I Want To Believe

I was watching two kids talk the other day. A 5-year-old boy was trying to convince a 3-year-old girl there was a monster behind her. When she’d look, he told her the monster was now over there. When she’d look over there, it was now elsewhere.

She wasn’t really fearful of this monster that could swiftly travel anywhere in the blink of an eye. I’m not sure she understood what a monster was. All the better.

I thought I should ask some questions, so when they finally came closer to where I was sitting, I asked how he knew about the monster. He responded that he’d seen it. I replied I hadn’t. Next second he was exclaiming it was right behind her again. I mentioned I still didn’t see a monster there. She began to catch on and told him the same. Without hesitation, he said that it turned invisible as soon as you looked.

Well that answers that. This response sealed the deal for her. Later, she informed us of the Who, What, Where, When, and Why of monster life. In a flash her mind grasped the workings of these invisible creatures. I continued to ask her about how she knew what she knew. She appealed to the boy; the boy knew. After all, he had seen them.

This account is not unique, and I felt I had seen it before. I don’t mean this as anything more than an unfortunate observation – but it seems to me religion must have similar roots. A religious dialogue can similarly go any which way. And in my experience, religious people (and others, of course) are more than adept at giving answers for any question no matter how conflicting, convoluted, or arbitrary. I know because I used to do it. And each statement can become more and more sophisticated with new versions and alterations. I might simply call that theology.

This type of thinking can produce a mind which is at one moment privileged to the deepest wisdom and at the next ready to declare complete ignorance. You’ve heard those people before, right? They claim to know God healed some woman’s cancer on Sunday, and by Tuesday he’s a great big mystery. They tell you exactly what God wants, insist on this or that doctrine, and then say no one can know the mind of God. Complete access to the infinite, yet unable to share anything more specific or compelling than a common charlatan.

How easy it is for us to keep with the ever shifting reason and ever changing knowledge of huge topics like gods and monsters. It’s so easy  – even a kid can do it.

So, what if some of us don’t grow out of this phase? What if we believe things because someone else saw them, or we heard something, or it sounds right (or it doesn’t)? What if, in the end, the truth of the matter is that we just want to believe?

Well, that’s probably mostly fine. It isn’t the worst thing, certainly (even if it sometimes is), but I more than anything wish we would take a moment to not only distrust the things other people say, but most importantly of all (and I can’t emphasize this enough), to take the time to distrust ourselves. As is said, “Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see.” If you can’t begin to distrust what your own eyes see and ears hear, how can you hope to know the difference between what you want to believe and what’s actually true? After all, what, in the end, is the difference between the god you were raised to accept, and the monster the boy saw and the girl believed?

 

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I went to school for Theology and Ancient Greek at the University of St. Thomas. I'm a slow reader and writer, enjoy art and nature, and am enthusiastic about science. I'm especially interested in evolution, ancient history and language, and poetry.

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