The Believer

March 22, 2010

Leon had never been interested in exploring religion. As a reasonable man, he considered faith to be irrational and damaging. However, on day a friend of Leon’s was walking past a small church in the heart of the city and happened to look in. To his amazement, he saw Leon kneeling before some candles and mumbling a prayer. Leon had recently fallen up hard times, so his friend guessed that this must be the reason for his newfound religiosity. But something seemed amiss, so he entered the church and approached Leon.

The sanctuary was dark and almost empty. Sure enough, thee was Leon, crouched on the floor, reciting a religious incantation at the foot of the altar. Upon getting closer, his friend realized that Leon was reciting an old folk prayer that was believed by many to bring wealth and health to those who would recite it daily.

His friend was amazed and interrupted Leon, saying, “I thought you didn’t believe in such superstitious nonsense. Do you really think that this prayer works?”

In reply, Leon looked up and angrily proclaimed, “Of course I don’t believe it works, what kind of idiot do you take me for?”

“Then why are you reciting it?” said his friend in shock.

“Ah,” replied Leon. “It is because the priest informed me that this prayer works even if you don’t believe in it.”


Leon’s actions belie his words, and perhaps even his belief, here.

This set of eleven parables has explored the idea that a person’s beliefs are expressed by the things they do, not necessarily by what they say, or even what they “believe.” This particular parable is the culmination of this idea. Leon doesn’t believe in religious superstition, except he clearly does on some level or he would not recite the prayer. The priest’s assurances would have rung hollow if Leon really thought that the prayer would make no difference. Leon’s actions are like talking about how crappy corporations are while sipping a Starbucks, or discussing with a coworker how silly it is to work long hours while pulling overtime. It isn’t true if you don’t act like it’s true.

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