Peter Rollins wrote a post a while back entitled “The Problem with Unbelief Is That It Enables Us to Believe Too Much.”
The general idea is this: the problem with most people’s adherence to a fundamentalist belief (although I would argue that his definition of “fundamentalist belief” is broader than my own) is that it requires the use of disavowed unbelief – in other words, I can’t adhere to beliefs like “God will send everyone who doesn’t ‘believe’ that Jesus died for their sins to hell” without temporarily suspending that belief every day. Otherwise, my life would like remarkably different. At the very least, every second of my life would need to be consumed with the motivation of trying to get people off of the path towards hell and onto the path to heaven – which, in this scenario, would be to convince them somehow to “believe” that Jesus came and died for their sins.
Let me say that again. If I really, truly, honestly believe that every single person I know that doesn’t “believe in” or have “faith in” Jesus as the savior of the world will spend an eternity being tormented due to their lack of belief, I am morally obligated to spend my every waking moment trying to convince those around me to have faith in Jesus, knowing their fates are sealed otherwise.
This truth can also be seen in other everyday scenarios. For example, my mother and I used to enjoy – and still do – watching The Breakfast Club. Personally, we both find the movie hilarious and even emotionally moving at parts. However, the movie’s contents present a problem for a person who genuinely believes in non-Christians will go to hell due to non-belief. In order for us to actually enjoy the movie, we had to suspend our belief that those actors were doing “ungodly” and “unholy” things, and they were going to go to hell for it. If we had honestly believed our beliefs and taken them to their logical conclusions (that every individual actor in that movie, due to their actions, was certainly going to hell), we could not have actually enjoyed the movie. Rollins says it this way:
The point here is that the unbelief allows the communities to get the psychological pleasure from the beliefs that they hold (treating them as a security blanket) without having to confront the horror of them.
Our claimed “belief” was only sustained by a disavowed unbelief.
That is, according to our actions, we didn’t – couldn’t – actually believe those people were going to hell.
If we lost the disavowed unbelief, we would have had to encounter the true horror of our beliefs (in this case, that we believed in a God who would torture these people for eternity in hell). In encountering the claimed belief, we would have had two options: change our posture towards the movie (i.e., stop enjoying it – how could we, knowing those people were going to be suffering for their actions?) or lose the belief itself.