The Belief Factor
Belief is an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists. But why is it that people have so much riding on belief. People argue and fight over beliefs yet, without it, where would society be. What type of a world would exist if people didn’t have something to believe in. These questions are some of philosophies most thought of ideas and in the book American Gods, Neil Gaiman explores the idea of belief and what it really means. People creates beliefs to give meaning and reason in life, even if those beliefs are backed by nothing but the people that told them to believe it.
In the book, American Gods, Neil Gaiman brings to light many topics with symbolization that would fit into American culture. A large theme that is seen throughout the novel would be the theme of belief. Belief is a theme that goes further than just what a belief is. Gaiman goes deep enough to say that it is belief which creates an otherwise empty world with myths. “…People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales.” (Gaiman,678). Gaiman is saying that if it wasn’t for our own beliefs and imagination we wouldn’t have the gods we chose to believe in. Throughout the book Gaiman describes instances of people bringing the gods with them as they traveled to America. He also gives examples of the beliefs that were brought to America being passed down and that is what kept the belief going. “She told them all these things, and they believed, because she believed” (Gaiman,127). This is a representation of how it is a person’s belief which brings the ghosts and gods to places. Yet another metaphor for how our beliefs are what people have created and passed down through the generations.
The belief that there is a being or beings greater than oneself goes back thousands of years and can be seen throughout ancient civilizations. “…our ancestors developed the necessary neural architecture to imagine before or around 40-50,000 years ago” (Coghlin). The theory that Maurice Bloch argues is based around the idea that as humans we have evolved to the point that we imagine and create ideas in our head even without being able to see them. Basically, the reason that we believe in religions and gods is because of the evolution that took part thousands of years ago. Bill Nye agrees with this theory in his book Undeniable. “Apparently, a consequence of having a human brain that can do remarkable things like play the violin, invent a trick in calculus, or pole-vault over walls and thin striped bars, is being able to ponder our very existence” (Nye,176). The chapter in Nye’s book goes over the evolution of human emotion and how people have evolved to the point to fear death and this fear has made humans want to understand death. Once death is understood as a one hundred percent occurrence for everyone, the idea of life after death was created to give hope to a short life.
In American culture the religion that stands out from the crowd is Christian faith. The belief in the Christian God is the same belief as all the gods that came before it. Today’s God is one that needs worship and sacrifice just like the old gods. Yet, people tend to follow the religion blindly and without knowing how religion was started or even why they believe what they do other than being told what to believe as a child. “God is a creation of those human beings–all male–who sought to gain power over other people, or (put more charitably) who sought to keep order in the community by invoking the absolute authority of this mythical being as a source of political power” (Watters 1997). It is strange that people put so much time and energy into beliefs that they don’t completely understand. The idea of god and the afterlife are creations of the human mind and were then spread across the world. The ideas with the most pleasurable of outcomes like a heaven or enlightenment caught on faster than others and grew in popularity. Religion can have multiple secs and ideas for different people to believe in. “…folk choose the subset most convenient to themselves” (Grayling 2009). People tend to agree with or believe in the religion that is most convenient to themselves. That can be any type of convenience from being raised to a certain belief, to choosing a belief that makes them feel most accepted.
There is nothing wrong with having a belief that helps give life meaning or even help a troubled person get through life. Belief is what keeps a lot of people living for tomorrow and is needed in the culture today. Belief is way for people to understand the world that they live in. Gaiman even describes this in his book “Religions are places to stand and act, vantage points from which to view the world,” (Gaiman,643). What Gaiman is trying to get across is that religion is a way for people to see the world through a lens that might distort it or might just give them a sense that there must be more to life. Religion is a way for groups of people to connect and feel as if they are doing good in the world and for themselves. That is why there is nothing wrong with the belief in religion and a god or gods. However, it is this belief that is blind.
The blindness that belief creates is what makes belief dangerous. Blindness to others in the world with different beliefs and to the things in life that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Everybody has their own truth, but that truth isn’t fact. That is where a lot of conflict arises between belief systems. One person’s truth is not always the same as another. When people treat opinion like fact and push belief onto others is where the line is crossed. People die in the name of religion and people die in the name of “GOD”. The danger of belief is one that is taken for granted often. “Three factors lead believers into uncivil behavior. (1) The irrationality of belief and (2) the legitimization given to actions by beliefs in higher authorities… Thirdly, (3), an otherworldly idealism and fixation with the corruptness, evilness or immorality of this world often pushes groups into extreme isolation where they cease to consider outsiders to be worthwhile human beings,” (Crabtree). This quote is describing the causes and reasoning of violent acts that religious people or groups take part in. Violence between religions and even inside religions is a large negative that runs with belief. Beliefs cause differences which in turn make people act out against those differences because of how passionately people take to their own beliefs. In the book, American Gods we see the differences between the old and new gods which creates conflict. It is shown how easily the beliefs of even the gods can be manipulated and used to promote violence and start a war.
Belief is a strange topic to talk about because it is hard to understand the reasoning behind belief and why people believe what they do. So many components go into just one set of beliefs and make up a person’s truth. A person’s truth tends to be the most important thing in a life. The belief system a person holds tight to, tends to be what they carry with them to the grave. That is why it is important for some people to have such strong beliefs, because they are afraid of life after death. It all comes back to belief being a creation of the human mind which helps give meaning to the life that everyone must go through. If a belief can help get someone to accept the undeniable pending death, then they should believe with all they have, even if it is a blind belief that has no evidence. The only evidence a person needs to believe is the belief to be presented to them, and then they leap.
Coghlan, Andy. “Religion a Figment of Human Imagination.” New Scientist, www.newscientist.com/article/dn13782-religion-a-figment-of-human-imagination/. Accessed 14 Apr. 2017.
Crabtree, Vexen. “Religion, Violence, Crime and Mass Suicide.” Www.humanreligions.info, www.humanreligions.info/violence_and_crime.html. Accessed 14 Apr. 2017.
Gaiman, Neil. American Gods: a Novel. New York, NY, William Morrow, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2017.
Grayling, A.C. “The empty name of God.” New Statesman, 13 Apr. 2009, p. 37. Academic OneFile, ez1.maricopa.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ez1.maricopa.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=mcc_chandler&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA199209939&asid=d14369613a7155e0e9dff459512bfe2d. Accessed 4 Apr. 2017.
Nye, Bill, and Corey S. Powell. Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. New York, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015.
Watters, Wendell W. “God, the Bible, and human violence: a Canadian psychiatrist noted for his study of the effects of religious belief on mental health …” Humanist in Canada, no. 120, 1997, pp. 6-9. Academic OneFile, ez1.maricopa.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ez1.maricopa.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=mcc_chandler&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA30504857&asid=9431535a820a80b8422701f625e4c81e. Accessed 4 Apr. 2017.