by: Rev. Alex Molozaiy, Pastor
“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” – John 3:19-21
When Thanksgiving rolls around next month, I am confident that it will be observed at our house with what has become an annual tradition for us – a family viewing of 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street. While it’s a great movie with a good message (it’s ranked #9 of the American Film Institute’s ‘100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time’), there is a memorable line in the film that makes my inner theologian cringe: “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.”
You might be wondering why I’m choosing to write about my nitpicky issue with a Christmas movie that my family watches at Thanksgiving now, at the beginning of October. I assure you that I, unlike the department stores, have no interest in lengthening the (consumer) cultural Christmas season! I mention it because I’m quickly becoming convinced that we are in the midst of a growing conflict and at risk of having our unique Gospel witness overwhelmed by competing ideologies on either side.
One side is that of the empiricists. Empiricists, like the protagonist of Miracle’s Doris Walker, refuse to accept anything that they cannot measure or explain scientifically as truth. These idealogues include the so-called ‘new atheists’ like Richard Dawkins and the like who are openly hostile to religion, including Christianity, which they see as enemies of science and truth.
On the other side are fundamentalists. Fundamentalists don’t appear per se in Miracle on 34th Street, but the quote that irks me comes dangerously close to a definition of fundamentalism: believing [in something] when [evidence] tells you not to. Fundamentalists believe that they alone possess the capital ‘T’ Truth, and no evidence to the contrary can convince them otherwise. This group includes people like ‘young earth creationists’ like Ken Ham and revisionist historians like David Barton. They begin their studies with a preconceived conclusion and search for evidence to bolster it and ignore or explain away anything that would undermine it. Sadly, all expressions of faith are susceptible to fundamentalism, which is, at its best, intellectual dishonesty and, at its worst, openly violent or even murderous to dissenting voices.
The Christian should not be afraid of the pursuit for truth, even when those truths shake the foundations of our understanding. God has given us brains to use and the capability to understand. In this era of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’, we must be vigilant in our quest and not succumb to the temptations of fundamentalism and accept only those anecdotes that support our preconceptions. While we pursue truth fearlessly and without reservation, we must also humbly recognize that there are limitations to our ability to know it. After all, we have yet to devise a way to measure love or prove its existence and yet we cannot conceive of existence without it. Faith is not believing when common sense tells you not to. Faith is trusting that our God is bigger than a few honest questions and the answers we might find if we are not afraid to ask them.