Jiminy Cricket in the trailer for 1940's Pinocchio (Walt Disney Productions for RKO Radio Pictures/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)
You can’t just wish upon a star and make this coronavirus go away.
The other day I had a conversation with an intelligent, well-educated young woman who was questioning the Catholic Church’s moral teaching.
She said about the Church’s teaching on same-sex attraction, “But I don’t know if I really accept that.”
I don’t object to a person who rejects the teaching of the Church if they do so honestly and with integrity. If someone says, “I think the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception is stupid. I’m not going to do that.” There is a certain honest rebellion and rejection about their attitude. They simply don’t like the teaching and refuse to obey it.
However, I think the woman with whom I was in conversation was saying something different. She was suggesting that because she didn’t accept a certain teaching it wasn’t true or applicable.
This is very disturbing because it indicates the depth to which relativist thinking has penetrated into our society. It indicates that people think what is true is what they believe to be true. In other words, believing something makes it so.
Another conversation cropped up online which confirmed my suspicion. A guy suggested that when he dies he would like the chance to visit heaven and hell and make up his mind at that point which he would prefer. Then he said maybe reincarnation was a more attractive choice.
In both cases there is evidence of what psychiatrists call “magical thinking.” This is a form of insanity in which the patient really believes that what he wishes will take place in the real world. This magical thinking was put forward as completely normal by two ordinary suburban, middle-class people.
The irony of this is that religious people are often charged with magical thinking, and indeed very often religious people are guilty of it. So, for example, snake handlers think if they get “the anointing” they will be so filled with the Holy Spirit that the rattlesnake won’t bite them, and if it does they will not be affected by the venom.
During the present coronavirus crisis there are some Christians who believe they and their loved ones are invulnerable either because they “have faith” or because they believe the sacraments of the Church will save them.
I’m hearing Jiminy Cricket…
When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you
Of course it’s easy enough, if you are a religious person, to fall into the trap of magical thinking. Having faith in Christ and receiving the sacraments does save you, but it doesn’t necessarily deliver you from all hardship, sickness and physical death. Jesus Christ saves us through disaster, disease and death not from disaster, disease and death.
It’s easy, even for well-educated believers to succumb to magical thinking, but we’re supposed to avoid this trap. Christianity is not based on superstition, but on historical events, evidence and common sense.
We don’t believe something is true just because we wish it to be true.
The conversations with these two individuals, on the other hand, indicate just how widespread magical thinking is in our society. Are you unhappy with your gender? Wish it to be different and hey presto! It is different. Unhappy with the political outcome? Wish it away.
The coronavirus rather squashes that cheerful little cricket friend of Pinocchio. You can’t just wish upon a star and make this virus go away. The present crisis has opened our minds and hearts to some grim realities, and if this insidious invisible virus is true, then there are other realities also knocking at the door, and all of us will do well to face them squarely and fairly for the good of our souls and our shared human race.