Does Atheism Affect your Suspension of Disbelief?

Suspension of Disbelief

This is something I’ve become increasingly aware of lately and I wanted to get other people’s take on it. As everyone knows, not only am I an atheist, I’m a serious geek.  Well, I’m not sure how serious I am about it because, let’s be honest, I have a healthy take on fandom, I am not a crazed fanatic, nor one that knows every bizarre detail about every geeky thing that I take an interest in.  I am a fan.  I am not a fanatic.

However, I’ve realized that I’m just not able to suspend my disbelief nearly as far as I used to be able to when I was a Christian.  I used to be a big fan of fantasy books.  Today, I can’t stand them.  Why?  Magic.  The second I see magic being used, and I mean the “serious”, wave-your-wand, flying on broomsticks, totally-absurd kind of magic, I start to lose interest, it takes a very well written book to keep me reading if it has magic in it.  While I honestly don’t remember the details, I remember the book series that put me off fantasy forever, it was the Belgariad series by David Eddings.  I even remember where I was when I put it down.  I was maybe 15, I was laying out by the pool at my grandmother’s house, reading the book, I realized that half-way through, the author completely changed how magic worked because he had written himself into a corner.  I closed the book, put it down and never picked up another high fantasy book since.  I really hate fantasy as a genre.  Even in some badly done sci-fi books, where technology is just a disguise they hide the abracadabra under, I typically get very bored very fast.  I want my tech to be reasonable, not supernatural.  Of course, while I’d like it to be believable, I don’t tend to go in for the super hard sci-fi, where it’s just technology porn and no plots, no decent characters, those all exist for the sole purpose of providing science fapping material.  I like technology that is scientific, that follows specific rules, that is predictable and has an impact on the world.  I really hate shows where it’s painfully obvious that the technology ought to have far-reaching effects, like the transporters in Star Trek, where there should be no death because everyone can be regenerated out of their transporter matrix, but they put forward some lame, nonsensical excuses for why it doesn’t happen.

So recently, I’ve started to look closer at this, I wanted to know how deeply it goes.  Take the Japanese One Missed Call series for example.  I sat down and re-watched it a couple of months ago over the course of a couple of days and I noticed something about it that I hadn’t noticed before.  While I really liked the first movie, in fact, I used to have the One Missed Call ringtone on my phone a long, long time ago, the other two… not so much.  The reason, as I’ve come to understand it, is that they dramatically changed the “rules” in the second two films.  The premise of the first film was that you received a missed phone call, a voice mail that let you hear the last few seconds of your life, sent from some point in time in the future.  When you met your usually grisly end, someone in the contact list on your phone would be called with their last few moments of life.  The movie is one of the scarier movies out there and it doesn’t get too absurdly supernatural, which is why it’s quite good.  The second movies, however, entirely miss the boat.  The second movie asks the question, what happens if someone answers the phone when the missed call comes in?  Worse yet, what if someone besides the intended recipient answers it?  That, in itself, might be an interesting idea, but by the end, they have people purposely sacrificing their lives by answering other people’s phones, it stops being so much about horror and more about self-sacrifice.  By the third film, they had totally gone off the deep end and now, the only way to keep from dying when you got the call was to forward the voice mail to someone else, so you had a group of teenagers on a field trip purposely screwing each other over to avoid being killed.  Across the three films, there just was no consistency and that killed my enjoyment more and more as time went on.  I keep meaning to watch the One Missed Call TV series to see how it fits into this newly identified paradigm, maybe I’ll get a chance soon.

I honestly don’t know what it is, the second something stops being believable, be it in a book, movie or TV series, I stop being interested in watching it.  Lots of people say that the TV series Grimm is good, but almost immediately after I started watching it, I identified a lot of reasons why I couldn’t continue.  In fact, there are a lot of shows like that recently, like the now-cancelled Alphas that I had to force my way through the first season for.  It’s not the writing or the acting that drives me away but the very premise and the way it seems like nobody bothers to think of the ramifications or the interaction of the concepts they try to combine.

I’m a realistic guy.  I like reality.  I’m not reading sci-fi to escape from the real world, I’m doing it because I enjoy it.  All I ask is that the writer or the director think about what they’re doing before they do it.  I guarantee you, I will be thinking about what they do, I can’t help myself and when it’s so absurdly obvious that the creative minds are just trying to tell a quick, one-off story instead of generating a cohesive world, why should I want to be along for the ride?

