For hundreds of years, the ‘consensus reality’ of most of Europe, and latterly the Americas, held that around two thousand years ago a man born of a virgin spent three years touring Palestine with no medical training or facilities, healing sick people, driving mad pigs over a cliff, withering a barren fig tree, resuscitating a man who had been dead in his tomb for four days, and creating food for a crowd of five thousand before eventually himself rising from the dead and ultimately ascending corporeally to heaven promising to return.
Where on Abbie Richards’ Conspiracy Chart would you place such a belief set? From a ‘scientific’ standpoint, certainly unequivocally false (level 3), but as millions have died in service to this ‘reality’, certainly not harmless. So, at the very least, level 4, ‘Dangerous to yourself and others’, if not level 5, ‘Get help!’.
Yet even in the 21st century, research by the Pew Research Center suggests that 64% of American adults still adhere to a version of reality which includes Christ rising from the dead, and fully 41% believe in the apocalyptic second coming of Christ by the year 2050. On the other hand, the number of Americans with no specific religious identification has risen by 75% in a decade, driven by the millennial generation, heralding the possible demise of this particular ‘consensus reality’ as the older generation dies out.
Yuval Harari, in his book ‘Sapiens’ suggests that the Cognitive Revolution that gave rise to modern humanity manifests in the unique ability to speak about fictions and, indeed, that ‘myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers.’ (Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens p. 27). Trust and belief are the bedrock of shared realities, without which myths become divisive and millions can die over the question of whether communion bread transmutes within the communicant into the actual body of Christ, or not. So the fracturing of historical models of ‘consensus reality’ coupled with the rise of identity politics leave a void where individual realities can thrive. Our myths then have less and less consensus and even those as apparently far-fetched as categorised in Abbie Richards’ levels 4 and 5, can be widely embraced.