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Suspension of Disbelief and Gaslighting in the Bible

gaslightingPlease view expanded and updated post here.

Guest post by Melody

Some of the stories in the Bible depend heavily on the suspension of disbelief and/or on gaslighting. These tools are quite useful, as they give more credence to the stories, which is pretty important for a book that claims to be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Suspension of disbelief is important when it comes to storytelling, as it is needed sometimes. If we all didn’t suspended our disbelief, why would we ever watch or read fantasy or sci-fi? Why would we be interested in mythology or superhero movies? The characters, animals, and events in these stories are not real, as we well know, and loads of impossible things happen. Suspension of disbelief is what keeps us going. Superman doesn’t exist, but we’ll still give him the benefit of the doubt because we’re interested in the story and the character.

But — and there is a “but” to this — if the suspension of disbelief stretches a little too far for a little too long — the tolerance varies from person to person — we stop believing in the story and instead get irritated and scornful. We stop reading or watching and feel a little cheated somehow. The promises are not fulfilled and the bubble is broken. There are many ways this can happen; I’ll mention two.

Deux Ex Machina and the plot hole

These are two of the pitfalls of some biblical stories. Deux Ex Machina literally means “the god from the machine.” It’s a plot device that comes out of nowhere and saves the day. It can be used for any kind of new event, character or development that fixes whatever was the problem. The audience feels cheated when this happens: it seems unfair because it’s too good to be true and not very believable. Deux Ex Machina tends to break the suspension of disbelief and creates an eye-roll moment instead. The plot hole has a similar effect. A plot hole is an error or gap in the story that cannot be fixed without ruining the story’s own internal logic. A situation where events clash with earlier information is an example of a plot hole. Plot holes are irritating to the reader and make a story weaker. If something doesn’t fit well in the story, once again the suspension of disbelief is much more easily broken, which will in turn lessen the enjoyment of the story. Other examples of this are characters who act out of character or, for instance, historical characters whose dialogue is far too modern. It becomes harder to enjoy a story when these things happen.

Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a subject which has recently received more attention. It is a form of manipulation where the person who is being gaslighted will begin to doubt his or her own memories or reasoning. It’s seen as an abusive tool as the subjects will become doubtful and distrustful of, ultimately, themselves. Gaslighting is about being dismissive of someone’s arguments and about invalidating people’s feelings. “Are you sure it happened that way?” might be an example. It’s a way of discrediting someone before they’ve even begun to speak. You could say it’s what Job’s friends do to him as they invalidate his words and talk over his arguments.

When you take this further, it might be that God is gaslighting us. “Do not lean on your own understanding.” The Bible constantly warns us that as sinful people, we should not to trust ourselves, nor our sinful hearts. This is precisely what the term entails: making people doubt their own perceptions, their own lived experience, belittling their feelings or memories. The question is: who gains from this and what does the gaslighter have to gain? In a relationship the gaslighter will try to get the power, the reins of the relationship, by manipulating the other party to the relationship. If this is what God does to his own people, what does that say about Him? Why does God have to manipulate his followers in getting the power in the first place? Doesn’t He already have it?

Gaslighting is a specific tactic designed to make people doubt themselves and thus grooming them to believe the other person’s views and perceptions. It is something that leaders of any kind might use to their advantage to control (a group of) people. If people can’t trust themselves, they will be far more likely to start trusting their leader, which is the intended goal. Cults probably use this as well. Messages to the members to not trust themselves, nor the outside world, make it easier to keep them in the fold.

Conclusion

One could say that when you de-convert, the suspension of disbelief for the Bible has been broken. You’ve been kind, and perhaps resilient, enough to hang on to its truths for a long time but you simply can’t anymore. The spell has been broken and suddenly the Bible is riddled with plot holes. Broken promises and prophecies abound. The story no longer captivates you as it did before. You become aware of numerous problems in the storylines. You can’t un-see them anymore. On top of that, the authors (or God) try to gaslight you into not trusting yourself and your own judgement. Once you realize that, you’ll have a hard time going back to Biblical bliss.