This brings us back to my original question, does this have to do with my atheism?  Probably not directly, but it has to do with my rationalism almost certainly.  I can’t help being rational.  I look at the world rationally.  I think about everything rationally.  I can’t help it.  I naturally look to form connections between disparate pieces of data.  I assume that, in the imaginary world that I’m considering, that at least some other people would do the same.  If it’s so bloody obvious to me that transporters could be used to confer effective eternal life, why is no one doing it?  You can argue all you want the moral and ethical problems with such a thing, but there are many dozens of species in the universe that the Federation in contact with, they have the same technology, you can’t argue that they all have the same human morals or ethics.  Surely some of them would have done it.  Why do we never hear about it?  When it gets to the point that I can no longer watch the show or read the book without realizing how inconsistent it all is, something breaks inside of me and I have to stop.  That’s why I really can’t stand Star Trek anymore.  I love TOS, I tolerate TNG to some degree, but everything else… like the prequels in Star Wars… they just don’t exist as far as I’m concerned.  They are inherently broken and I cannot concern myself with broken things.  My suspension of disbelief doesn’t stretch that far.

So what about you?  Have you noticed the same thing or am I all alone here?  Let me know!

7 thoughts on “Does Atheism Affect your Suspension of Disbelief?”

  1. You are definitely not alone. I am still able to suspend disbelief, especially during horror movies, but I will admit that it is more difficult than it used to be. I have to be a bit more deliberate about doing it than I used to. I suppose this could have something to do with atheism, but I think that it has at least as much to do with age, life experience, and skepticism. In the case of movies, I also think the fact that I've seen so many in the horror genre means that I cannot help but recognize the various conventions used that I would have missed in my youth.

    I recently watched Chernobyl Diaries, and I enjoyed it despite the rather poor reviews it received. There were a few times that I found myself thinking, "Yeah, right" in response to something that seemed farfetched or silly, but I still enjoyed it for what it was. When I watch a flick like that, I turn off the lights and kind of will myself to get sucked into it. I don't know if that makes any sense, and it doesn't always work.
    My recent post Prayer in School: Why Isn't Silent Prayer Good Enough?

  2. I generally don't find it too hard to suspend disbelief, so long as internal consistency is maintained. Fictional worlds are fictional, after all, and they don't have to play by the rules of the real world. That said, I actually find it easier to suspend disbelief with regard to magic than to stuff that's supposed to be sciency. If magic breaks the laws of physics, then well, duh, it's magic! That's kind of what it's expected to do. If something that's supposed to be science-based blatantly breaks physical laws, as opposed to, say, merely obeying some apparently unknown undiscovered ones, then I'm a little less forgiving.

  3. "the author completely changed how magic worked because he had written himself into a corner"

    that right there is the problem. I don't mind magic, or impossible technology in my fiction. But they really need to establish what stuff does and stick with it. And if they come up with new stuff, it can't be something that would trivialize something that already happened. If the wizard uses a teleport spell near the end of the book, and that spell would have been an easy solution to the first third of the book I'm going to be pissed (unless he found the spell half way through the book).

    As to whether it is connected to my atheism, it really depends on what is happening in the story. As long as it doesn't connect to claims that people make in real life that hurt people, I'm totally fine with it. What really drives me crazy is when they do things like make some random psychic 100% right about everything. Sometimes they will even go the extra mile and do the whole "most psychics are bullshit, but this guy is the real deal". Those things drive me nuts because people get scammed by things like that all the time.

    My recent post Why Is Abraham Considered a Hero?

  4. I've been a lifelong atheist but, after falling in love with a Catholic woman (now my fiance) and attending Mass with her, at her invitation, I decided it best to suspend my disbelief and actually believe in God during Mass. It took quite the effort but, after trying hard (and, yes, praying for belief as I was told this may work) I can now almost instantly adjust, becoming a believer during Mass.

    It's a great feeling, at least to me, and even though my cognitive self revolts at the idea, I'm considering extending this to time outside Church. Needless to say, my fiance is overjoyed…another plus.

    1. You actually can't do that. Belief is not subject to the will. You can't force yourself to believe something. Either you are internally convinced that something is true or you are not. It isn't something you can consciously turn on and off. You can pretend to believe, which isn't the best thing to base a relationship on, but you don't actually believe. You're just saying that you do for her sake. Is dishonesty something you want to be a base part of the relationship? That's up to you.

  5. If he is trying to give religion an honest attempt, why should you stop him? He needs to keep praying for God to bring the truth of His word, the gospel message to his life.

    1. How in the world could I possibly stop him? I'm just being honest, you can't simply decide to believe something, you have to be actually convinced that it's true. Whether he develops a belief or not has no bearing on me.

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