Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

The awesome power of unshakeable belief: it works for some people

By Peter Wear - posted Friday, 11 July 2003

Thorkild Grosboel does not believe in God, or the resurrection. He does not believe in eternal life after death. But what makes Thorkild a truly spectacular atheist is that he's the Lutheran pastor of Taarbaek, a town of 51,000 near the Danish capital, Copenhagen.

Last month his Bishop, Lise-Lotte Rebel, ordered him to retract his opinions and apologise. She has now suspended him from his duties, causing heated debate amongst the 85 per cent of Danes who belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. His congregation supports Thorkild, and he's attracting some powerful allies, like Mogens Lindhardt, head of Denmark's Theological College of Education, who has described his views as "refreshing."

Refreshing? A churchman abandoning his beliefs? Absolutely, for we seem to be mired in a moment of history where scepticism and doubt have become almost treasonous. All around us, people who exhibit fervent belief - in almost anything - their eyes sparkling, faces flushed, convictions tumbling from their lips, are treated as national treasures. Haven't enough tottering beliefs crashed and burned in recent months to remind us that belief is an irrational state, wherein we so badly want something to be true that we will reject all evidence to the contrary? Beliefs can be dangerous. Beliefs can kill.


The righteousness of invading Iraq was swiftly elevated by Howard, Bush and Blair to the status of a profound belief. It had to be. There was no demonstrable proof, despite the months of weapons inspections, that Saddam Hussein harboured any threat to our security. It almost became a clash of faiths. Those who protested against the attack, the traitorous non-believers, were herded out of the way to let the troops past, like Catholics in the Shankhill when the Orangemen march. And now? The central belief is being discredited. The satanic poisons and biological weapons probably never existed. We have made, as believers so often do, complete bloody fools of ourselves.

Another hot spot of oft-professed belief was our erstwhile Governor-general who, in his frequent conversations with God, seems to have received a lot of bad advice. But then belief is a great source of bad advice. Rugby league star Ben Ikin has been reported visiting Brisbane schools and telling kids that confidence is the key to success.

That's not a fact, it's simply his belief. Did Ben or the teacher point this out to the kids? I hope they were watching when, several nights later, Ben threw a long, confident pass to his Bronco's winger. It was intercepted by a Newcastle player who dashed away to score the try that was decisive in the Bronco's defeat. Holding the pass back, hesitancy and doubt, were the keys to success.

Boosting and self-promotion are everywhere, and belief is the oil on which it all runs. Kids are repeatedly advised to "believe in themselves" a process which seems to involve telling yourself greater and greater lies about how wonderful you are until at last, exhausted by the onslaught, your judgement calls it quits, your common sense and modesty walk out on you, and you begin to believe that it's all true.

A dramatic public example is the education and employment entrepreneur Sarina Russo, in comparison with whom most of us would appear to be such abject failures we should be seriously questioning our right to exist. Ms Russo is, her website proclaims, "The Queensland Icon of Today" who has harnessed, "the power of one woman's self-belief, a power that lifted her from failure to superstardom in business".

She is, it announces "an international celebrity" since she was selected "as one of the world's 40 leading entrepreneurs for the year 2002 and received the award in a grand castle in France.


"Sarina Russo has achieved massive success as an educator, businesswoman and property owner. She owns three buildings (two high rise) in the Brisbane CBD as well as residential properties."

I rest my case, and humbly suggest a brief respite from such seething certainty. Might we put aside one day of the year where a modest celebration of uncertainty and doubt could be permitted? I propose the feast of St. Neverwas, the patron saint of blessed indifference. We could have a short non-denominational service, and I know just the man to conduct it. He lives near Copenhagen, and doesn't have a lot on at the moment.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

An edited version of this article was published in The Courier-Mail on 19 June 2003.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Peter Wear is a Brisbane-based writer who columns appear regularly in The Courier-Mail. He can be contacted at

Related Links
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy