Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Freddie the Leaf and Belief Systems

Leaves don't talk of course, nor do they have conscious lives. But this story illustrates how faith can be based on silly stories that can be "disproved"  as untrue.  This doesn't mean the stories have no value, however.

As I noted in my Science v. Religion posting, there is no shortage of people who want to "disprove" some aspect of the Bible through the use of science, or try to disprove the existence of God through Science.  And such tasks are exercises in futility, as Science is not some alternative to Religion, nor does it set out to disprove Religion.

Belief, as I noted, is designed to help people - to comfort people - and help them come to grips with questions that cannot be answered in any other way.  And belief does not really provide an answer per se but rather provides a belief system, which you can believe to be true, even if you know parts of it are not true.  To try to disprove belief is to "miss the better story".

Leo Buscaglia was a motivational speaker, and he used to appear on PBS when I was a kid, giving his spiel about love and life.  As motivational speakers go, he was pretty harmless, as he wasn't trying to put his hand in your wallet, or trying to convince you that your company could increase productivity by merely believing it to be so.  No, at best, Buscaglia would give you a warm, fuzzy feeling, and at worst, might ding you a few bucks for one of his inspirational books.

And one of these books was "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf" which I read recently at a friend's house.  They had a family member die recently, and had bought the book (or it was given to them by a friend) to deal with that death.

The book is a glurge - a sappy sweet story that appeals to certain people who like sappy sweet stories, like Jonathan Livingston Seagull which inexplicably sold millions of copies.

In the story, Freddie is a leaf, living on a tree with other leaves, and as they go through the seasons of their lives, the leaves talk to one another about life and death.  Inexplicably, one of the other leaves seems to know all the answers to everything (inexplicably, as he is just as old as the other leaves, but that sort of logic just ruins a good story) and tells Freddie not to fear death.

And as you might expect, in the Fall, Freddie turns brown, falls off the tree, and rots on the forest floor.  Although Buscaglia tells it a little better than that, of course.

Is it an inspirational, heartwarming story?  Yes.  Would it be a comfort to someone dealing with a loved one's death or their own death?  Yes.  Would it be useful in helping explain death to a child?  Yes.  It is a good book?  Well, yes.  I always had a soft spot for Buscaglia and his particular brand of crazy.

It is factual?  Of course not.  Can Science "disprove" certain aspects of "Fall of Freddie the Leaf?"  Of course  it can.  Leaves do not talk, have consciousness, or memory.  They do turn brown, fall off the tree, and die, of course, so parts of the story are "true" scientifically.  But most of the rest is not.

But the point is, trying to "disprove" Religion using Science is just as silly as trying to "disprove" Buscaglia's heartwarming story.

And that is all religions are - silly stories designed to comfort people.  Taking them at face value as "Science" as some far-right Christians are trying to do with creationism, is about as silly as taking "Freddie the Leaf" as a guide to Botany.  Stories are stories, and are designed to build a faith system around, not create a foundation for scientific research.

So let Science be Science, and let Religion be Religion - silly stories if you will.  Trying to pit one against the other is pointless.  Trying to disprove religion makes no sense at all.  Trying to take religion literally makes even less sense.

It's just silly stories that make you feel better.  That's all.