Human Interest

Ben Fama Jr., director of the upcoming film “A Reason to Believe,” holds nothing back in his online videos: He is brash, given to creative swearing and utterly unapologetic about his atheism.

“I’m a very outspoken person and I say I what I think,” Fama said. “I’ve debated many people over these topics. I’m not afraid to step on a few toes.”

At the same time, Fama understands the perspectives of those who subscribe to faiths or spiritual traditions. After all, he grew up Roman Catholic and later embraced New Age beliefs. Solely based upon a belief that something would transpire on Dec. 25, 2011, Fama and his wife even started a new life in Sedona that year.

When nothing happened on that day, Fama began to doubt the whole of his belief system. He became a skeptic intent on examining why people believe as they do — a line of inquiry that led directly to “A Reason to Believe,” which is set to release in the fall of 2016.

“Although I have a point of view, my goal is not to make people feel stupid, but to truly understand why we believe things,” Fama said. “I used to be a believer myself, and I don’t think I was any stupider for believing. So, the balance is really one of being direct and to the point, but also being empathetic and understanding.

“Again, it’s difficult for me, because I am so outspoken and sometimes militant — but it really is important for me to maintain this balance because I really want people to learn about the psychology of belief without thinking I’m going to be like Michael Moore or Bill Maher …. I really think this stuff is fascinating and there is importance to understanding it.”

Fama’s genesis as a filmmaker began at the Zaki Gordon Institute for Independent Filmmaking, then housed at Yavapai College Sedona Center. There, he created the short “A Virus Called Fear,” which documented the psychology of fear, won a few festival awards and went viral online. Three documentary shorts followed in quick succession, paving the way for “A Reason to Believe.”

“We traveled to different areas around the U.S. to talk to some of the top psychologists, philosophers, researchers and even believers to help answer some of the most fundamental questions about belief,” Fama said. “Our trips have landed us in Los Angeles, Oklahoma and Oregon. During our filming at UCLA, we became the subject for one of the UCLA Anderson blogs, which featured one of our interview subjects and our film.”

According to Fama, the sometimes-militant atheist, believers are just as important to the film as skeptics.

“My point for bringing some believers on was to have an honest conversation that was civil in nature about these things. The one requirement I told my editor was to not misrepresent or make any of these people look or sound stupid. Although I have a point of view in my film, I want people to feel that when I interview them that they can be honest and transparent without them thinking I’m trying to trick them. I think we see enough of that.”

A Reason to Believe
A few interview perspectives from Ben Fama Jr., who examines the basis of faith in his film “A Reason to Believe,” which is set for release in fall 2016:
Portland State University philosophy professor and author Peter Boghossian: “His book, ‘A Manual for Creating Atheists,’ plays a big part in using street epistemology to ask people about what they believe and why they believe it. He’s well versed in critical thinking and adds depth into the processes of how we come to knowledge.”
Caleb W. Lack, assistant professor of psychology and counseling practicum coordinator in the Department of Psychology at the University of Central Oklahoma: “He’s also a skeptic and writer for the Great Plains Skeptic. He has a great talk online called ‘Why We Can’t Trust Our Brains’ that really goes into how we deceive ourselves into thinking things that may not be true and how we make errors in thinking.”
Jennifer Whitson, a researcher and assistance professor at University of California, Los Angeles who published a study called The Emotional Roots of Conspiratorial Perceptions, System Justification, and Belief in the Paranormal: “The study explores how uncertainty and emotions play a part in our reasoning for why we might develop beliefs in conspiracies and the supernatural.”
Author Michael Shermer: “His book, ‘The Believing Brain,’ really sheds light on this subject, and we really got to go into some detail of the psychology of belief with him. Anyone who has read his work or seen his talks knows he has some very valuable insight into this topic, and he does a great job in our film. He goes into the errors of processing information as well as cognitive biases and what’s going in the brain.”




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