In 1919, Heywood Broun wrote a short story titled “The 51st Dragon”. It tells the story of a young awkward knight by the name of Gawain. Gawain fails miserably in all areas of knight errantry. In an attempt to help the boy, the headmaster decides that Gawain should be trained in the art of killing dragons. In this, Gawain proves worthy. He can handle a battle axe with skill. He is strong and graceful. He is able to dispatch first paper, then papier machie, and even wooden dragons. Finally, he graduates, and is given a certificate and an axe, but Gawain is still uncertain of h is ability to dispatch the huge reptiles.
The headmaster reassures Gawain of his abilities, but in any case, he shouldn’t worry, because he is about to give Gawain his very own magic word—a word that will make him invincible to dragons. Gawain prefers to have a magic cap of invisibility, but the headmaster assures him no such talisman exists. Armed with the magic word, “rumplesnitz”, Gawain kills dragon after dragon, sometimes three in one day. He becomes famous for his dragon slaying abilities. No matter how fierce the dragon, Gawain faces them all, sometimes only saying “rumplesnitz” at the last possible moment.
One night, after a serious bout of drinking in celebration of 49 kills, a drunken Gawain stumbles on his way home we he encounters a dragon. The dragon has heard of Gawain and realizes he is doomed. Gawain raises his axe, but then realizes that in his drunkenness, he has forgotten the magic word. The dragon tries to help him remember it, but it is of no use. The dragon charges. Out or instinct, Gawain swings his axe and so powerful is the blow, that the dragon’s head flies over a hundred feet. Gawain is shocked because he did not say the magic word.
Gawain goes to his headmaster and tells him what has happened. The headmaster confesses to Gawain the there was no magic word at all. “Rumplesnitz” was never magic. It was only to give him confidence. Now that Gawain knows he can kill dragons without it, he doesn’t need it anymore. The next morning Gawain sets off to kill his 51st dragon, and is never seen again. Upon searching the woods where he disappears, only his medals are found. It is clear Gawain has been eaten by a dragon.
While this story was about government propaganda in the wake of World War One, there is no doubt that the tale also resonates with us because we all know how important it is to have self-confidence. Believe in yourself and you can do just about anything. Filled with self-doubt, you can accomplish nothing. Self or otherwise, it seems that faith is required in order to just make it day to day. You can’t live without faith in something.
Some people have faith in money. Others have faith in religion. Some folks put their faith in other people. And others put faith in education. As a culture, we have put our faith in science. We have trashed our planet with the certain reliance that technology will find a way to set things right. Nothing is accomplished without faith in something. Jesus knew this.
When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue,
and many who heard him were astonished.
They said, "Where did this man get all this?
What kind of wisdom has been given him?
What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!
Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary,
and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?
And are not his sisters here with us?"
And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them,
"A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house."
So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.
He was amazed at their lack of faith. (Mark, Chapter 6)
Greek is a fascinating language. It is so precise. The Greek for the term “lack of faith” is the root word for faith, “pisteo”, with the prefix “a-“. The prefix “a-“ renders whatever root that follows null. Thus, since “gnosis” means knowledge, a-gnostic means a total lack of knowledge. An amoral person is one without morals, not bad morals, not good morals, no morals whatsoever. So, from a Greek perspective, you either have faith, or you don’t. There is no such thing as a little faith.
But we all have faith. As I say, we have faith in money, or politics, or science, or religion, or just about anything—except God. And since Jesus teaches we each have the divine spirit, that each one of us is a temple of the living God, then that would mean that we have faith in everything except our own ability to overcome. So we turn to everything else to solve our problems. We keep expecting somebody else to step in and solve everything for us. This is because we know that when we try to fix things, we fuck them up. But that is only because we have no faith in our ability to solve our own problems.
Thanks to a bunch of crazy evangelists out there, most intelligent people don’t want to put faith in anything as traditional as Christianity. People flock to Eastern religions, or to native American religions, because they want something different. They don’t want the religion their parents had. And looking around the world today, that’s easy to understand.
Yet, you will notice that in the reading, it wasn’t what Jesus was teaching that the people rejected. They were impressed with his wisdom. It was Jesus himself. And I don’t believe that people are rejecting the teachings of Jesus today either. Most people don’t know the teachings of Jesus. What people are rejecting is the hypocrisy of organized religions. Churches can be good things. They have a purpose. But going to church isn’t the same thing as having faith.
Paul said that faith came by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. That is, faith comes from the teachings. I believe that. When I read the basic teachings of Jesus, I am overwhelmed by the simplicity and beauty of what he taught. This is why I continue to tell people to quit religion and turn to God. There is nothing to be gained by putting your faith in a church. Churches were built by man. Put your faith in God. Have faith in yourself and the divine spirit within you. Have faith in the person next to you and nurture that faith. Let it grow. Go ahead and try reading that bible. Reading the bible doesn’t mean you have to hate gays or believe any of the other rubbish that masquerades as Christianity. Look for yourself to see what Jesus said. I believe it can change your life. I have faith.