“Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus”: A Brief Thought on the Seen and the Unseen, the Real and the Unreal, the Most Meaningful and the Less Meaningful
By Ken K. Gourdin
I previously posted, without commentary, a link to what has become one of the most iconic Christmas messages ever written, which was penned by New York Sun editor Francis Pharcellus Church, whom an eight-year-old girl, Virginia O’Hanlon, had written inquiring whether there is a Santa Claus.
In my determination to post daily to the Blog in the days leading up to Christmas, I wish to provide some of my own modest thoughts on young Virginia’s query and on Church’s response. I agree with Church that “all minds”—regardless of the age of the heads they inhabit—“are little,” as compared with One capable of “grasp[ing] the whole truth and knowledge.”
Indeed, speaking of “the whole of truth and knowledge,” it is true that men are prone to compartmentalize truth into “things spiritual” (or religious) and “things secular,” respectively, (the latter two phrases in quotes are mine). However, the God in whom I believe doesn’t work that way.
Indeed, the God in whom I believe told a man whom I revere as a prophet that “all things unto me are spiritual” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:34, available here and last accessed December 5, 2014: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/29.) Expanding on this idea, the religious tradition to which I adhere also holds that “all truth may be circumscribed into one great whole.” (See, e.g., John W. Welch (May 10, 1988), “Study, Faith, and the Book of Mormon,” Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, Speeches of the Year, accessed on line at http://www.speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1286 on December 5, 2014).
I agree with Church that, while “love and generosity and devotion” are neither easily explained nor easily quantifiable, our limited capacity for explaining and quantifying them do not make them any less real. While Church, of course, did not quote philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal, the latter is reported once to have said, “The heart has reasons that reason knows nothing of.” (See the following address, last accessed December 5, 2014: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/blaisepasc132990.html.)
I agree with Church that “[t]he most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see,” and that our inability to see them is not proof that they are not there. As he wrote Virginia, “Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.”
And finally, I also agree with Church that:
there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else [so] real and abiding.
As Church told Virginia, that which makes life most worth living is that which is neither quantified nor quantifiable, that which is neither seen nor seeable. Reason, logic, and science all have their places, and neither Church nor I mean to cast them aside; the fact remains, though, that such things as art, poetry, and music are indispensible to grasping life’s greatest beauties and to unlocking its deepest meaning.
Update, December 8, 2014: The genuine, unembellished story of Virginia Douglas, nee O’Hanlon, and her correspondence with The New York Sun is impressive and charming enough. There’s no need to veer from the actual account—except in a world where “good” is never good enough. Myth expert Joseph Campbell provides interesting details on Virginia’s correspondence and on what became of her after she penned the famous missive. See here, last accessed December 8, 2014: http://www.mediamythalert.wordpress.com/2010/12/25/what-became-of-virginia-ohanlon/.