Believe in Something

by Deana Chadwell9/9/18
Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it. Seldom have I heard a sillier string of sentences. I don’t even care whose face it’s plastered across. Nor do I care which half-witted, left-winged company lurks behind it. It is the statement itself that needs scrutiny – that and our predilection for short, dramatic, schmaltzy concepts.

The first three words sound like a noble command, like we should all square our shoulders, lift our chins, and bravely BELIEVE – like it’s the believing itself – regardless of what we believe – that is the challenge.

Well, believing is a challenge if what we believe is baloney. What is it that Colin Kaepernick believes? Does he actually believe that cops are just running amuck all over the country shooting down sweet little black kids? Is that true? Not according to actual crime statistics, it’s not. Not according to court decisions it’s not. But, that doesn’t matter; it’s the believing that counts as if believing is hard to do.

Human beings have three ways we learn: we hear; we experience; we think. Our mothers told us the stove was hot. If we were smart, we believed her and learned that lesson. The more curious and recalcitrant among us also touched the stove and learned the hard way. Those of us who could think ruminated on those events – the telling and the doing – and came to a rational conclusion that giving stoves a wide berth is a good idea.

Believing, which we usually relegate to religious and philosophical realms, is really the most basic and useful of our brains’ operations. Most of what we learn, we learn by faith. So having faith is no great accomplishment – it just means accepting as truth what someone tells us.

But how do we validate that what we learn is true? By the other two methods. We observe and we do. We try it out. We think logically about it. Our faith, our believing is no more valuable than that in which we believe. Yet, Nike wants us to just randomly have faith – in any old thing, as far as I can tell, AND to believe it to the extent that we’re willing to sacrifice everything. So I guess I’ll believe in the Great Pumpkin. I’m going to wear a pumpkin costume to work every day even if I get fired. Is that a reasonable policy?

No. If I’m going to give up everything, I’d want to know that what I’m standing behind is real. I believe in the resurrection of Christ because the people who walked and talked and ate with Him afterward were so sure that they were willing to die terrible, torturous deaths defending the idea. They didn’t just believe; they knew.

A lot of people believe in socialism in spite of the mountains of economic, historic, and psychological evidence to the contrary. We can give them no credit for believing because their faith is rooted in ignorance and guilt, not in fact. Some sociology professor told them it would work and they just bought it with no more questioning than they did when their mothers told them that the hairy thing on the couch was a cat.

Colleges used to teach their students to do that follow-up thinking, but they don’t anymore and now we’re faced with a couple of generations of people who just have faith. Period. No knowledge. No logic. Just grab the slogan and go.

If we’re going to be a culture of aphorisms, if we must take our wisdom in nanosecond bursts, let us at least get it from somewhere more accredited than Nike and a second-string quarterback.

Let’s try G. K. Chesterton, for starters. He’s the king of the bon mot. How about this one, “Comparisons are odious.” We’d do well to have this tattooed on our forearms. Maybe then we’d quit whining, “They’ve got more than we have,” whimper, whimper, whimper. Chesterton is so right; we can’t profitably compare our lot to others’ because we can never really know what anyone else’s lot is. And yet we have an entire political party that is based on fact-less, baseless, self-pitying comparisons.

Or maybe C. S. Lewis – “We are all fallen creatures and all very hard to live with.” The Apostle Paul said it this way, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Now that’s an aphorism we can all get behind. Even young children have lived long enough to know how true that is. If we all said that to ourselves once a day we’d stop expecting too much of our friends and family. We’d know that no one, not parents, not teachers, not government officials, not even grandchildren are perfect. This will make us disappointment-proof and far less cranky.

What about Socrates’s famous line? — “An unexamined life is not worth living.” That would be a productive mantra that would urge us on to more thoughtful living. It may not be zingy enough to sell running shoes, but it is true. Life is too much trouble to not have a reason or a purpose. Such a line would push us to figure it out.

Since we live in a competitive and driven society maybe Woody Allen’s line, “Eighty percent of success is showing up,” would be worth memorizing. That thought would help us face Monday mornings, push us to get the dishes done, or to mow the lawn.

Or we could emblazon on our foreheads Booker T. Washington’s completely race-less advice, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” That might go further toward ending our national tensions than calling up the specter of men on a football field kneeling to whatever god they kneel to.  Quit whining and just do it.

