Sunday, November 27, 2011

If You Just Believe

I love watching Christmas movies and I love listening to Christmas music. It gives me a nice warm and fuzzy feeling of wintertime coziness. But there is a theme running through many holiday movies and songs that, although is intended to raise the spirit, might not be the best message to send to children, or to anyone for that matter. The theme is to "just believe" and somehow everything will work out.

In Josh Groban's song, Believe, it ends with the refrain, "if you just believe" sung repeatedly. The Christmas movie, Polar Express, is dedicated to strengthening a childhood belief in Santa Claus. In Miracle on 34th Street, a young Natalie Wood chants lightly "I believe, I believe. It's stupid but I believe," with the hope that believing will somehow make a difference. In the movie, it apparently does. The list of movies and music that stress that believing works miracles is almost endless. But it must be remembered that holiday entertainment is not always reflective of real life.

I taught my kids about Santa Claus, too. Like most parents of young children, mine grew up believing in the jolly old man. While I don't think it is necessarily an unhealthy tradition, sometimes the message can carry over into adulthood, but with a different focus of faith. Although children stop believing in Santa somewhere around age 8 or so, most kids in the world continue to be fed false information about other things they can believe in. They go to church or Sunday School where they learn that, in order to live forever in heaven, they must believe in another unseen entity, God. But, unlike with Santa Claus, God offers no tangible rewards in exchange for belief. Whereas kids hear about Santa mostly during December, they hear about God or Jesus throughout the year. By the time they are adults, some may not even question whether or not a belief in God is based on anything plausible. Belief in God may or may not be a strong part of their lives, but when asked, they always answer in the affirmative, "Yes, of course I believe in God."

But look back over all of human history. Look what people have accomplished. Suppose you were placed in charge of building a pyramid, like one of those in Egypt. Could you do it? Could you direct the building of a modern skyscraper? Could you design and build a rocket ship that would send people into outer space? Could you design the plans and calculate the trajectory of a space probe that could be launched from Earth, sent in orbit around the sun, kick off the gravitational field of two or three planets, and settle into a circular orbit around a moon of Saturn? Could you design a microchip that tells a car engine how to regulate itself? Could you build a car?

Humans have learned, on their own, how to do all these things, most of which are simply taken for granted. But no one person could begin to do them all. We learn from doing, and we learn from mimicking ourselves. We stand on the backs of giants who came before us, and we become taller giants. We have learned to feed six billion people on earth with our agriculture. We have learned how to communicate instantly on a global scale. We can go from one place on Earth to almost any other place on Earth within one day. When you think about human accomplishment, it's amazing what we people have learned to do.

And through all that accomplishment, God has not lifted one finger to help us. We did it all on our own. Some people believe in God; some do not. Some may have thought God was helping, but others accomplish the same thing without such a thought. We are what we are and we can do what we do because humans have evolved to be that way. God had nothing to do with it. In fact, a blind faith in God or gods has done nothing but hold us back throughout history. One can only wonder how advanced society would be if a belief in God had not entered into our psyche. We would likely be centuries ahead of where we are now in discovery and scientific progress. But thanks to the stifling effect of religion, humankind has been held back. Johannes Kepler refused to publish his book on planetary orbits until he was on his death bed for fear of repercussions from the Church. Galileo was placed under house arrest and forced to recant his discoveries. The perfectly valid scientific theory of evolution is under attack by Christian conservatives who actually believe that the world is 6,000 years old. Blind faith does nothing but hold us back. It might give some of us momentary comfort, but so can meditation.

In this season of enhanced faith, go ahead and enjoy the movies, music, and TV programs that cater to our fancies. Just remember, when the season is over, the only real faith we should have is faith in each other, and in the human race.

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