One of my favourite words, and certainly something I appreciate in others. Mainly because its opposite- credulous– just isn’t something I get.
I’ve talked about it before. Most recently in recounting my reread of Dr. Sagan‘s The Demon Haunted World.
And one of my all time go-to books of profound influence is all about credulity.
In Umberto Eco’s incredible Foucault’s Pendulum, its narrator, Casaubon, after years of education and experience, opted to become credulous for a time. As we meet the various nefarious characters- those involved in the conspiracy theories and elaborate tales of the survival of the Templars, the Rosicrucians and immortal characters like the Comte de Saint-Germain, we grow, along with Casaubon, in the realization that credulity is among the most dangerous of human vices.
Casaubon was named after the classical scholar Isaac Casaubon- the ‘most learned man of his time’ (1159-1614), who challenged the ‘common wisdom’ of the day with his research into texts and historical writings- but also referenced his son, Méric Casaubon, the author of (among other things) On Credulity and Incredulity in Things natural, civil and divine (1668). In that work, as a man of his times, he argued (again, among other things) that witches must exist- since everyone believed in them.
Eco’s Casaubon is a melding of the father and the son- learned, yet willfully credulous. Why not? Everyone else seems to be. He remains one of my favourite literary characters.
I first read this book when I was at something of a crossroads (those crossroads again…). I had taken a year off from my undergrad while I attempted to figure out just what direction I wanted to be taking with my studies. I had decided that journalism wasn’t for me, Medieval Studies was too limited in time-frame, English wasn’t interdisciplinary enough… What to do?
I remember sitting in a favourite tiny hole-in-the-wall in Ottawa (the Ozon Cafe on Charlotte at Rideau- LOVED that place- the chef would eventually become one of my dearest friends) and reading about the damage credulity can wreak if allowed to run unchecked, and thinking to myself that I’d reallyreally love to DO something about making sure that we become less credulous and more discriminating- in what we believe and why we believe it.
The ‘Diabolicals’- so named by the three literary co-conspirators Belbo, Diotallevi and Casaubon, with patronizing disdain- created flimsy connections between historical events to support their theories about the occult secrets of the world. In creating their own conspiracy theory and contriving to have it fall into the hands of the Diabolicals, the creators let credulity overtake their lives and, ultimately, ended up either dead or deluded as a result of their imaginary/constructed Plan.
I can honestly and legitimately say that Umberto Eco- and Foucault’s Pendulum, specifically- was one of the driving forces that landed me in Religious Studies (there were others- Dad was reading all kinds of interesting things about de-institutionalizing religions that gave me some food for thought, and I’ve always been intrigued by our collective stories). But the terrifying prospect, illustrated in Foucault’s Pendulum, of credulity run amok was too much for me to face. I had to start learning about how and why people would choose to willingly and blindly follow the prescriptions/proscriptions of cultures that disappeared millennia ago.
Generally speaking, I am predisposed to trust people and the fact that sofreakinmany remain willing to be trapped and stunted by credulity is still- even after so very many years of studying and, at times, participating in experiential communities- inexplicable to me. Generally speaking.
Of course, credulity isn’t something that it restricted to religion(s) and religious/spiritual belief(s). The gullible/unwilling to do the research can be found in other spheres. Ones just as influential and potentially dangerous.
Government conspiracy theorists are high up there on my list of people I really don’t want to engage in ‘conversation’ at the mo’. I’m not suggesting that we should ever sit by, complacently, and let our leaders run roughshod over our democracy. Never that. We have responsibilities as citizens of democratic nations.
The primary duty is to actually get out there and participate in the process- by voting- after examining the issues and the response and proposed solutions in order to choose our best possible leaders. So you voted and still don’t like the way things are going? Get more involved- volunteer, start a grass-roots movement, write a blog post…
But believing that our elected governing bodies are ALL working- ceaselessly and with contemptuous greed- to deceive the voting public about everything? C’mon now.
Communicating and articulating informed perceptions of our realities is the only way out of the quagmire of superstition and credulity in which we seem to be trapped. Buying the line of chatter offered by a talking head that is likely on the payroll of an institution with a self-serving mandate ain’t gonna cut it, folks.
As humans we see connections between things- that’s one of the many ways in which we attempt to make sense of the inexplicable. I do that. A lot. The back catalogue (such as it is) hereabouts demonstrates that little fact quite clearly. We create meaning from the bits and pieces of things that surround us.
I get it. I do. But I don’t structure my life according to these perceived connections.
Just because a bunch of people (or Fox News) tell me that the POTUS wasn’t born in Hawaii doesn’t mean it’s true. A few radical racist anti-semites tell us that the Holocaust never happened? Not according to the historical and human experiential records we have available to us.
Millions of people are willing to accept that a book of stories and social strictures is the divinely dictated word of a deity? I’m not one of them. I did that homework, and drew different conclusions- based in evidential research that says something else.
Last weekend (last weekend? Really? It’s Friday again already? Where is the summer going?) I took a road trip to our Nation’s Capital to help celebrate the wedding of one of my dearest friends in the world. On the long drive, I let the Shuffle Daemon have its head and set the playlist.
This one came up as we drove:
I seem to be living my life in placeholders these days. There just aren’t enough hours…
Matt Johnson. I don’t throw the word genius around lightly, but this guy… Brilliance. Embodied. He will be revisited at some point.
Recorded between 1988 and 1989, Mind Bomb is an album heavy on the politics and religion- and the politics of religion. That ^^^ little ditty is profound and prophetic in so very many ways- and the introduction (Are you ready Jesus? Buddha? Mohammad?), with its allusion to The Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz (a song about another sort of chaos) is just sososo clever.
‘The world is on its elbows and knees, it’s forgotten the message and worships the creeds…’
Yep. Why? Because ‘they’ tell us to do so.
Did you catch the news this week? Have you seen what is blowing up, again, in the ‘Holy Land’? And the political maneuvering that is happening as a result?
It’s past time to stop listening to ‘them’ in our credulous intellectual laziness.
Informed rationality. That’s what it has to be about.
Heavy thoughts for a beautiful Friday evening in my City on the Lake. Going to shake off the week, and I’m thinking that, perhaps, I’ll let Matt’s reference lead me into my weekend- which will involve the usual chores and catch-up and some reading (and maybe even some writing) that I’ve been meaning to get at…
But for now…
‘My dreams are getting so strange, I’d like to tell you everything I see…’