You Better Believe It
A good friend in Manitoba back in the 70s often used the phrase: You better believe it. I couldn’t even estimate the number of times I heard him say it.
In The U.S. Marine Corps Story (Barnes & Nobel, 1977, p. 712), J. Robert Moskin quotes former
USMC Commandant, Lt. General Robert Barrow:
“Many, if not most, want desperately to believe in something. Most of us want one or more strong personal commitments – religion, home, community, or some other institution which would extract from us involvement and strong beliefs. In today’s world, the opportunity for such positive commitment has waned significantly and many
young people look around in vain for such opportunities.”
I agree with Gen. Borrow’s assessment that there is an innate human quest to believe in something. Whether forty-five years ago when the general wrote that, or today – or in any age, for that matter – I take issue with his proposition that opportunities for positive commitment have waned or are waning.
People from the dawn of humanity have always personally committed to faith, community, home, or some ideology/philosophy. The issue is not that opportunities for believing in something are lacking. The critical question is to what belief, and the content of such, one commits his/her being.
History is rife with examples of horrors resulting from people embracing a belief and dedicating their life to it. Two examples:
In 1978 over 900 people from the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project (colloquially called “Jonestown”), a remote settlement in Guyana, died from cyanide poisoning, both suicidally and murdered. The participants had committed their lives to a cult leader, Jim Jones, who idolized Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Adolf Hitler.
The United Nations estimates that around 5,000 women and girls around the globe are murdered each year in so-called “honor killings” by members of their families. These crimes are rooted in a global culture of discrimination against women, and the deeply rooted belief that women are objects and commodities, not human beings entitled to dignity and rights equal to those of men.
Put simply, believing in something is not enough. It can make a world of difference what that something is.
There are manifold opportunities to believe in and commit to things that are constructive, positive, and upbuilding. But one needs to thoroughly explore the particulars of anything that beckons for one’s loyalty to discern if it in fact results in the well-being of both self and the community. If the belief, community, ideology, or institution leads to harm, something is seriously amiss.
Belief in the value of all people and that doing the loving thing for the earth and everything on it is, and always has been, an opportunity for positive commitment. This can be embraced and practiced on every level from the nuclear family to the global community. Religious, community, and political institutions can, and should, strive to exemplify and promote this foundation, and to model it as an invitation to young people who seek meaning in their lives.