Or on an even more powerful note, Mahatma Gandhi’s statement, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”  This is far more direct than “Believe in something” and yet it gives the reader as wide a selection. It is a little more daunting because if we want the world to be better, then we must change as well – it’s not all about the other guy. Making a spectacle of oneself doesn’t quite get there. A professional athlete could open a sports center for young men in one of our deadly cities. He could pay for a lawyer for a person he thought had been wrongly accused. A person with fame and money could actually make improvements and not just throw temper tantrums.

Of course, if you want to stick with sports we could have as one of our core beliefs Wayne Gresky’s rousing injunction, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” That would get people into their gear and out onto the ice.  Logically speaking, it’s always going to be a true statement, and all it asks of you is to go play whatever game you’re in. Give it a go. It doesn’t require you to make a fool of yourself. It doesn’t require you to sacrifice something you don’t really even have.

Lastly, we could even go with an Oprah quote – “You become what you believe,” though I see that as more of a cautionary concept than an inspirational one. In the first place, I’m not at all sure that it’s true. I’ve had students who believed they were A pupils, but were very wrong about that assessment. Besides which, what if, like our starting quarterback wannabe, the thing you believe is just nonsense? According to the Oprah, you too would become nonsense.

I believe in something. I believe in the Trinity and in the founding concepts of this country. The evidence for the reality, logic and power of these is overwhelming. For these I’d sacrifice it all.


Deana Chadwell blogs at ASingleWindow.com. She is also an adjunct professor at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. She teaches writing and public speaking.
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Deana Chadwell

About Deana Chadwell

I have spent my life teaching young people how to read and write and appreciate the wonder of words. I have worked with high school students and currently teach writing at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. I have spent more than forty years studying the Bible, theology, and apologetics and that finds its way into my writing whether I'm blogging about my experiences or my opinions. I have two and a half moldering novels, stacks of essays, hundreds of poems, some which have won state and national prizes. All that writing -- and more keeps popping up -- needs a home with a big plate glass window; it needs air; it needs a conversation. I am also an artist who works with cloth, yarn, beads, gourds, polymer clay, paint, and photography. And I make soap.
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27 Responses to Believe in Something

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    SF writer Orson Scott Card mocked the question “Do you believe?” by noting that the question is incomplete. “Do you believe X?” All of us have beliefs (even Descartes, in the end). But just asking for belief without saying what is asking for an intellectual blank check.

    Benito Mussolini had a slogan Nike would appreciate: “Believe, obey, fight.” Sounds a lot like Nike.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    This is simply an extreme example of the dishonesty inherent in the advertising industry. Yet such dishonesty has been very effective over the decades, in fact so successful that others such as politicians have adopted the methods of Madison Avenue in order to further their selfish goals. The whole country has been conditioned to accept double-talk and lies which are now spread continuously.

    Slogans are a simplistic, but very effective way to let people project their own personal likes, dislikes and problems while giving them the feeling of belonging to something bigger. Once the slogan is hammered in, it is not a big step to getting the mob to start giving answers which the sloganeers actually want.

    Believe (who?) obey (who?) fight (who?) At the beginning, the answers may be different for different people, but Il Duce knows the answers he wants and he will convince you to give them or suffer.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      There was a moderately famous satirical poem about the use of advertising in political campaigns regarding Eisenhower (“Hail to BBD&O”). It ended with a small list of slogans, finishing with “I like Ike”. But of course such advertising wasn’t exclusive to Eisenhower. Stevenson’s “egghead” image was mocked, but was also his own advertising, never mind that Eisenhower (and Truman, for that matter) was probably at least as well-read and intellectual as Stevenson.

      And the use of slogans long predates that. Lincoln may well have split rails for a living (he no doubt did so occasionally for the family farm) in the past, but by 1860 he was a lawyer and had been for over a decade. (He was part of the team fighting to save Cyrus McCormick’s rights, as was Edwin Stanton.) Then there was “54-40 or fight”.

      And, of course, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too” back in 1840, the “log cabin and hard cider” campaign. And where did that image come from? Actually, it was a mockery by a Whig newspaper favoring Henry Clay, suggesting that Harrison (a Virginia aristocrat by birth) would be perfectly content stuck in a log cabin with a lot of hard cider.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Quit whining and just do it.

    Beautifully stated. That’s the essence of it.

  4. Steve Lancaster says:

    Belief is a powerful weapon, without belief a mass movement cannot spread, but it does not necessarily require the belief in a God. It always requires the belief in a devil. Thus, a common hatred unites across class and culture. Passionate hatred can give meaning to an otherwise empty life.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I think one of the things we can say about this current, seemingly open-ended, “belief” statement by Nike is that this is slippery rhetoric disguising some very specific beliefs.

