Reasoned Belief

Let me start off by saying outright: I’m no Fox Mulder, though I enjoy the X-Files as a show. I didn’t want to believe; but I’ve found, over the years, it doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t believe. That doesn’t stop the ‘other things’ in existing or, worse, believing in your existence. If I were to be compared to a character, I’m closer to Dana Scully.

I’ve actually wrestled with the decision to start describing various odd supernatural events that my family, friends and I have encountered over the years, largely because, well, I don’t want to sound utterly bonkers; plus I’m a fiction writer to boot. I don’t want to be derided as a fantasist who can’t tell reality from fantasy, or ‘looking for attention’ so I have to ‘make up’ stories about myself ‘to make myself seem more interesting’. Please. I’ve lived in the tail end of the Philippine dictatorship and caught the end of the Cold War, living in East Berlin. Our first apartment was a building set aside for the families of the Stazi and the second one was right across the street from the North Korean Embassy, and just a few streets away from Checkpoint Charlie. While at a diplomatic function with my parents I got hauled to do an impromptu stint as a model in Paris (what I remember the most of that night? Trying not to trip and fall in shoes that were too big for my feet, and worrying about the fact I didn’t have my glasses.) Life is plenty interesting without the supernatural having gotten mixed in; and I’d have been happier if it’d been nothing more than a fascinating thing I’d read or write fiction about.

That’s not what happened, and frankly, at some point I have to just shrug. I’m rather used to people thinking badly of me, spreading rumors, or wishing me ill. That would be nothing new. The thing that kept me from writing things like these down and sharing them is my reluctance to be seen badly by those whose opinions I do care about.

But I’ve been getting the urge to write these down; to the point that I sometimes can’t sleep. And even then, I’m unsure what is ‘safe’ to tell. Nevertheless, if you’re going to be the sort who’ll just heap negative commentary as opposed to discussion, don’t be surprised if I decide to ignore your comment or delete it if you’re especially offensive.

It might surprise people to learn that when I was a teenager, I actually was something of an agnostic; borderline atheist – call it a rebellion, or ‘attempt to grow up and away’ from the rather devout Catholic child I was before we moved to East Berlin. I was determined in my youth to become a scientist.

This, sadly, was not to be. Not because I ‘couldn’t’ do the work – I devoured science books left and right – but rather I started experiencing stuff science couldn’t explain. I wasn’t alone in my experiences either (and I’m sure there are people out there who would dismiss them as mass hysteria).

A good atheist friend of mine (still a good friend, believe me!) asked me once several years ago, a question that probably would’ve offended a lot of people. But I knew this friend and trusted him. He wasn’t being malicious or mean or anything like that; he was genuinely curious and I knew he knew he could ask me anything, and if I didn’t want to answer, all I had to do was say so.

The question was: “How can someone as intelligent and as rational as you believe in the supernatural and superstition?”

I asked him if he believed me a very rational person – ergo, I wasn’t someone who blindly accepted things, but looked at the facts as best I could, with the information I had on hand, and would reason things out in a way that was sensible.

Without hesitation, my friend answered ‘yes.’

I said “Do you believe that human experience is rational, real and valid, and how a person sees the world, and experiences it is part of the basis of reasoned action and thought?” (well, this is more or less the gist of that.)

Again, my friend said yes, of course.

I said “If you accept -indeed, think – that I am a rational person, and that human experience is valid, then my reason why I believe in superstition and the supernatural is because over the course of years, I have experienced too many things and events where not believing was the irrational thing to do. It was that, or go crazy, because I could not accept the evidence presented to me by varied experiences, both shared and not shared. And since, as you said I am an intelligent and rational person, it was with some difficulty I accepted that this was real.”

The rest of the conversation was an enjoyable discussion where I conceded that I couldn’t replicate these experiences on demand for scientific observation (because, well, supernatural beings are about as capricious as people are), but my friend conceded that I wasn’t a blind believer in the unknown, and that people may have valid reasons for having belief in the supernatural, or having religious belief because of their experiences. We probably stayed up chatting far too long, but it was a very good talk.

(Later on when I was fondly remembering the conversation, my friend was greatly horrified he’d asked such a jackass question and apologized. I told him there was nothing to apologize for; since I knew him and he wasn’t mocking me in the asking. He still was shocked at the ‘insensitivity/arrogance’ of his past self. Honestly, I was probably the only safe person to ask that question! So still, my friend – no need to apologize, I accept honest curiosity, which is what you had that night.)

I don’t expect everyone to believe any of the stories; that’s okay, really it is. I don’t mind. Treat this as interesting folk tales, kwento; stories, if you wish, or an entertainment, or research for your next story. I’ve been requested as well to tell some of the stories and experiences because they are of interest, and I don’t mind doing so. I’ve got friends who might find the stories useful in some way, and who knows, perhaps someone out there might find something I’ve mentioned being of some help.

As for how I reconcile the two approaches, it’s not hard. For some things, I will turn to science. For some, I will use faith and belief. Both have supported mankind and it is a matter of discerning which is the correct tool to use at the time.

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One thought on “Reasoned Belief

  1. Foxfier

    Science is a good tool, but a poor master. 😀
    One thing I’ve tried to start doing before I reject things in the name of science is go “If I replace ‘the little people’ with ‘the guys down the road,’ would what I’m asking the person to do be crazy?”

    So if they say “I asked the lady down the road to help me find my keys. She helped.” and I say “I don’t believe it! I want you to repeat that event,” it would be silly. Thus it’s silly to ask the same of Saint Anthony.

    Now, stuff might not be supported by observation via the scientific method, which is a different statement– for a mildly amusing example of observation failing, my dentist thought I was in my first trimester… a few weeks before I was due. Another pregnancy, I mentioned I would be missing the next few play dates because I’d be in the hospital, and the (college) girl who ran the group didn’t believe I was really pregnant until we brought the baby in; had a few embarrassing situations where folks asked us to donate our baby clothes since we were “obviously done,” when I was at least six months pregnant. (I do gain weight, I just look fat.)

    Doesn’t require anybody to believe in what others tell them, it’s just that you’ve got to use the right tool– a measuring cup won’t tell you if the water is hot or cold!

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