Reflections : The Polar Express: An invitation to believe
Posted by Chapster on Nov-30-2005 (2366 reads)

Barb, my son, and I watched The Polar Express this evening, the day of it's release on DVD. It is an expanded version of the book by the same title, a whimsical treatise on belief. As I watched it, I became deeply aware that there are many kinds of fundamentalists, and not all of them are religious. Indeed, many of the non-religious types share the same enslavement to ideas that harm as some of the fundamentalists of all stripes that I know.

I remember once talking to a man who was an atheist. He told me: "You know, you folks who believe in God have it easy. It would be so much simpler to believe." Setting aside for the moment the grandiosity of such a comment, it also occurs to me that If it's so much easier, why not try it?

No one gets a merit badge for hanging by beliefs that hurt, particularly atheists. Truly, this is one case where the adage, If it feels good, do it might be entirely appropriate.

These comments are not to be construed as a diatribe against atheism. I don't have a dog in anyone's hunt on this issue. If someone finds their atheism fulfilling, you have my respect. Over the years, I've come to a deeper understanding of atheism and agnosticism. I can grasp how one might find complete and utter fulfillment in soaking up the great arts and works of humanity, the combined sublimeness and grandeur of nature, and the belief that nature could have formed all there is. I can appreciate that this can be a source of comfort and peace.

What I cannot abide are the fundamentalists of all kinds who tell us what to believe. Again, I'm not saying what you should believe. I am saying that there are a body of individuals who would like nothing better than to tell you what you should believe in. They are like the young know-it-all in the Polar Express who offers his cautions against belief at every turn. He worries, frets, judges, warns, cautions - all of the things that so many fundamentalists share. His punishment for these kinds of behavior? He is reprimanded by Santa himself. He is told that a dose of humility would be a good thing. Indeed, that is wise advice for us all.

I enjoy hearing how others celebrate the holidays, including atheists and agnostics. Many of them do celebrate Christmas, you know?! And why not?

Some time ago, I spoke with a Jewish woman whom I deeply admired. She told me of growing up in Germany and witnessing so many atrocities against the Jews, many of the them by the hands of those claiming to be Christian. I imagined that her experience of Christians must have hurt her deeply. She quickly laid that concern to rest: "Oh, no, Mike! I loved my Christian neighbors and I loved Christmas. We all lived in the same little community, Jews and Christians. We grew up together. I remember some of my neighbors gave me presents. We would share presents with them. Christmas or Hannakah, we all had fun."

I marvelled at her comment. It taught me much, as did many words from this wise woman. Many folks choose not to get on the train of belief, never stretch themselves, never ask the big questions: Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists. The point is not that you need to believe a particular set of tenets. The point is that we not lose our childlikeness, our capacity for trust, our appreciation for the unseen, and the hope that there is a transcendant Good.

There's no sign-up sheet requiring you to check your brain at the door. You can and should find beliefs that work for you. Does it really serve you to feel so despairing about life, death, and meaning that you force yourself to hold beliefs that don't work for you? With either religion or lack of religion, you shouldn't have to give an answer like, "You folks who believe in religion have it so easy." You can believe in anything you want. Indeed, it's an open door. There's no case here for what you should believe -- only that you find a belief that works for you, really works for you (question it, you know - kick the tires a bit, ask it some hard questions), and enjoy it. It should fit like a nice piece of excellent apparel. Once you've found your place in belief, enjoy it's place in your life. Feel free to share it, as you like. But, be content to let others find, and honor their own way.

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