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Saturday, July 22, 2017

I Got No Strings (Among Other Things)

In her book Sacred Psychology of Change: Life as Voyage of Transformation, Marilyn Barrick writes this:

“As you may remember, the wood carver, Geppetto, gazes out his window at the starry heavens above and wishes upon a star that the puppet, Pinocchio, he has carved and painted might be a real boy. His words have been echoed by children ever since, ‘Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.’ ”

Pinocchio being a children’s story, Geppetto eventually gets his wish, though not without a fair bit of grief along the way.

In the real world getting our wishes is not so common.

Appealing to the Transcendent

Still, there’s a certain utility in appealing to the transcendent, not least because in so doing one is forced to acknowledge one’s limitations. Geppetto can make a puppet out of wood; he cannot make an autonomous living being. There’s a healthy grasp of reality in that. For such things we need Something Bigger.

Further, the acknowledgement of Something Bigger might even make Geppetto a better wood carver. He’s going to put his heart into his job if he thinks his Wishing Star pays more attention to the requests of a good man than a bad man. So perhaps he’s an above-average human being in his community. Perhaps he treats his pets better too (okay, we know he does that if we’ve seen the movie). A society full of Geppettos would be a healthy, functioning society, and all the Figaros would get their kibble on time.

More Good Stuff About Belief

Then, too, we can hardly miss the symbolism Disney was serving up back in 1940, though it remains sufficiently secularized to pass muster with the irreligious masses. Geppetto is kneeling on his bed, hands clasped, staring out into the night sky as he makes his request. People with such habits are thought to maintain them because they provide comfort, routine, a connection with posterity, or some other positive emotion. We do not pray simply to be miserable.

Finally, what’s Geppetto got to lose? If nothing happens, life goes on. If by some miracle our hero gets his wish, the universe has smiled on him. What’s wrong with hope, even in a long shot? People are always looking for hope even against all odds: ask the lottery-players in my office.

See? Belief in the transcendent is a useful character building device, no?

Western Civilization, Meet Geppetto

I’m reading and watching an awful lot of people lately who think a Geppetto-ish sort of Christianity is sorely needed in Western societies. They think we can’t get by without it. Secularization has failed. What’s needed is religious faith because it produces better people, and you can’t make a better society without better people.

All true. But there’s a problem with that. Believing in his Wishing Star may do all kinds of good psychological things for Geppetto — temporarily, anyway. But it doesn’t do a thing for a wooden puppet in need of genuine life.

Pinocchio needs Something Bigger that is powerful and caring enough to respond. The fact that Geppetto sleeps better because he believes in the Benevolent Infinite doesn’t help Pinocchio one bit. Assuming the Disney-fied Italian society around him were to become increasingly orderly and pleasant, it would mean nothing to him either.

When Belief Hits the Wall

Frankly, I suspect Geppetto’s piety is likely to evaporate someday if he never receives anything back from his requests. And even if he continues to behave well, if he’s wrong about the Wishing Star he’s both a loser and badly deceived.

In fact, we might say that we need a God who EXISTS and who REWARDS those who seek him. Absent that, all us Pinocchios (and the Geppettos too) are just plain out of luck.

Sorry, that’s not an original thought.

Western civilization doesn’t need more religious belief and personal piety, regardless of its newly-discovered utility. It needs to reconnect with a real, living God who hears, responds and genuinely transforms.

Without that, our societies will always be wooden and soulless. Or worse.

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