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  • Mike

Suspension of Disbelief

The BBC must have invested a lot of money in the range of new drama series being screened in the autumn season. ‘Bodyguard’ is the story of the pressure which the terrorist threat puts on relationships between a British Home Secretary, her fellow ministers, the security services, her bodyguard, and their families. A second, ‘Press’, is the story of the pressure which circulation numbers put on relationships between the editors of two very different national daily newspapers, their staffs, and their families. We have stopped watching the first but somehow we are continuing to hang on with the second? Why?

It’s not the actors, it’s the characters that have been written for them and the plotlines they follow. The storyline is certainly less plausible in ‘Bodyguard’ than in ‘Press’. There are too many developments in the plot which just do not stand up to scrutiny. They stretched our credulity too far. ‘Press’ however seems much closer to what you might imagine goes on in newspaper offices at the editorial level.

In literary circles, the technical word for this stretching of audience credulity is the ‘suspension of disbelief’. How much unreality are you willing to wave through the checkpoints of your mind to allow you to continue to follow the story?

The suspension of disbelief is at work too in religious circles. The BBC could run another series on an archbishop’s office. Good scope for intrigue and conflict there you might think. The media occasionally have fun with a story about a bishop who does not believe in what bishops are supposed to believe in. A few years ago there was a pretty good crack at exploring the reality of clerical life in the series ‘Rev’. Well worth a watch if you can find it in the cybersphere.

Most religious believers operate with a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. Which parts of the story to trust and retain as part of faith and which to let go? People who stand outside religious communities often assume that believers buy into the whole package. Our experience is that some people do but most do not. Some things you do wave through the checkpoints of your mind because the faith story makes sense in so many ways. It’s when that traffic becomes very heavy that faith begins to lose its way.

Emily Dickinson says (somewhere, something like - but I can’t find the precise quote) ‘I believe in a life with God except on Mondays and Thursdays’. Many believers will tell you that faith ebbs and flows. Some who do not claim any faith will confess that at certain moments or in certain places they have a certain nostalgia or even longing for God. There are riches to be had in the sharing of our various levels of willingness to suspend any disbelief. A lot depends on how much of ourselves we are prepared to invest in the story.

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