As little tykes we were told the stork brings babies. It never entered our minds to look for storks in our neighborhood. We also believed Santa Claus brought presents on Christmas morning, and the Easter Bunny laid colorful eggs for us to find on Easter Sunday. It never dawned on us to question the veracity of these traditional celebrations and their strange explanations.

Most of us were taken to some kind of religious Sunday school, where we heard how Baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem, how the sky opened up and an angel choir announced his birth to shepherds. And, wise men followed a star in the east, first to Jerusalem and, then, to the stable in Bethlehem where the newborn king lay.

Now, at some point, we raised questions about the stork, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny until our parents, no doubt in exasperation, admitted Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were not really real. As to the stork, well, they hemmed and hawed and pretty much let the subject ramble around in our brains until we discovered from “someone” how babies were made and how they were delivered.

As implausible as it seems, for perfectly obvious reasons, the story of the Baby Jesus, the angels, the shepherds and the wise men was continually reinforced while, at the same time, we were informed it all took place exactly like it says in the Bible.

We were taught to ignore alternative possibilities and the implausibility of certain parts of the ancient accounts. Even if, considering all of the indoctrination, we had given a single thought to asking questions about what we had been read to from infancy, heard about constantly from imperious leaders in majestic attire, and sat through annual dramatizations until we were old enough to “take a part” in them ourselves, we would have entertained no more than that single, fleeting thought.

Taken altogether, the aforesaid makes me wonder, at my advanced age, what and, perhaps more importantly, who do we believe? And, this invites an even more important question–whom shall we trust?

What are we being told is undeniably true by authority figures–people we have put in powerful leadership positions–which is, frankly, absolutely NOT true?

Recently, I read and highly recommend a book about the rise of Nazism in late-Thirties Germany (Timothy Snyder’s Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning). Snyder is a Yale University professor of history. He is a permanent fellow at Vienna’s Institute for Human Sciences. A 1997 graduate of the University of Oxford, he was a British Marshall Scholar.

It is startling that the German people literally soaked up the rhetoric of Adolf Hitler’s vicious diatribes and, in time, carried out his grand illusions–at the cost of millions of lives!

                                 AUSCHWITZ

Could this sort of atrocity happen in the United States of America? Have we been predisposed as little children to believe the incredible and unbelievable? Could we actually be “taken in” by fake stories like we were “taken in” as little children? Do we believe what we are told simply because we were taught to believe what our leaders–our teachers, our pastors, our political leaders–have said is so? 

Every American needs to think about these questions and ask him/herself how they will respond when the time comes to separate fact from fiction. What is the right thing to do when doing the wrong thing becomes commonplace?