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  • John Diamond-Nigh

An uplands of best belief




Belief. I am fascinated by it and by all those ways our #beliefs make us colorful, crazy, literary figures in the novel of our own life. At the same time, we’re very droll mammals in our capacity to believe anything. ANY. DAMN. THING.

Beliefs of course, are given to us, engrained in us, they weasel in through fear and anxiety; most gloriously and innately, they belong to us. They are ours and ours alone. Discovered, one hopes, through a lifetime of trial and introspection. Of trudging backwards, closer and closer to the upland origins of our being.

Another funny thing about beliefs is how they change. They do. Any belief with juice inside it has to change. Like rhubarb in May. My father, still a minister at 60, would have been viewed as a heretic in his own eyes at 20.

So how do we keep belief sane, mutable, authentic and all the while serving both us and the world as it should?

More art and fewer dictators. More single consciences and fewer collective manias. More #tolerance and fewer wards of torture. (Sorry, #Dante, but if I were an adequately great theologian, I’d spend my time trying to put your inferno out.)

When I say that art should be simpler, nobler, more astonishing, I am thinking of all the ways that art nudges us toward a key of mysticism well beyond the perimeter of dogmatic or empirical things. Toward a sumptuous inaccuracy. I am thinking of art as a school of openness and consolation. Alain de Botton points out the ways that just a simple painting, Chardin, let’s say, can revive faith in an otherwise nihilistic world.

But ‘belief’ is so vast, its connotations are so prolific. Its benevolence can sour into as many élitist zeals as there are crayons in a jumbo Crayola box. The ‘gentle, meek and mild’ of belief gets honed into exclusionary #creeds. The very best people I know will be ushered into the punitive bonfires of most of those creeds. And told to stay there.

And that is the chronic stain on belief. It cannot be satisfied with a benevolent orientation. Rather it must pass from there into the hard quarantine of creed and burly world-disaffection.

Belief is not, as #Jung points out, a knowing (and certainly not the yakety yak pseudo-knowing of so many believers). That alone may be its greatest virtue––to remain a velveteen hypothesis in a world of hard proof. A cushioning layer of metaphysical fat.

At the same time, belief needs some delimitation.

Heresy is my favorite form of belief. But hand in hand with heresy must also go a mastery, an incense, a subduing technique. Aesthetics in fact is built around that heresy/mastery mix. As are all the kinds of belief I respect.

Yes, belief is haywire now. What can we do? Lynne proposes, as she always has done, greater civility. A small step, but I agree––essential. I never met a worthwhile belief that wasn’t schooled in the courtesies of its own equivocation.

Second, assure ourselves that our beliefs are ours and ours alone, drawn like water from that upland source.

That we didn’t just sign on.