This post is about the nature of belief.
i have always had problems with the idea of belief. In some modern thinking, the idea seems to be that belief affects the physical world. If you believe, you can make things happen. If things don't happen, you didn't believe hard enough. This is a lynchpin of new age thinking, as expressed in books like The Journey. i am not convinced that i can change the physical world with my thoughts. Like Barbara Ehrenreich, in her excellent RSAnimate video Smile or Die, i advocate realism rather than positive thinking, where positive thinking makes us feel guilty for our failures or unable to see difficult truths. And like Alice, i can believe in six impossible things before breakfast, and yet somehow the stars remain in their courses and gravity continues to work.
Another modern feature about belief is that you have to believe in something. It seems to matter less what you believe in than that you believe. You have to have a dream, whether it is a dream of world peace or the Aryan nation.Think of all those inspiring family movies where an act of sheer will makes the dream come true. But this is no ontological fact. It is just a fancy way of sanctioning ambition.
Belief is a prominent feature in modern Christianity. Raw belief seems to be thought of as the engine that drives faith and good works. It is more important than thinking or experiencing. It was not always this way. Karen Armstrong in The Case for God talks about how early Christians struggled to express what Jesus was on about, and hit on the Latin word credere to try to engage with a complicated idea. What Jesus asked of his followers was to open their hearts and minds to the experience of following him. Try it, work with it, see it for what it is, let it work on you, live it. This is different from the current notion of believing in somethng for which there is no evidence.
So belief is a problematic notion, but there is one thing i have been forced to believe in, at least temporarily.
It's the Jesus nut.
The Jesus nut is the nut or pin that fixes the rotor blades in some helicopters such as the Iriquois. The term arose during the Vietnam war - try reading Chickenhawk, for example, for some awesomely deatailed descriptions of flying choppers.
Last week i went in a helicopter, a Hughes 500. i flew up a mountain, landed on its summit, walked about for a bit, and then flew down again. It was astounding. It was incredibly beautiful. Perspective and scale is almost meaningless up there. i think i was inches away from Mt Cook. Tiny square dots were trampers' huts. Sweet little tarns dotted the high hills like puddles. i loved every minute of it. But it occurred to me that i needed a lot of belief to sustain myself up there. i needed to believe in the existence of helicopters and to have some crazy notion that the daft things actually work. i needed to believe in the Jesus nut, and also the gear box because i hear they are tricky things. i needed to believe that the pilot was a real pilot ,that he had his licence, that he was not on meth, that he maintained his helicopter well, that he had slept well enough the night before. It seemed an awful lot to believe. i only needed enough belief to make myself climb onto the seat, mind you, but it was something. i think about other things i have believed in, such as ferris wheels and jet boats - and cars, for that matter.
Here are photos. i really did it!