Originally published in the Washington Times on December 30, 2018.
What is your favorite Christmas movie?
One of mine is “The Polar Express.”
As you likely know, this film is a digitally animated 3D production that stars Tom Hanks as the conductor of a train that takes its passengers on a magical Christmas Eve trip to the North Pole. All along the way the children on the journey must decide if they “believe” in Christmas. One boy in particular has his doubts. The train ride represents his struggle. Is Christmas real or just a childhood fantasy?
At the end of the movie, the little boy is wrestling with what to think of his adventure. What should he believe? What is true and what is false? The conductor (Mr. Hanks) then turns to the boy and says, “The one thing about trains: It doesn’t matter where you’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.”
I can’t watch this movie and not think about the relentless drip, drip, drip of today’s news where story after story highlights the fact that our culture, our Congress, our churches and our courts have completely embraced this lie — the deception that reality is simply what you make of it; that there is no Truth with a capital “T” but only personal “truths” that are created uniquely by each individual as the culminating synthesis of tolerance, dialogue, personal feelings and individual opinions.
“It is the journey that matters,” we are told over and over again, “not the destination.” There is no such thing as a final answer. It really doesn’t matter what worldview (or sex, or gender, identity, narrative, or religion) you choose as long as you choose one. To travel is better than to arrive. Just “get on” a train — any train — and enjoy the ride.
But all of us intuitively know something is desperately wrong with this. In our hearts, we know that, yes, discovering truth does involve dialogue, debate and discussion, but there has to be more to it than simply choosing from an amoral smorgasbord of personal values, opinions, desires and passions. At the end of the day, we all know some things are true and right and some things, simply, are not, and that some ideas bring freedom and others bring bondage.
I remind my students of this all the time. I tell them, over and over again, that the goal of attending a “liberal” arts college is liberty. Rare as it is in our time, a truly “liberal’ education is one that liberates you from the consequences of those things that are wrong and frees you to live within the beauty of those things that are right.
The objective is to find answers, not protect your opinions. We want you to embrace what is true and discard what is false. Confident in the existence of Truth as our judge, we seek to find the right “train” that is going in the “right” direction. We are not satisfied with journeys bound for hell.
In the 1990s, there was another movie that also featured a train ride. This train, however, was not leading to the magical snow-filled skies of the North Pole but, instead, to the infamous and ash-laden courtyards of Auschwitz and Dachau. The movie was “Schindler’s List” and, in this film, we see it does, indeed, matter which train one chooses to get on.
The obvious fallacy of our “feelings driven culture” comes alive before our eyes. Who can watch fellow human beings herded as cattle into box cars bound for the furnaces of the Nazi prison camps and argue that the joy is in the journey and that the destination is of little consequence? As it becomes painfully obvious that direction matters, and that some “trains” lead to good and some “trains” lead to evil, hopefully all of our hearts cry out with Oscar Schindler’s as he weeps for those who have been forced to get on the wrong train headed to the wrong place.
Truth is always directional and so are lies. The ideas we embrace about our reality do not lie stagnant. They are never morally neutral. They definitely will take us somewhere. We are always going in one of two directions: Either toward the forgiveness and freedom that only God’s revelation can offer or toward the bondage that always and inevitably results from man’s fantasies and fabrications. Our choice to either embrace the truth or construct lies about who we are as human beings sets us on the path we have chosen, not just for our days on Earth, but for eternity.
Perhaps the Psalmist says it best: “Teach me your ways O Lord and I will learn to walk in your Truth.” Our ways always result in slavery, treachery and oppression. God’s ways lead to liberation and freedom.
Two thousand years ago, a child born in a manger grew to proclaim, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” and the direction of the world changed.
Maybe the best Christmas reflection of all is this: When we get on the right train and go in the right direction, we can celebrate and sing, “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, I am free at last!”
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