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Who do you believe when they tell you something? Christmas, we are told, is “the most wonderful time of the year,” a season all the more rich with meaning for us who believe in Jesus. We probably became believers by trusting someone who told us the story, who shared the Good News with us. For some others it’s unbelievable. We are blessed or diminished by who we trust.

While waiting for a train in San Francisco a few years ago we met a woman who shared her story with us. As a young attorney in 1975 her husband did some legal work for Jim Jones, the cult leader. Then slowly he came to believe Jones’ radical apocalyptic message. He and his wife joined the cult. When in 1977 Jones led hundreds of followers to Guyana to establish “Jonestown,” they went too, together with their young son. Jones soon separated parents and children. Eventually she and her husband lost trust in Jones and arranged to escape, hoping to return later to regain their son. But on November 18, 1978 Jones convinced 900 men, women and children to drink a cyanide laced ‘Flavor Aid’ from which they died. This lady’s husband, an intelligent man, was duped by Jim Jones, but finally came to see he was not trustworthy. That was the only reason she was alive and talking to us. Jim Jones was unbelievable.

Americans are currently torn apart by the cacophony of voices telling us our democracy is not working. Some say we cannot trust conventional media. Even Fox News, favored by conservative voters, has been attacked because it reported the same election results as other mainline news sources. Surveys show that millions of Trump voters believe his complaint that he was cheated. And they believe online “news channels” most of us never see because they are on the fringe of reality. Millions now believe the election in key states was “rigged,” that it was falsified by a massive conspiracy of election officials and thousands of citizen election workers coordinating their efforts. But many of these officials are of the same party as the President who lost. In explanation, some say these officials were “bought off.” Personally, I find that story unbelievable. On another front. . . .

As vaccines become available, the Centers for Disease Control recommends we get vaccinated to stop the Covid pandemic. Most Americans are ready to do so. But again, a substantial minority of citizens don’t trust “the system.” Wild conspiracy promoters say it’s all a hoax to enrich people at the top, or it might even be designed to control our minds. Other “anti-vaxxers” think vaccines cause autism. That belief was ignited in 1998 when researcher Andrew Wakefield falsely linked the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine to autism in a British medical journal, The Lancet. The paper was later retracted and denounced by the journal. Wakefield’s license was revoked by medical authorities for falsifying his research. But the damage was done. People who have never heard of him continue to believe his report and now distrust all vaccines. It’s unbelievable.

I know our government has at times failed to tell the truth, but I believe we can generally expect our leadership to be trustworthy. If not, our whole society is in deep trouble. I have met wonderful people in public service who I trust because they demonstrate commitment to integrity, good will, and genuine service to others. Each of us has a long line of trusted connections, to our parents, to teachers, leaders at work, and others who have helped anchor us in reality. Our stability is based on our own trustworthiness, and who we have trusted. Some of that trust has been damaged in recent years but we need to rebuild it.

Who do we believe? That is the biggest question in life. It determines our own destiny, our success, our health, our hopes and possibilities for “life, liberty, and happiness.” I wish what I have written here were not necessary. It’s almost unbelievable that it is.

Jesus said, "Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." "What is truth?" retorted Pilate.

(John 18:37b-38 NIV)

Stanley Hagemeyer

(This post previously appeared in the Ludington Daily News)

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