Just the Facts

We're being inundated with a flood of facts these days. There's Politifact, the linchpin of an entire culture of political fact finders, dedicated to ferreting out the truth behind political assurances of any kind. Mythbusters test the validity of rumors, myths, movie scenes, adages, Internet videos, and news stories. My fellow atheists are very fond of facts - they are constantly pointing out scientific facts that they think invalidate religion so thoroughly that to continue believing is the ultimate absurdity.

As if we base our lives on facts. As if we never make a decision without knowing all the facts. As if facts actually prove anything.

How many facts and counterfacts do we have by now about the Kennedy assassination? How many about 9/11? What one fact tells us exactly how Abraham Lincoln felt about the human equality of slaves? What one fact proves that George Washington couldn't tell a lie? And why did we ever think that was a good thing?

That latter, you see, is a creative little fiction, and I assert that it tells more truth than the facts of the matter ever could. There isn't a fact in the world that can - or should ever - take Lincoln's title of Great Emancipator away from him. We don't need to cover anything up or hide any facts or revelations to keep him in the role. He may have held any number of unsettling ideas about the biological equality of our slave population, but he signed the proclamation. He signed the 13th Amendment. Facts and counterfacts about motives are all, in fact, counterfactual. The fact is, he did it. It is a fact that planes were flown into the Twin Towers. I have been shown films that claim it as a fact that the towers were rigged with explosives. There are facts that prove Oswald as the lone gunman. There are facts that prove otherwise.

Think all science has all the facts all the time? Think again. I'm still trying to recover from the Martian Canal theory. That was more heartbreaking than the "fact" that apparently there is no Santa Claus.

We've now embarked once again on our yearly scheduled holiday season. We've eaten the turkey and shopped or disdained shopping on Black Friday. It's now the 6th day of Hanukkah. Here are some facts about Hanukkah. Here's a few more. Advent is here. Christmas is coming. Jesus H. Christ, apparently the name on his long-lost long-form birth certificate, was born on December 25, nine months to the day after a purported angel gave Mary a little sumpin' sumpin' from God. Or so someone writing in an old book with all the solemnity of the Warren Commission swears is a fact. But then - it's also the solstice, the return of the sun no matter how you spell it. And it all coincided so nicely with Saturnalia, a Roman festival of light around the time of the solstice, and while Romans were dancing in the streets, ancient German tribes were hanging tokens on their sacred evergreens. Put it altogether, it spells Christmas.

Some of us of a certain age can remember a long-ago TV show called Dragnet. It starred Jack Webb, an actor with all the emotional range of a filing cabinet. This is the only site I could find with him delivering his signature line, and it's used to underline another set of facts. Sometimes when an argument of mine is countered with what seems to me to be an irrelevant fact, I claim to have been traumatized as a child by Sergeant Joe Friday.

I like a good fact myself. I even like counterfacts - facts that, although equally true, seem to contradict each other. After all, I live in a counterfactual land where the sun really does keep shining through the pouring rain. Even so, I rebel against facts that inform me that Thanksgiving is a feast of shame, that Christmas is a cruel hoax perpetrated by malls, that in the light of this, that, or the other thing, there is nothing to celebrate.

Because here in the northern hemisphere, there is one very real fact that is irrefutable. The sun has been giving us shorter and shorter days, and harvests must take heed of that fact. There is a survival instinct that tells us to feast while the feasting is good, before the food can go bad, before the world gets colder. And then, miracle or no, even as the days grow colder, the days grow longer. The sun returns. We don't even need to know the facts behind this one. We feel it in our bones. We eat, drink and get merrier. We always have done.

Facts are good things. They really do make the world go 'round. And bring us one last short season of Treme'. But facts aren't everything. They don't make our decisions, they don't frame our beliefs. As a species, we always have and I hope we always will fly in the face of the facts. It doesn't always turn out well, but that's not the point. Life is more than a set of bullet points. It's so much more than just the facts.