I’ve had cause recently to reflect on foolishness. The world seems rampant with it these days, and in a heavily polarized media and political discourse, people are quick to accuse others of it. To some, it appears that policies like Donald Trump’s or Doug Ford’s are the height of foolishness. To others, it is policies from people like Justin Trudeau, or Barack Obama, or Kathleen Wynne.
Perhaps there is nothing we can do to avoid being foolish from someone’s perspective. Perhaps the only thing in our power is to decide what type of foolishness we wish to practice.
The Foolishness of Faith
In the New Testament, Paul speaks often about foolishness—yet he often turns the traditional notion of foolishness on its head. He admits that the claims of the early Christian movement seem utterly foolish–and yet he maintain that God, in His wisdom, as made it to be so. That what seems foolish will be proven wise, and what seems wise will be proven foolish. Since standard wisdom of the day was that the Messiah would come, and through violent, God-ordained revolution would lead the Jewish people to victory over their Roman oppressors, it must have seemed utterly foolish to rally behind someone who had been crucified, which by Jewish tradition meant he was cursed. Nobody likes a dead Messiah, and his very death proved to many he couldn’t be killed. The claims that Jesus had been raised from the dead would also seem ludicrous, mere propaganda–after all, everybody knew the resurrection from the dead would happen to everybody who had ever lived on the same day. Such a thing couldn’t happen to just one man, however extraordinary. Furthermore, Rome still ruled, so clearly the man who died couldn’t have been Messiah. And hadn’t that man hung out with all the worse sorts, broken with the tradition of Laws and Prophets, caused chaos in Jerusalem, and many more things besides?
Yet despite every reason to disbelieve, every reason to find the story and promise of Christ foolish, many did believe, and Christianity spread astonishingly fast, even within just the first century of the movement’s existence. Within three hundred years it went from a persecuted, fringe movement to the state religion of Rome. The foolishness of faith would continue for millennia, and even now in 2018, Christianity remains the most practiced religion globally–this even despite the decline in Western populations, and the astonishing rise of population on the Asian continent, where faiths such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism have a long, ancient, and generally well-respected history.
The Foolishness of Hope
There’s a scene in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home where the crew of the starship Bounty, consisting of the former senior staff of the destroyed starship Enterprise, realize that the signal transmitted by an alien probe in danger of destroying Earth, are the songs of humpback whales. The problem facing these Starfleet officers is that humpback whales were hunted to extinction by the 21st century. Fortunately, there exists a solution that these officers are well-acquainted with–to use a slingshot maneuver around the sun to enter a time warp and travel to Earth’s past. They’ve used this slingshot maneuver before but the maneuver itself is extremely dangerous–and that’s not counting the additional danger of attempting it in a stolen Klingon Bird-of-Prey they’re still figuring out the systems on, or the dangers of contaminating the timeline. And yet, if they didn’t attempt it, Earth and the United Federation of Planets, could very well be destroyed.
So Admiral Kirk gives the order to proceed on this insane mission, out of the slim hope that they will succeed despite the odds against them. As he does however, he states, “May fortune favor the foolish”. So in his own estimation, this is a foolish hope.
Of course, Kirk and his crew do succeed. Against all odds, a mating pair of humpback whales are brought to the future and successfully reassure the probe, causing Earth to be saved. Kirk not only doesn’t lose any crew members, he even brings a whale biologist back into the future with them. The charges against Kirk’s crew for rescuing their fellow officer Spock are all dropped, except for one which causes Kirk to be reduced in rank–which is patently a reward disguised as punishment. The newly demoted Captain Kirk and his fellow officers are given a new starship, the Enterprise-A and go onto serve the United Federation of Planets for many more years.
This is all fictional, of course, but it illustrates the point well. Yet even a glimpse at our own history leaves countless examples. In 1588, the Spanish Armada launched an attack on Britain. The British rallied to defend their homeland from foreign invasion. Despite the fact that the Armada assembled was vast indeed, the British fought with hope and courage, and eventually won the day thanks to a storm forcing the Spanish to withdraw–which some attributed to God, and others attributed to a group of witches working in concert. In more recent history, during World War II, Britain was under siege by the German Luftwaffe. Yet despite being under constant siege, the British rallied. They fought and they died, but they did not lose hope–and eventually aid from the USA and others would reward their hope and drive back the Nazi forces. In 1969, after years of failures and even catastrophes, the crew of Apollo 11, launched into space, on an extremely primitive rocket with a computer with astonishingly low computing power–and despite everything against them, they succeeded in landing on the moon and returning.
Everyday, there are less drastic instances of the foolishness of hope: scientists, doctors, nurses, first responders, soldiers, diplomats, social workers, teachers, and many more work to save and improve lives, patiently holding onto hope that they can make a difference in the life of just one person at a time, and that by doing so over the course of years and decades, they can change the entire world for the better.
Foolishness of Love
There’s a song by Kenny Rogers called “The Kind of Fool Loves Makes”, that I find very relatable. I, who have had many unrequited romances, but only one returned romance, and that but a relatively simple teen relationship limited to emotional intimacy, know well the seemingly foolish nature of holding onto love despite everything that says it should be abandoned. And yet I have seen so many relationships develop unexpectedly, and between people who I would never have imagined, that I hold onto hope that I will one day flourish in a relationship as well. Even the love between friends and family is often seemingly foolish–people come together, or are driven apart, for every reason under the sun, and sometimes seemingly without cause. Yet it is the love between friends, family, and lovers that provides the drive for so much of what we do. In today’s society, we are realizing anew the wide and deep capacity of the human heart. We are drawing our circles of compassion, and yes, of love, ever wider, including those we would formerly have dismissed. Love brings so much pain to us, and leaves us so vulnerable to hurt and betrayal, that one would question why we persist in it–but as most who have been in love would say, the potential for pain is worth the risk for love is its own reward. I firmly believe that the wider we draw our circles of compassion and love, the better this world will become, and I think we are working towards that, hard as it may be to believe at times.
Having faith, being hopeful, loving others–all of these could be described as foolish–and indeed, at various times they have been and often are. Yet if anything I do could be described as foolish, and I only get to choose the type of foolishness I practice, than I will gladly choose the foolishness of faith, hope, and love over the foolishness of fear, anger, hate, and despair. Which foolishness will you choose?