Addressing the doubts
by Paul Hess (revised, originally published in 2012)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider that belief is not irrational, but rather, gives us inspiration and hope.
Preparation and materials
- Have available the YouTube video ‘Shrek (2001) – Now I’m a Believer Scene’ and the means to show it during the assembly. It is 2.12 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3bI7kbVBwM
- Ask the students whether any of them have seen the film Shrek.
Show the YouTube video ‘Shrek (2001) – Now I’m a Believer Scene’.
- Read out some lines from the song:
I thought love was only true in fairy tales
Meant for someone else but not for me . . .
Disappointment haunted all my dreams . . .
Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer.
- It is easy to see why this song - ‘I’m a believer’ by the Monkees - was chosen for the soundtrack to the first Shrek film. The film is about someone overcoming great obstacles to fulfil his dreams. Shrek is an ogre, shunned by everyone, who doesn’t believe it will ever be possible for him to find love. Then, he meets Fiona – and becomes a believer!
- Belief in the possibility of love did not come easily to Shrek. For us too, overcoming our doubts in order to believe can often be a struggle. In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll expresses the struggle to believe in a rather humorous way:
Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’
‘I dare say you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’
- This passage might make us think that Carroll is criticizing religious belief and suggesting that belief requires us to set aside rational and scientific knowledge. Indeed, many people do think that to hold religious beliefs, you need to switch off your brain!
However, if we read a little more closely, we can see that Alice is not saying that we should not believe at all. Rather, she is saying that we should think carefully and critically about what we believe.
- Most people have beliefs about something, but it is important not to believe in something blindly. We must be critical of our own beliefs and those of others. Unquestioning belief can be very dangerous and can hardly be said to be genuine.
- As young people living in today’s world, we are unlikely to accept beliefs – religious or otherwise – without scrutinizing them and demanding evidence. That does not destroy belief – rather, it makes for stronger, more authentic belief.
- In Alice in Wonderland, the Queen’s words highlight another significant aspect of belief. It is not irrational, but there is something about it that encourages us to think beyond what appear to us as boundaries and limitations. Belief encourages us to imagine and dream about what appears to be impossible now.
- Many people who were faced with the horror and brutality of the Nazi regime in the 1930s and 1940s were in the grip of despair, but many continued to believe, including a famous Christian pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who gave up his life in the struggle against Hitler.
Bonhoeffer wrote, ‘I believe that God can and intends to let good spring from everything, even from what is most evil. For this, he needs human beings, who know how to turn all things to the good.’
- Sometimes, we are faced with great obstacles in our own lives – conflict with our friends, family break-up, stress, worries about school, Covid-19 and so on – and we think that it is impossible to find a solution. Yet, even in those situations, if we persevere, a way forward often seems to open up.
- At the heart of faith is the belief that, although there are rarely easy answers to life’s great problems, ‘with God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19.26). There is always a reason to believe.
Time for reflection
We have just celebrated Easter. After Jesus came back to life, he appeared to his disciples, but one of them, Thomas, missed it. When the disciples told Thomas that Jesus was alive, he demanded proof. The story is found in John 20.25–28:
But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’
A week later, his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’
Then, he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’
Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’
Thomas is an attractive figure because, like for many of us, belief did not come easily to him. When the other disciples told him that they had seen the risen Jesus, he did not believe them and demanded proof. The Church celebrates the feast day of Thomas on 3 July each year.
Help us to be honest, like Thomas, about the things that stop us from believing.
Grant us greater belief so that we may have the faith that moves mountains.
‘When you believe’ by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey from the film The Prince Of Egypt, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKaXY4IdZ40 (4.57 minutes long)