03 Dec The Capacity to Believe
We have this thing called Elf on a Shelf. You may have heard of it. Lots of people have it. You can buy it in many bookstores and gift shops. During the time leading up to Christmas, the Elf supposedly returns to the North Pole every evening to report on our children’s behavior. He’s always watching. Upon his return from giving Santa the goods on our children’s goodness, he takes up a new spot in the house. Oh, and we’re not supposed to touch him. If we touch him something bad happens, but I don’t know what. So every evening before we go to bed my wife moves the Elf to perpetuate a huge lie to our children. While I hate the “you have to be good to get what you want for Xmas” routine, it’s a fun little piece to the magical Xmas season for our children.
I was sitting with my 6 year old, Jamison, on the couch this morning, trying to wake up in the dark and she noticed that the Elf, who’s name is fittingly Boomerang, was peeking out of my wife’s knitting box. He was mostly submerged with just his eyes peeking out, saying, “I am sort of hiding but I can see you.” I thought it was a funny place and said, “why the heck would he be in there?” Jamison said she didn’t know.
I then started to think about how crazy it is that my daughter actually believes that he is moving around when she doesn’t see him move at all during the day. I know everyone has bright children but Jamison is seriously bright, well, at least seriously astute. I’m surprised she hasn’t figured out that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. I guess our allowing the lie to go on is indirect confirmation. But still, here’s this doll that moves around the house but never moves. How does she believe this? What allows her to believe this?
It almost seemed like a gift, like something important. We might say that she’s only six and hasn’t developed proper reasoning skills. Might be true. We might say only children believe in fairy tales, Santa Claus and the tooth fairy because they are children. Might be true. But what if this is something we lose as adults that is good and necessary. What if this shows a capacity to believe? I know research has shown that it is easier for children to believe in God. And their reasoning can be quite complex and insightful. But what I am most interested in is the capacity. The fact that my daughter CAN believe that this Elf moves around is quite profound to me, because I actually can’t fathom it. I cannot understand how she can actually believe that the Elf does all that it does while she can actually see it is just a doll that never moves when she is looking. I taught developmental psychology so I get all the developmental reasoning, but a deeper level it doesn’t explain enough for me.
We must need a capacity to believe. Whether it is in God or Santa claus matters and doesn’t matter. It is this human capacity to believe in something you cannot see. That there is almost another world occuring at the same time. That there are behind-the-scenes activities going on that are more powerful than us. Some want to explain this as our tendency to avoid true confrontation with life and death. This might be true, but this capacity to believe, this space of complex understanding, that my child finds herself in, feels bigger than just a way to avoid death. It seems to transcend death.
It would seem that the conclusion to this is that we have this capacity in order to believe in God, that there is a natural space within us allowing for an understanding in a supreme being. The fact that we even argue over God, a concept so large and mysterious, is itself interesting and points to this capacity. You have to believe in God to not believe in God. You can obviously look at the “data” and decide that God-belief is the same as Santa-belief, which many people do, and not have faith in God. But don’t we all have the capacity to believe? Is it just an imagination? Why do we have such an imagination?
The fact that my daughter can believe that Elf moves around seems way more to me than a rich imagination. It seems necessary, otherwise, it’s too unbelievable.