Lately, I've been thinking about what I believe. That's not as simple as it sounds. There's often a difference between what people "believe" and what they "profess."
Many of us ascribe to "belief systems," but we don't necessarily believe everything in the system. While some people seem inclined to believe anything they're told to believe, not all people of faith are so credulous. We may try to believe everything. We may even perform a credible "profession" of beliefs, but deep down, I suspect, most people don't really believe it all.
For instance, Catholics (i.e. my belief system) profess to believe that at communion, a miracle takes place. The wafer and wine turn into the actual body and blood of Jesus. It's called "transubstantiation." As a metaphor, I think it's terrific. But I don't believe it actually happens. It's not that I refuse to believe it, and it's fine with me if everyone else genuinely does believe it. But try as I might, I can't?#34;and I've tried.
There are other elements in the Catholic creed I'm not quite sure about?#34;the "communion of saints," for instance, is a mystery to me. And some details don't seem terribly important. Who cares if Jesus "sits at the right hand" of God? As a left-hander, I detect a certain "hand bias" in the wording. Catholics also profess belief in "the resurrection of the body," but I'd just as soon leave my body behind when I die. The spirit is fine, thanks.
I'm not the only quibbler. A friend tells me he only says the first few words of the creed and the last few words. Technically, you shouldn't say any of the words unless you truly believe them, right?
But it's one thing to admit what you don't believe and another to clearly articulate what you do believe. National Public Radio recently ran a series of essays based on an old program titled "This I Believe."
A terrific idea, I thought. But what do I believe? I sent that question down the well and the first answer to echo back, strangely enough, was "Evolution."
Evolution has been in the news lately because this is the 80th anniversary of the Scopes "Monkey Trial" in Tennessee, where a school teacher was actually convicted for teaching evolution in the classroom?#34;in spite of Clarence Darrow's impassioned defense.
I suppose the media highlighted that event because conservative Christians, drunk with their newfound political power and influence, still find it deeply offensive that God would use natural means to produce homo sapiens. Which always struck me as pretty nervy. God might not look too kindly on people questioning his methods.
But conservative Christians, who believe they're never wrong, also believe the Bible should be taken literally?#34;which is pretty nervy, too, since God is never literally quoted in the Bible literally saying that.
The vast majority of conservative Christians?#34;who appear to be a slim majority of the electorate at the moment?#34;are "apocalyptics," i.e. they believe the end of the world is imminent, and they seem excited about it because, as the "righteous," they expect to survive, while the rest of us, especially those disgusting liberals, are finally going to get their butts cosmically kicked.
I question the wisdom of putting people in charge who believe the world is going to end and look forward to the prospect. Might be hard to resist the temptation to self-fulfill that prophecy.
I, for one, don't believe the end of the world is at hand. In fact, I don't believe in the Apocalypse at all. I think it's a conspiracy theory for self-righteous hysterics.
But I do believe in evolution. And when I say "evolution," I don't mean "how we got here" so much as "where we're heading."
That will be the topic of the next installment of "This I Believe."