Last night I attended yet another school concert, and yet again found something to criticize. Tonight is my last one. I’m considering leaving my discernment at home and just going to enjoy the fluff. It will take a Christmas miracle.
Last night my seventh grade son’s band joined his school’s choir in a solid rendition of Josh Groban’s Christmas ballad, “Believe.” This song is theological crack. Its inspiring melody burrows its lyrics deep into your soul, where they slowly rot your ability to believe in God.
I wrote about this in Despite Doubt, which I’ll excerpt below (p. 166-68).
Most popular treatments of faith say it doesn’t matter what you believe or if you have good reason for believing it. Just believe something—whatever you want—and you’ll find that the sheer act of believing will propel you to greatness. Consider Josh Groban’s hit song, “Believe.” This mellow soundtrack sets the mood for the Christmas movie, The Polar Express, which teaches the ability of faith to alter reality. Near the end of the movie there is a silver bell. Does it ring? Well, that depends. If you are a child who believes in Christmas then the bell rings, but if you’re a rational, stuffy adult then it doesn’t. So our minds have the power to change reality? We can make bells ring just by thinking they do?
Groban’s ballad encourages us to reclaim our magical powers on Christmas day. It sounds better when he sings it, but here is the chorus:
Believe in what your heart is saying
Hear the melody that’s playing
There’s no time to waste
There’s so much to celebrate
Believe in what you feel inside
And give your dreams the wings to fly
You have an inner beauty
If you just believe.
The message is clear: You can do anything as long as you believe. The city of Orlando was built on this idea. Recently I took my family to Sea World, which is one of the favorite places from my childhood. Actually it’s one of my favorite places still. The theme of the Shamu Show was “Believe,” and its theme song encouraged us to “break free” in our “magic moment” and “see the world through the eyes of a child.” We must:
Believe, what we see can be somehow.
Believe, that this moment is happening now.
One of the trainers gave a long speech about the need to believe in yourself, and then he interviewed a child, who said her dream was to grow up and become a whale trainer. Everyone clapped, not because they thought this would actually happen but simply because the child had enough sense to believe what she was told. My son, Avery, apparently the cynical one in our family, observed that the Orca tail necklace that the trainer dramatically hung around the child’s neck as a reminder to believe in herself was also being hawked to put-upon parents for five dollars immediately after the show. He also noted that due to a recent tragedy the trainers are no longer permitted to get in the water with Shamu. So maybe they still believed in themselves, but apparently their employer didn’t.
We went across town to the Magic Kingdom, whose frequent parades reminded us to believe in ourselves and celebrate our dreams, “whatever they are.” My son said his dream was to take over the world. Should that be celebrated? My dream was for free refills on soda, but that was dashed at the cashier’s stand, less than ten minutes after the last float danced by.
As we left the park the loudspeakers played a happy song with the chorus, “In everything you do, celebrate you!” I understand why Disney does this. It’s good business sense to sell smiles and self-esteem, as no one would hang out in a place that berated them for their shortcomings. Disney is an amusement park, and the quickest way to amuse someone is to play catchy songs that say they’re great. I get that, but it’s still worth pointing out that this endlessly positive, narcissistic message will destroy anyone who attempts to live it. The poor fellow who follows the advice, “In everything you do, celebrate you!” won’t be married long. And he won’t have many friends.
Worse, as I explained in chapter 13, we die with whatever we have lived for. If we put our faith in ourselves, then we will receive whatever help we can offer at the moment of death. But we will be dying, so we already know how that will go. Why would anyone commit to a plan that is guaranteed to fail, especially when the consequence of failure is hell?