As we grow up, we gradually set aside our magical hats and begin to take life more pragmatically, like the grown ups whose opinion we dismissed before...we become the grownups. We also discover, to our amazement, that somewhere in the back of our souls, floating around our minds, the little child still lives and magic has its own little room. How do we live with our pragmatic selves without killing that little child?
Nowhere is the child more in evidence than in those areas of our lives where belief is central to the way we look at the world. The child is alive when we think of God because we need the capacity of awe that the child still has to fully appreciate the beauty and the greatness of God's creation. No wonder Einstein once said that “The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.”
But one thing we learn in life is that beauty is not always there; sometimes we have to deal with the ugly side of the Human spirit, a side that defines the Universe as much as the beautiful side does. Science allows us to look at both sides of the Human spirit, albeit without being hurt when looking at the ugly side. Yet science still needs the wonder and still needs the belief. Again, in the words of Einstein, Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."
Indeed, when we let our beliefs take over for our brains we become indeed blind, yet if we look at the world without the passion born of belief, the world becomes a very dull place.
When we do run into trouble is when what we see with our brains contradicts what we believe in our hearts. How do we deal with it? This problem is nowhere as evident as when we deal with politics. We live in a complex world, and no politician, by definition, will be able to reflect our beliefs in every area of Human endeavor. One of the skills we are forced to learn as we grow up is to separate the straw from the kernel; to be able to analyze a situation and take our own stand. Yet when we do that, the inner child complains because sometimes it means that our innermost beliefs are challenged and that little child hates us for it. The alternative, however, is to let belief define our intellect – that is called dogmatism.
Once I read an explanation by a 13 year old boy about why he felt he loved to be Jewish: “I love Judaism because it allows me to fly” he wrote. How true! To be Jewish is to be open to question; it is in a way what makes us Jewish. In the perspective of another Jewish prophet of modern times: “Cutting off fundamental, curiosity-driven science is like eating the seed corn. We may have a little more to eat next winter but what will we plant so we and our children will have enough to get through the winters to come?” (Carl Sagan)
When we look at reality in the face, we sometimes will see that it reflects the face we wish to see, and sometimes it won't. Growing up is, in my opinion, learning to set aside the little child in ourselves when the mirror of reality shows an ugly face but making sure we don't stifle that child, because he/she is the origin of our wonder and the compass of our lives. We need to see and recognize evil, however, when it raises its ugly head – and many times wishful thinking gets in the way.
Let us take distance and look at the world around us both, with the eyes of a child and the power of our intellect; let us be able to distinguish reality from illusion and facts from belief. And if ugliness defiles the beauty of the world we wish to see, let us not ignore it – let us fix it by confronting the flaws, not hiding them under the carpet.
This Tuesday is September 11, a painful reminder of how the world does not conform to our personal ideas. Let us reflect on the world with the strength of our convictions and beliefs, but let us not let them chain us to dogma.