I have some news for you. There are invisible mischievous magic fairies living at the bottom of my garden. They leave no trace, no evidence that they exist. But, when things go missing, like my car keys, I suspect they have been coming into the house and moving them around, just for kicks. Sometimes, when I find my car keys, I remember that I had left them in that place. Other times, when I do not remember leaving them where they are found, but rather have a distinct memory of putting them on the hook in the hall, then I know that either the fairies moved them, or that my memory was mistaken.
Acting as if it’s so, that there are such fairies, or as if it’s not so, causes socially different outcomes, but no difference to the reality behind the acting out.
Acting as if it’s not so, when it is so, or when it isn’t, makes no difference to the reality, or the social outcomes. I go about my life dismissing the occasions when I have misremembered where I left my keys as just that, an error of memory on my part. If a fairy believer asks how I know fairies didn’t move the keys, I reply I don’t, but since I can’t distinguish between misremembering and the act of fairies, what does it matter? If there are really fairies moving my keys I and the world remain indifferent to it, as there is no evidence of it that could not be explained by an error of memory. That a believer in fairies might demand, “How can you not see that it was obviously fairies that moved your keys,” isn’t convincing.
However, acting as if it’s so, when it’s not so, just means I’m a bit loopy. If I tell lots of people about this story, I’m going to get some funny looks, except from people who also believe and act out that it’s so. We believers might get a lot of comfort from believing that fairies move our keys. We don’t have to suffer the indignity of memory loss, and I can bear the social stigma from non-believers, because we believers get together and provide the support we need in the face of doubters.
To believers in gods this story might sound childishly foolish. What grown intelligent adult would believe in such fairies?
I’m sorry to tell you, believers in gods, but that’s just how your beliefs look to atheists. You might find that insulting, offensive, but is it any more offensive than your attitude to believers in fairies, to Scientologists, Fly Spaghetti Monster followers? I know, because I’ve seen it said, that some believers in the Abrahamic god find the blue gods of India comical, ‘unbelievable’. Yet you believe in a zombie Jesus, or a flying horse riding Mohammed, or a sea parting Moses?
And, you agnostics, are you ‘agnostic’ about the fairies in my story?
The only difference between your gods and the gods, aliens and fairies you don’t believe in is your particular commitment to a story you have been convinced of – from childhood indoctrination for many, through a deep seated need to believe by adults that change or find religion.
This acting ‘as if’ something is so, whether it is or not, has a name in a religious. Praxis: the engagement in accepted customs and practices.
For more on the benefits and dangers of Praxis, acting ‘as if’, see this older post: The Dangers of Praxis – Acting ‘As If’