Do you believe in Father Christmas? All right, that’s an easy one. But what do you really, really believe in? And what connection does it have to reality?
Someone said that reality is what remains after you stop believing in it. In other words, reality doesn’t depend on belief. Or does it?
Experiments in quantum physics suggest that what happens may depend on who is watching. St Paul says that an act of faith is necessary for the veil to be lifted from our eyes: that we can’t see what’s really going on until we place our faith in God.
Most people, of course, reject that entirely. Seeing is believing, we say. Give us proof, and then we’ll believe.
A lot of people believed the world was going to end on December 21 this year, because certain calculations involving the Mayan calendar suggested as much. You don’t have to be cranky or gullible to believe that an ancient people may have known something we don’t. To paraphrase Linus in Peanuts, some of those ancient people were pretty sharp. But to put all our eggs in the Mayan basket would have been unwise, to say the least. All prophecies attempting to date the end of the world have been wrong. So far. Obviously.
Many people regard faith in much the same way as putting all your roulette chips on one number. Others see it as a no-cost bet. But people who believe Christianity is true (as opposed to those who see it as a respectable lifestyle) don’t see it as a bet at all. They agree with Stephen Verney, who wrote that “faith is being grasped by a truth which confronts you and which is self-evident and overwhelming, and then trusting yourself to the reality which you now see”.
This is, I suppose, an irritating viewpoint to those who don’t believe and would prefer the matter to be settled in a “rational” way. But the coming together of faith and reality is a powerful thing.
To many people, Christmas consists largely of a temporary suspension of disbelief. And despite a few high points, this can only end in disappointment. Fooling ourselves can be fun on the kind of superficial level that occupies us most of the time, but how much more exciting if the essence of Christmas were actually true.
Is it a coincidence that all the great stories in world literature are about sacrifice, salvation and redemption? That is what really grips and moves us, until we return to reality. Unless of course we have it wrong: maybe we’re returning from reality when we put those stories aside and concentrate on the mundane horrors of making a living.
Reality and belief are intertwined. Don’t be fooled by the tinsel.