Who do you put your faith in, who might be faking their belief?
Some years back, at the break of dawn, I found myself sitting on a hard mat inside the Thikse monastery, located in the ancient kingdom of Ladakh (now part of India), in the Northern Himalayas. As I sat there, sipping bitter yak butter tea, the pungent smoke of incense stung my eyes. I blinked through my tears and observed the Buddhist monks in prayer and meditation. Some were just boys, while others were old, wrinkly men, who had spent most of their spiritual careers in service of the monastery. I thought about trance and enlightenment for a while, and then a strange idea struck me, which caused me some guilt, considering the austere setting. While undoubtedly some of these men had attained great wisdom in their lives, I strongly suspected others had spent the long years of their professional monastic existence faking it.
This wasn’t the first time I’d entertained such thoughts. Run-ins with Boy Scout troop leaders and less-than-engaged school counselors had made me realize, when I was still quite young, that some people don’t really understand the nature of their work, even when they insist they do. After crossing paths with a grossly inept government manager, with plenty of money at her disposal (and hence, a few well-placed friends), this notion was only driven home for me.
For every faker out there, there are scores of people (I hope) who understand their jobs down to the minutiae, and do their work well. Within some professions, it’s extremely hard to fake the knowledge and experience it takes to accomplish a task. Brain surgery, bridge building and rocket science are just a few jobs that come to mind. Not so for other occupations, like political office (get elected on dogma and charisma, hire a consultant), and people (clerics, ministers, priests, rabbis) whose official work is to represent God, or interpret God’s will through feelings, otherworldly messages and holy texts. It might take hard work to attain these positions at first, but once someone is there, the burden of proof in the form of tangible results can become a slippery beast.
A bridge builder builds a sturdy bridge based on solid engineering and science. His bridge should be able to weather the weight of the traffic it bears, as well as the trauma Mother Nature throws at it, without collapse and killing hundreds of people. A politician, on the other hand, can claim hand in the bridge’s construction (funds, permissions), even if he vehemently fought against it until the day it opened, simply by opening up his mouth and telling a lie or half-truth. A brain surgeon who removes a cancerous tumor from a boy’s cerebrum owes his success to personal skill, his knowledgeable staff and technology. A preacher can simply claim that God, and the preacher’s constant prayers saved the child, not the talented surgeon, who was merely acting as God’s hands. Who could ever prove him wrong? Years of medical training not needed.
The best fakers often convince themselves that that their words and beliefs are an absolute reality (rather than a vast assortment of variables, known and unknown), contrary to the reality surrounding them, but that doesn’t make their political or spiritual forgeries any less fake.
If you believe there is only one God (yours), whomever or whatever that might be, to the exclusion of all others (none of this “we all believe in the same thing at the end of the day” malarkey), or that there is only one way to correctly govern commerce and civil affairs, then billions of people on this planet are wrong, or at least not as ‘right’ as you. They must be faking it, or blindly following the doctrine of professional fakers. What are the odds that your ‘team’ is the only one in the right? Well, someone has got to be.
As a writer, expressing opinion from time to time, I understand the nature of rhetoric to some degree, and how to get a point across. Still, I don’t have the luxury, or choose not to indulge in arguments that stem from an invisible deity as root cause, or some inflated notion of nationalism and cultural siege. If I was so inclined to spread mounds of horse pucky (at least more than I do now), and have it taken as gospel, I’m pretty sure I’d lean toward a profession where faking it had some inherent advantage—the ‘it’ being unyielding partisan political positions not rooted in data and rational thought, or perhaps the damnation and salvation of the nebulous human soul based upon the reported speech of ancient desert prophets and forest wanderers who have been dead for thousands of years—which makes direct fact checking fairly difficult.
The best fakers, the world-class charlatans and deceivers, can almost always rely on a cadre of true believers to defend them. And this, when all is said and done, is what I believe draws many of them to their chosen professions—the power to destroy or diminish anyone who questions their often less-than-factual or well-researched proclamations. Just ask members of Congress who were against, yet did not vote against, the second Iraqi war, or perhaps someone who was molested by a priest. If a man or woman has the force of nationalism, or better yet, God in heaven, to back up his or her claims, it can be exceedingly hard to knock that person down, even if the blow is rightly deserved. Yeah, he might be faking his knowledge of complex economic systems, world diplomacy or the spiritual afterlife, yet how dare you question the validity of his claims—you blasphemer and traitor. Where’s your sense of patriotism and wholesome faith? Who do you think you are?
See how easy that was? It’s a simple recipe to follow, if you choose to do so. You can now apply what you’ve learned here to those things you believe so fervently in (without questioning), and join the ranks of the best fakers on the planet. Although if you do, I hope you exercise your newfound power with a modicum of caution, for the sake of the rest of us.
Image credit: Sergey Gabdurakhmanov/Flickr