Reality vs. Pseudo-Reality

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about reality in the last six months. If you’ve read my first novel, After It’s Over, you might have a hint to why that is.

Growing up, I enjoyed reading fiction. What started with mostly comic books and choose your own adventure books when I was in grade school grew into a fairly diverse range of fantasy, mystery, science fiction and horror books throughout middle school and high school.

The last 30 years, since I graduated from OU, I’ve still read some fiction, but I’ve spent more time reading and listening to non-fiction. There is still a lot of variety in my reading. I don’t just read books related to my field, but love to read across a wide range of topics and subjects.

When writing fiction, the writer is able to shape reality. In a sense, the writer plays god with the lives of the people and world that they live in. Some writers take this to the extreme, creating worlds that are not bound by any of the laws of our universe. That is an exciting, but dangerous path. We know our universe, we live in it and for the most part, common sense gives us a joint understanding of its nature.

When an author starts creating their own universe that plays by different rules, they have to be very conscious to be consistent with what they have created, otherwise the reader will find it confusing and be distracted from whatever story is being told. One of the best essays I’ve ever read on this idea was written by the prominent science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick. It was written way back in 1978 and is entitled, “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later.”

In that essay, there are several interesting quotes, which might seem even more relevant today. He writes, “today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups — and the electronic hardware exists by which to deliver these pseudo-worlds right into the heads of the reader, the viewer, the listener. Sometimes when I watch my eleven-year-old daughter watch TV, I wonder what she is being taught.”

He goes on to write, “What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind.”

His point being that we are surrounded by people who are trying to tell us what is real. They are trying to define reality for us in much the same way that a fiction writer does for their readers. We use the word in this way, but I think it is better to use the author’s wording, “pseudo-realities”.

Today, when you look at your devices and consume content, make no mistake, you are being fed a consistent stream of pseudo-realities. These may be mixed in with the truth, but they may also be completely incompatible with the truth.

So, what is reality? What is truth? I’ve talked about truth before on this blog, and the Bible has a lot to say about truth. I’ll look at that in a moment, but you may be surprised that this secular author actually came up with a fairly good definition of reality:

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

There is a strong emphasis today on defining our own realities, as if a person can believe their way to living on a path that isn’t aligned with the truth. But believing something is true isn’t enough to make it true. There is Truth. There is Reality.

When I was studying to be a counselor, we learned a lot about cognitive behavioral therapy. It is system of therapy based on the idea that false beliefs or cognitive distortions and their associated behaviors are what bring destructive patterns into people’s lives and that by helping them to overcome or change those distortions, you can lead them towards better mental health.

I found this form of therapy very compatible with Christian truth. As a Christian, I believe God created the world based on certain natural laws and He created people to function in certain ways and to crave and desire certain things.

Because of this, I believe all truth is God’s truth. Not all truth is found in the Bible, but the truth we find in the world, whether it be through scientific investigation or simple observation, exists because it was created by God.

Your life and mine are better when we live and walk in the truth. As we build our life around the truth and align our lives with the way the world is, we will not have to suffer the mental incongruity that often leads to unnecessary depression and other psychological dysfunction.

The Bible talks about this in both the Old and New Testaments:

Teach me Your way, O Lord;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name.

Psalm 86:11

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.

3 John 1:4

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

Ephesians 4:25

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:32

Over the course of the last year, I started writing fiction stories of my own. They are fiction and they are not what would usually be called Christian Fiction. Instead, my goal in writing these stories is to tell stories that ring with truth throughout them. Stories that align with truth even as they venture into areas that are too fantastical to be reality. It’s an interesting line to walk along.

Today, there are any number of escapes from reality. We can entertain ourselves with ideas that go in any direction we so desire. My encouragement to you today is not to venture too far from the truth. We are created to live in reality, not in some man-made pseudo-reality. Put down your device and look around that the world God created. Read the Bible. Spend time in real conversations with people face to face. Speak truth to one another. These are the kind of things that will keep you grounded in the truth. It is a better way.

Originally published at http://seeinggodclearly.com on September 26, 2022.

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Chad Hensley

Chad Hensley grew up in the great state of Oklahoma and attended the University of Oklahoma where he received a BA in English Literature in 1993.