Polar Reactions

I saw the movie The Polar Express yesterday and have some conflicting reactions to it.

On the one hand, I really enjoyed watching it. It’s technically amazing and beautiful. I wasn’t nearly as disturbed by the nearly-realistic human CGI characters as I was when watching Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. It’s amazing what they can do with CGI these days, and I’m happy to support these movies with my dollars to encourage them to keep making more of them.

As time goes on and the tools improve, I can imagine great movies being made by lone, brilliant, writer/directors (or perhaps lone writer/directors with a small technical team) who control all of the characters’ facial expressions, voices and actions as a great musician controls his instrument. That would be very cool.

On the other hand…

I really don’t like the central theme of the film. It’s about a child who is losing his faith in Santa Claus, and gets it back from a trip to the North Pole on The Polar Express. The film promotes the idea that it’s a shame for children to stop believing in Santa Claus, and that it’s a virtue to hold on to one’s faith in unbelievable stories about reality in the face of strong, real, evidence and arguments to the contrary.

This idea sucks.

I think that children can enjoy the myth of Santa Claus without believing that it’s literally true; much as they can enjoy many other stories and fairy tales. And, I don’t think Christmas would lose its special flavor without this faith. We can enjoy the traditions of Thanksgiving without believing in magical Pilgrims preparing our meals.

I think that adults engage in the Santa conspiracy either to train children for unquestioning faith in God, or to control their behavior (he knows if you’ve been bad or good…) or some combination of the two. These may be traits that a prison warden might want to instill in prisoners to make them easier to control, but I don’t think that they are good things to cultivate in people you care about and want to become independent and happy.

Finally, I really think that this idea that it’s a virtue to have faith that’s stronger than the evidence of reality is something that’s going to make it very difficult for us to be successful at changing radical Islamists in the Middle East.

How can we convince people who think that it’s good to resist those who try to convince them to reject their beliefs on the basis of arguments and evidence?

Don’t we agree that this attitude that makes improvement difficult is bad?


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