Just Believe in it.

The Role of Belief in 'Firefly'

Adam Savage from Mythbusters is famous for a particular quote: “I reject your reality and substitute my own.” He first said it when he was told that something he said on camera was not remembered correctly and when confronted with it, he said the above quote.

Such a statement is a reflection of belief: I reject your belief and substitute my own…even if the reality completely negates the belief. Beliefs have an immense inertia: they are often a rejection of the world around us and a substitution of a concept that makes sense.

‘Firefly’ | ‘Serenity’

In the 2005 movie Serenity the bad guys are the Alliance, a militaristic galactic empire shrouded in democracy. Their narrative is that they are creating a better world:

Operative: I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin.

To the Alliance, the ends justify the means: in this case, horrific means of assassination, cutting off food supplies to colonies, and genocide via a planetary sedative. Their narrative leads them to do anything to justify their goals, and go to the point of sedating people so they follow the scripts given to them.

On the other side of the conflict are the good guys led by Captain Mal Reynolds. Their basic narrative is summed up by River succinctly:

River Tam: People don’t like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don’t run, don’t walk. We’re in their homes and in their heads and we haven’t the right. We’re meddlesome.

Mal exemplifies this as he travels the galaxy on the wrong side of the law, just looking to keep his ship running, but he keeps on conflicting with the Alliance as they seek to bring planets under their control and imprison people they think they own. The entire series Firefly shows this narrative clearly.

In the movie, when their narratives clash, Mal’s speech to the ragtag group of rebels to join on the most ridiculous plan to stop the Alliance echos the Mythbusters quote:

Malcolm Reynolds: Sure as I know anything, I know this – they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten? They’ll swing back to the belief that they can make people… better. And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin’. I aim to misbehave.

Mal has succinctly identified the shortfalls of the other side’s narrative and substituted his own. His narrative gives him drive to combat not only the people who are arrayed against him but their entire worldview. His conviction drives him to seek justice and give voice to the voiceless, even at great expense to himself. He rejects their narrative and substitutes his own.

Application

When people are in AA, the first thing they do is stand up and say “I am an alcoholic.” They are removing their own narrative of “I can quit any time” and “I’m fine” and replacing it with a new narrative that says the reality. And by doing so, they open themselves up to transformation.

While we may not be in a 12 step program, we are suffering from a script. Walter Brueggemann gave a talk where he outlined 19 Theses about the clash of the world’s and the church’s narratives. Here’s the first few:

1.     Everybody lives by a script. The script may be implicit or explicit. It may be recognized or unrecognized, but everybody has a script.

2.     We get scripted. All of us get scripted through the process of nurture and formation and socialization, and it happens to us without our knowing it.

3.      The dominant scripting in our society is a script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism that socializes us all, liberal and conservative.

4.     That script (technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism) enacted through advertising and propaganda and ideology, especially on the liturgies of television, promises to make us safe and to make us happy.

5.     That script has failed. That script of military consumerism cannot make us safe and it cannot make us happy. We may be the unhappiest society in the world.

6.     Health for our society depends upon disengagement from and relinquishment of that script of military consumerism. This is a disengagement and relinquishment that we mostly resist and about which we are profoundly ambiguous.

7.     It is the task of ministry to de-script that script among us. That is, too enable persons to relinquish a world that no longer exists and indeed never did exist.

Read the rest here.

In the church, we reject others’ reality and replace it with our own. Sometimes to a fault, to the point where we reject evolution, fail to see the movement of the Spirit to include the lepers, and think that we are to rule this world through force of law and not the law of love. We do fall short. But true Christianity rejects the scripts, rejects the narratives that are counter to the Gospel and counter to the dignity of every human being.

The most important part is that we are writing our own narrative and perhaps writing it alongside the Scripture’s story. If we believe something, we will no longer be buffeted by the world that tells us that we aren’t pretty enough, skinny enough, smart enough, drugged up enough. We can prevail, we can reject that reality and substitute our own.

We close with the final words of the priest in the Firefly series:

Shepherd Book: I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it.

May it be with us.

Thoughts?

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Comments

  1. J Travis says

    This is a great post. It’s always disconcerting when I see Christians who cannot distinguish between the Christian message and worldly ideologies, and your post emphasizes that not all narratives are compatible.

    My favorite writing of Paul Tillich’s has always been his short book “The Dynamics of Faith”. It’s the one work of Tillich which I hope survives the 21st century. In the book he describes the importance of seeking the ‘ultimate concern’, the thing to believe in, the thing to worship which is better than every other thing. Materialism isn’t big enough, Ideologies are too flawed, humans (with all our flaws) aren’t good enough, most of our concepts of God aren’t grand enough. So keep believing, and meanwhile keep finding something bigger and better to believe in until you believe in God while letting your understanding of God move past your current belief.

    PS: There’s a trend in current Christian spirituality to talk about the contrast of trying to fit God into our story versus trying to be a part of God’s story. I think it needs to be said that this idea fits, roughly, with Brueggemann’s quote but not with anything Mal Reynolds would believe in. Putting aside all of Captain Reynold’s disappointments with God (he’s less an atheist than a disillusioned theist), Reynolds is primarily concerned with building up his own narrative: he’s engaged in an exercise in world building, putting together his own family/state/community aboard a ship that serves as his world on his own terms. Reynolds hates the Alliance because they want to impose their ideas and structures on his world(s) but tries to flee it rather than reform it. Brueggemann wants Christians to resist and offer an alternative to evil, Reynolds just tries to separate himself from it, running whenever possible and only resisting when backed into a corner. The climax of Serenity only happens because it’s clear that so long as the Alliance remains as it is, there is nowhere safe for Reynolds to live his own narrative.

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