I believe in…belief.
The crass materialism in our society is enough to make Matthew Arnold flip in his grave. Sting, who I think borrows liberally from Arnold, might be equally appalled.
Oh, it is high time we, each and one, link ourselves to some anchor, moor ourselves to convictions to live by, embrace our own lodestones of certitude.
Many things today are believed, much is thought, sundry abstract and tangible assumptions and suppositions are made, and various thoughts held dear.
Yet, it seems so little is postulated today by way of true “belief”. Belief means credo, distinct from what may be mere wish fulfillment and whims.
The tepid neutrality of a college philosophy professor stays with me: “Who can say what is right and wrong?” he opined, deaf to the solipsism of self-justifying pseudo-beliefs and fads.
Someone stop me before I trod upon the feelings of others, but…about the so-called beliefs of wiccans, radical vegans, and such… I find myself a bit, well… dubious.
Was it George Will (roundly despised by the Left) who observed most new ideas prove to be false ideas? Old, lasting truths, for me, still are real and reliable truths.
My Eagle Scout beliefs – anachronistic, alien for so many who stare blankly at their mention, as if I am speaking Urdu – echo for me as virtues very repeatable, ones which were and are valid, solid and true:
Secular humanism, eat your heart out!
These traditional beliefs (shared in “This I Believe” at least by Gil from Oregon) denote no specific god, but they do connote an outer, external set of interlocking goals deserving of our aspirations, if only like the desire of Poe’s moth for the star. How else might we approach a common respectful treatment of each other?
There is something sacred about such simple ideas, these dozen powerfully coherent whether invoked separately or together. As doctrines, they are Platonically good and immutable in and of themselves, in scant need of empirical testing, except by the parsimonious and the stingy.
Did these paltry mottos make me a better person? Was I a good boy? Did I grow up to be a good man, husband, father, citizen, and worker? Oh, but for a chance now to undo so many grievous wrongs I have committed in the past, against others and myself.
No matter. One belief or several. They are worth their collective salt only when they serve to turn a pre-act in a different direction, or, in hindsight, indeed should have been the deciding factor of an act.
When I am cornered by a difficult decision, these virtues struggle – not always successfully, but always hauntingly – to my consciousness amid my other base drives and desires. They give me balance and perspective. Let us all strive – yes, strive, that Victorian word, so didactically Kipling-esque – to find and keep close to our hearts such beliefs and watchwords, to live by.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.