Believer, Skeptic or Denier
Dear old and new friends,
These are the times of belief and disbelief, of skepticism and denial, that we have all lived through before. On the playground in my early grade school days I met my first atheists, or deniers. During the days just before Christmas they challenged my belief in that jolly, red-suited gift giver, while I proclaimed loudly the evidence of his existence in the sightings of him all over the town. I did agree with them that logically the law of gravity made his flying reindeer impossible, but in Santa and his elves my faith remained firm since I had proof of their existence…peanuts!
As a child, if my two younger brothers and I took our afternoon naps we were told the elves would come and leave for us shelled peanuts in a Santa dish on the ledge of the stairwell, and amazingly they never failed to do so. I don’t know precisely my age when I stopped believing in my once deeply held belief of Santa. But how do we explain a Gallup poll that found one in four high school students, college students and adults believe in Saint Nick? Since a child fears becoming a Santa atheist could logically mean no Christmas gifts, so too the faith convictions of both children and adults have heavy emotional consequences.
The recent United Nations “Climate Change Conference” in Paris has made front page news. When asked their opinion about it, many claim they can’t make one since they aren’t scientists; while others remain skeptical of the scientific facts. Surprisingly, a Gallup poll recently found that regardless of credible scientific evidence, one in four Americans still disbelieves in climate change! Also, among political conservatives and religious fundamentalists 50 to 60 percent of them deny evolution! (Political candidates wisely do not publicly acknowledge their views.) As in childhood we feared the consequences of a denial of Santa, so then for religious fundamentalists is climate change and evolution “the camel’s nose in the tent” …a prelude to the drastic unraveling of their faith?
Five-thousand years ago the Athenian orator Demosthenes said, “Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what a man wishes, that he also believes to be true.” Is that the case with today’s climate change deniers, where what they believe is what they wish was true? It certainly was true for Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II (1844-1913). Upon learning of the new electric chair, he ordered one in the hope of deterring crime, though unaware Ethiopia lacked the sufficient electrical power to operate it. So he creatively had the massive chair converted into his throne.
Emperor Menelick held the unique belief that when he was not well, simply eating some pages of the bible he would make him feel better. His faith in this act may be from the book of Ezekiel where the prophet in a vision saw a hand holding out to him a scripture scroll and heard a voice say, “Eat this.” He did, and found it sweet. In December, 1913, Menelick had a stroke and later felt extremely ill, but instead of calling a doctor he ordered the complete Book of Kings be cut out of the bible and fed page by page to him (in a bible today that would be about 57 pages). He died while chewing the pages…but before he had consumed the entire Book of Kings.
This December is the 102nd anniversary of Emperor Menelik II’s death, and so an ideal time to examine honestly your beliefs. Not about Santa Claus or his magical elves, but something you both believe and you like to believe, since this true Ethiopian story warns us that our beliefs contrary to evidence have serious consequences.