Monday, August 22, 2011

if it's true, do I need to believe it?

Trying to write an opinion piece about why news outlets treat religion and sports with a kind of kid-glove adulation, it crossed my mind that just because thousands of people believe something does not elevate that something to the status of what is true.

This is hardly an original thought, but the overwhelming nature of finding yourself in a large group of people who believe something (anything at all) struck me as potent and somewhat saddening. The sense of security and safety and warmth and camaraderie is so, so delicious and consoling ... it must be true because so many believe it.

Telling anyone "it ain't so, Joe" is to risk expulsion and the cold climate of responsibility.

The Anglican theologian and author of a number of spiffy metaphysical thrillers, Charles Williams, once opined through the mouth of one of his fictional characters, "People believe what they want to believe." Listen to the words ... "what they WANT to believe." And if this is true, as I think it is, then belief is more like chocolate than it is like truth. I love chocolate but I don't run around claiming that chocolate is true ... or false either. It's just what I want to believe -- what pleases or perhaps displeases me.

And that's OK ... as long as I don't confuse belief with truth. I may say that I believe the sky is blue, but since the sky actually is blue, the belief relates to me, not to the sky. The sky doesn't give a damn about my beliefs. Beliefs relate to the past and to doubt, but my guess is that there is some yearning to know the truth, just once, about anything ... as for example, the blue sky.

But how hard it is to break the bonds of belief -- the comforts and coziness, the social warmth and tentative peace of mind. Breaking the bonds does not mean bad-mouthing belief or disbelief (same stuff, different day) either to ourselves or others. It just means seeing belief for what it is ... what I want to believe. Like it or not, I alone am responsible for what I want, for what I believe.

And the reason for investigating this matter?

Isn't it nice when blue sky is blue?

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