This I Believe

Jeff - Des Moines, Iowa
Entered on June 13, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: question
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The term “core beliefs” has been bandied about in the political arena quite a bit recently. Whenever I hear it, it puts me in mind of that sappy old song that goes “I believe for ev’ry drop of rain that falls, a flower grows…”

I have to admit, I’m never as impressed with what a person believes as I am with what he knows. Belief is a funny thing. Folks used to believe the world was flat, and that if you sailed far enough west your ship would cruise right off the edge of the world and out into space. If only that were true, Congress could cut NASA’s budget by ninety-nine percent. Even today, the International Flat Earth Society gets together once a year to throw eggs at a statue of Galileo.

The problem with belief is that everybody has his own. Belief divides as much as it unites. That’s why I’m not as exercised about the so-called Conservative Wave, or Talk Radio, or Right Wing Militias as others seem to be. Nor am I obsessed with the supposed Gay Agenda, Environmental Wackos, or Radical Feminists. All of these ideological wolf-packs, are based on some belief system or other. Whatever wolves believe, they’re notorious for taking a snap at one of their own from time to time. Pretty soon the pack splits up, and the rampage is at an end.

We’ve been ridden out of town on a rail of belief ever since the Sixties. After Kennedy, a kind of drippy social mysticism descended on the country – A belief that people are born basically good and nice and neighborly, and will tend to grow up that way provided they have a hot lunch at school and Sesame Street in the afternoon.

Well, everybody duck, because now the pendulum is swinging back at us from the opposite direction. The left-brained Republicans have taken control, promising a thousand-year reign of Tradition and Common Sense. (For those unfamiliar with current learning theory, Right-Wingedness is thought to be controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain, and vice-versa. How’s that for irony?

Actually, Conservatives are much better at speaking the language of logic than liberals, who emote a great deal, as if they watch the soaps rather than the polls to gauge public opinion,which,come to think of it, might be a more accurate strategy.) But scratch a Conservative – any Conservative – and you’ll strike Puritan blood every time. You’ll recall that the Puritans came to the New World to escape religious persecution, then proceeded to practice it on everybody else.

The thing we’ve all got to realize is that Liberal and Conservative are not skills or qualifications. They’re just ideologies; belief systems no more rooted in fact than the Philosopher’s Stone. They only tell you what a person believes to be true, not what he or she actually knows, or is able to accomplish.

I have some personal guidelines for judging candidates, politicians and pundits. You may find them useful:

– First, Be Suspicious of anyone who seems to like trees or corporations more than people.

– If they preach “Family Values,” do a background check.

– Be wary of those who whine about the “Liberal Press.”

– Be wary of those who complain about “Conservative Talk Shows.“

– Be careful of anyone who crows about their “Common Sense.”

– Always make them define their terms.

And finally:

– Never listen to anyone who uses the word “ilk.”

I’m not saying you shouldn’t seek out those whose world-view agrees with your own. Certainly you should, otherwise you’ll feel like a monumental hypocrite, and who needs that? But it’s equally pointless to support someone who agrees with you, only to find that he’s an incompetent slob, or completely unamenable to reason.

Because ultimately, it’s not what a person believes, or says he believes, that’s important. It’s what he is capable of doing in the name of that belief. Sincerity alone is not sufficient. It is possible to be a sincere idiot, or a sincere tyrant, with the most deeply held, firmly rooted principles.

So the next time someone sings you “I Believe,” you might consider asking along with Michael Feldman: ”O.K., but what do you know?