by side-character Y just as something horrible is about to befall them.)

If you find yourself writing a plot that looks like this, then stop for a second.  Take a step back, and look at what you have wrought.  Because, quite frankly, it’s hideous.  As soon as one character starts talking about beliefs, it’s almost a guarantee that they’re going to be rewarded for that belief.  Rare is the time when someone says “No matter what happens, I believe in X” only to be shot dead half a second later because their faith was wildly misplaced.

It’s lazy.  Instead of having your characters try to do something, they’re simply believing in something.

But this isn’t actually a post about the craft of writing.  This is another one of my political posts.

Our culture has been inundated with these tropes.  Oh, religion’s had its input as well, but we have been swamped, over and over again, by lazy writers telling us that the mere act of believing is, in and of itself, valuable.  Not investigating, not observation, not careful, rational thought.  Belief.  And, generally in these plots, belief against all odds.  These lines tend to get uttered when everything looks its absolute worst, but it’s not, because–faith.  Indeed, those who rationally analyze the situation are almost always wrong, because having the obvious be true would also be kind of a boring story.  So we have this dramatic filter beaten into us, again and again; that last-minute saves really happen.  But only if you believe, regardless of what things look like.

So, now, here we are.  You want to know why we’re getting more polarized?  This is part of it.  When belief becomes more important than rationale, suddenly a lot of things don’t matter.  Things like paying attention to the facts.  If belief is better than rationale, then any facts that disagree with your belief are simply wrong.  So, on the left, we get people who are still clamoring for Trump to not be president (there’s several subcategories here, and they’re all dumb.  A Republican Congress isn’t going to impeach a sitting Republican president, and there isn’t going to be a coup.  He’s the president).  On the right, we’ve got people telling us that “the media” (as though it were a singular entity) are simply not giving us the real facts.  You know, the facts that agree with their position.

Belief has no intrinsic value.  The act of believing in something without question is the act of surrendering your intelligence.  Your intelligence is basically the only thing that makes you different than, say, these guys:

Question everything.  Question your own beliefs.  Ask yourself if you feel so stridently about something, why you feel that way.  Have ideas, not beliefs.

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