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Sunday, August 16, 2015

WHY I DON'T BELIEVE

If you ever watched The X-Files, you will remember Fox Mulder had a poster in his office with a picture of a UFO and the legend “I want to believe”.  This was sort of his mission statement and made for endless hours of entertaining television.  However, I have to confess that I do Scully one better on her unspoken credo, “I don’t want to believe” (such sexual tension between those two!) with mine:  I DON’T BELIEVE.  Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that not only is it possible but it is actually highly probable that there is life on other planets.  And when I say highly probable, I’m talking a 99.9% chance.  What I DON’T BELIEVE is that there are civilizations so far advanced of ours that they are able to build ships that travel light years to visit our planet…and then CRASH.  I also don’t believe that these advanced, sophisticated beings would waste their time kidnapping and probing farmers in the Midwest.  I also don’t believe that our government is aware of alien activity but is keeping it a secret. Do you really think Joe Biden could keep his mouth shut about that?  Bottom line:  of course there is intelligent life out there, but if they have any interest in us AT ALL (and WHY THE HELL WOULD THEY?) then they have already seamlessly infiltrated our planet and are busily taking notes and not making any obvious plays like crop circles.  So, no…I have no interest in ever discussing UFOS again.

Now that we’ve permanently taken that topic off of the table, I want to speak generally about the idea of “belief” for a moment.  Since the turn of the century we have been enmeshed in a cultural war between “belief” and “the facts”.  Obvious example:  global warming is a fact that polls show a surprising number of people don’t believe.  But as John Oliver brilliantly put it:  "You don't need people’s opinion on a fact; you might as well have a poll asking: ‘Which number is bigger, 15 or 5?’ or ‘Do owls exist?’ or ‘Are there hats?'"  I love this and he is 100% correct.  EXCEPT…belief is such a powerful force, that even when it is dead wrong, we should not take it lightly.  Perhaps most of all then.  My son and I love the short story Obstinate Uncle Otis, about a man so obstinate that he denies the fact of anything that doesn’t please him, even if evidence to the contrary is right in front of his face.  One day Uncle Otis is struck by lightning and gains an amazing power to deny anything he doesn’t care for out of existence.  If he says there is no such thing as a barn that blocks his view…the barn that blocks his view disappears.  His family is forced to avoid topics that might enable him to deny, for example, the current President out of existence until finally lightning induced amnesia causes Otis to deny himself right out of existence.  A cautionary tale about the power of belief.  End of story, right?
WRONG. We are ALL obstinate Uncle Otis to some degree or another, clinging to our negative and self-limiting beliefs because they feel “safe” or “normal”, rather than peeking our heads above ground to check out the facts.  We have all seen the horrifying evidence of large groups of people bonding together in a false negative conviction and acting on it—the Holocaust, the Salem Witch Trials—so just because the facts don’t support a belief doesn’t mean it cannot be powerfully gripping and destructive.  This is the whole construct behind cults and even many religions.  If a lie is told in a convincing enough manner it can create a groundswell of support…one charismatic liar can do more harm than the army of honest men who will eventually rise up against him can ever hope to undo.  So it is important that whenever possible we don’t act on or even form an opinion about a piece of information we don’t know to be true.  The internet is a double edged sword in this regard.  The average citizen now has more access to facts than at any other point in history; but also probably a higher exposure to lies since the dark ages ended.  And there are media outlets dedicated to promoting some very dangerous deceptions by masking them in the false authority of “news”.  I won’t mention any names because FOX Mulder wouldn’t want me to.

I DON’T BELIEVE that the lies will prevail; they never do.  “Truth will out” is the inevitable conclusion to any story about a destructive belief.   As a species we have a track record of 100% when it comes to pulling ourselves out of the messes we make.  But often our progress feels excruciatingly slow; sometimes we have to take the mythic one step back to take two steps forward.   There are people who want to be in control, and just as with the ancient church, promoting fear-based lies is one of the most effective ways to keep people down.  Frightened people are not free people.   So we must be diligent in our beliefs, and not allow fear to cloud our judgment or take away our power to act.   When we observe people who are laboring under a fear-based delusion, we have to do our best to be compassionate while we continue to free ourselves from our own limiting and excluding views.   I want to believe that we are ALL evolving, every last one of us, and getting closer to the truth every day.  And not unlike Fox Mulder, I want to believe that there is something more out there, something greater than us.  We have seen the power of people working together to promote a lie; imagine how much more powerful we can be if we work together on understanding the truth?

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