      This is not about “believing anything, damn the costs.” The only beliefs sanctioned are Leftist-oriented beliefs, primary amongst them that blacks are all victims and their “beliefs” must be respected (especially by white people) as if you were dealing with a special-needs child who handed you an unintelligible drawing that is supposed to be of a giraffe and you reply, “How wonderful.”

      In that instance, it is an appropriate response to a special-needs child.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        It should be noted that while it is good to encourage a special-needs child for his or her effort, every now and then it is also necessary to instruct them as to how they might improve on their result. Like everyone else, if they are constantly praised for minimal effort, they will have little incentive to try and improve.

  5. pst4usa says:

    Excellent post Deana. Our society is so spoiled and so driven by instant gratification we cannot take the time to think these slogans through. The left has successfully created several generations that only know how to “feel” about things. And that bunch is very easy to control or enrage.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Slogans have always been effective, though it’s possible they’re used more often now, which may mean they’re more effective now. But “Remember the Alamo” (and later there was “Remember the Maine“) goes back even further than the ones I mentioned earlier (1840 for “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” and 1844 for “54-40 or fight”). Not to mention “Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute” in 1798. (Reportedly Thomas Pinckney’s actual comment refusing to pay Talleyrand a bribe was, “No! No! Not a sixpence!”)

      • pst4usa says:

        Slogans like those you have mentioned have a meaning, they had historical context. They do or were supposed to evoke emotion; they were meant to make you remember something, but as Deana points out this particular slogan skips past the thinking part and goes right for the emotion of the false narrative. I think that is where we are today.
        There is an interesting book call Pendulum which suggest that there is an 80 year cycle we humans go through from a “me” cycle to a “we” cycle. The cycle is 80 years from peak “me” to peak “me”. One of the pieces of evidence is the marketing of the time. ex. “I’d like to buy the world a Coke”, “we”. and “Diet Coke, because I can” “me”. Some of their conclusions seem a little thin, but it was interesting to me.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          So if 1970 or so (“I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” was the lead-in to a Coke commercial, probably the one you’re thinking of) was peak “we”, that probably means 2010 was peak “me”. I think the cycle may not be as precise as they think.

          That is a good point about the meaning (or lack thereof) of slogans. However empty “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” might sound, it did mention Harrison’s main accomplishment, his military career and especially his destruction of the Prophet’s Town run by Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawa.

          It was also Harrison who received Oliver Hazard Perry’s famous message first reporting the crucial victory on Lake Erie, and then invaded Canada. This culminated in the Battle of the Thames, in which “I, Dick Johnson, killed Tecumseh.” (That was also a political slogan in various forms.)

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            I have no doubt slogans have been around since the Roman Republic and before that in the various Greece city states. The vast majority of people are best addressed with pithy language.

            But there is a huge difference between something like, “I like Ike” or “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” and “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuehrer” or “Believe, obey, fight.”

            Even “Make America Great Again” leaves a lot of room for “fill-in-the-blank” thinking. Exactly how one will make America great again will largely depend on who one is.

            • pst4usa says:

              Mr Kung, that leaves off any leftist. I do not think that they believe that America was ever great.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                You do have a point, Pat!

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Well, that’s one Andrew Cuomo said, and I’m sure a lot more are smart enough not to say it. Even he eventually backed off once someone managed to make him understand that it wasn’t a smart thing to say.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Pat, I think Coke’s best slogan was 1929’s “The Pause that Refreshes.” But perhaps Colin Crapernink has a point. So I guess the new Coke slogan (and they should change it or else they’ll be considered socially unconscious) should be something like one of these. Tell me what you like best:

          1) F*** Amerika
          2) White people aren’t good enough to drink it.
          3) Have a Kneel and a Rant (sort of updating their 1979 slogan.

  6. pst4usa says:

    Maybe; snort some coke and take a knee.
    But for Colon Craperdick I would choose the last one.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      They’re not even my favorite Mexican fast food place, though I don’t know if Taco Tico still exists anymore. But a lot of people have probably never eaten in any other Mexican place, so how else can they respond to a poll?

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      Taco Bell is not to any degree a Mexican restaurant, not even Tex/Mex. It is ok as a fast food stop. The food is generally hot and fresh and adapted to American tastes not Mexican or Spanish. In that category its ok, even tasty, but not Latin in any form.

  7. pst4usa says:

    Mr. Kung, I think you are correct. The end is here.

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