8 Comments

  1. Pingback:Gaslighting | Civil Commotion

  2. Avatar
    infmom

    I have had no luck getting an evangelical friend to for pete’s sake read the text of the first commandment. If there were no other gods, it wouldn’t be necessary to say that no other gods can come before the god of the Israelites, right? She then quoted a verse from Isaiah where the god of the Israelites straightened Cyrus out about keeping the Israelites in bondage.

    Think about it from Cyrus’ point of view. Would he pay any attention to a god he probably hadn’t heard of and certainly didn’t believe in, especially when that god hadn’t kept his chosen people from getting flattened by the Babylonians in the first place?

    She hasn’t spoken to me for quite a while.

    • Avatar
      Melody

      Apparently when a nation won a battle, it meant their god(s) was/were superior and the other gods were either weaker or angry at their worshippers. They allowed the other tribe to win to punish their own followers: this happens quite a bit in the Bible too. It’s pretty interesting as the Bible sometimes acknowledges the existence of these other gods, as if they do truly exist (rather than simply being made-up idols).

      There is also this story about an angel being delayed by a demon for a number of days (Daniel 10:13) which puzzled me to no end. Shouldn’t God have sent a stronger angel? Couldn’t he have the demon removed somehow? It doesn’t make sense in a world where God is the perfect ultimate-never mind the only one-God. It does, however, make sense in a world with battling tribes and gods where everyone gets their turn at losing and winning the (divine)
      battles.

      Like you say with Cyrus. Why should he care what another god of another tribe thought? It had nothing to do with him! It could sort of signify this change from jaweh being just one of many gods, to him trying to establish some sort of rule over all and becoming The God.

      It’s hard dealing with all these contradictions when you still believe. You’ve probably given her some food for thought and perhaps increased some doubts.

  3. Avatar
    Brian

    Belief in God is like smoking cigarettes. Some people crave more and more even though it requires continual and serious self-harm. They know they are surely a worm because they return again and again to be harmed. They crave… Queerly, the drag from the cig is sometimes blissful and could not be better. You must be chosen to know how truly glorious the cigarette is and if there are others around you who claim that smoking is not wise, they need your help. Blow smoke in their faces. Get them hooked. Jesus will soon return to confirm the habit. It will be too late for Gerencser of course unless you keep after him! Smoke him out!
    Melody, thanks for this post. When I was brought up inside the tobacco factory, I could never have endured hearing such heresy as you offer here but now it seems to me most obvious and astoundingly simple to see. Lean not on your own understanding is a phrase that is utterly ludicrous when considered. Lean on your misunderstanding! Light up! Thank-you, Jeebers!

    • Avatar
      Melody

      Lol at being brought up inside the tobacco factory, same here. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if someone, say five/seven years ago or so, would have told me I’d lose my faith and even write about it, yet here I am. It is heresy, but really, what is heresy other than asking honest questions? Of course, now I poke fun at religion sometimes, but it all started simply by having questions and most of them I had as a believer.

      It makes me wonder how many of the heretics in the past were just people with questions? Not necessarily troublemakers, just random people who longed to know more. Being a bit of a troublemaker is fun too though 🙂

      • Avatar
        Brian

        Melody, history tells us that the word heretics only became worthy of scorn and death at the hands of Christians during the time of the Crusades… sounds like you are aware of this history already. Heretics were in fact, people questioning what was commonly known. The Church is designed to harm those who care about themselves enough to question everything. It is designed to harm… Lean not on your own understanding!

  4. Avatar
    Audre Lynn Jankowski

    That conclusion has me in tears. That’s exactly where I am right now. Now how do you move on from being heartbroken and angry knowing that your whole life has been an abusive and controlling lie? I’m so so heartbroken. I’m so defeated.

    • Avatar
      Melody

      Offers a hug. It is really hard to deal with. Your world(view) sort of crumbles. All I can say is that it does, ultimately, provide chances as well. The chance to decide for yourself, to make up your own mind, to shape your own world. But it is a loss and a great one at that. It takes time to heal and find your footing again. It will get easier.

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Bruce Gerencser