Shall I Deny the Evidence?

Posted on August 23, 2011

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I love the show Pawn Stars.

It’s a show about a Las Vegas Pawn Shop run by a family: grandfather, father, and son (plus son’s friend). Half history lesson, half reality show, I love it because it has the feel of Antiques Roadshow, but after discussing historical artifacts, they actually make an offer to buy the thing. People bring in sports memorabilia, army surplus, pinball machines, lunchboxes, antique toys, tools and machines, steamer trunks, Coke machines, and anything else they think my bring in some money.

While I find all the history fascinating, what is most interesting to me is the customers. Before people enter the store, they stand in the parking lot and speak directly to the camera always saying something along the lines of:

“I came to the pawn shop today to try and sell my antique/signed letter/motorcycle/whatever. I think it’s worth around $6,000, but the lowest I would take is $4,500.”

Then they bring their item into the store and the guys in the shop start to talk about the item. Sometimes the pawn guys know exactly what it is, its history, and its value. When this is the case, there is usually a negotiation and most of the time, both sides walk away happy.

But sometimes, especially when something is over $10,000, the pawn shop guys want to have an expert come in. So they bring in experts in arms, aviation, documents, American history, toys, cars, books, stamps, coins, or art. These people look at the items, examine them, explain them, usually shedding light on the history, origins, and value of an item.

When the experts confirm that their item has significant value, no one ever argues. There is just fist-pumping, smiles, and a “that’s what I’m talking about!”

But when someone find out they have a fake, or even that an item they thought was $20,000 is really only worth about $2,000. They are always disappointed and sometimes they even deny the evidence.

There was a guy who was certain he had a lost poem from Jimi Hendrix. He had a story about getting the item twenty years ago from Jimi’s brother when he was a concert promoter. Well, the item was easily dismissed as fake and the pawn shop guys didn’t buy it. But back in the parking lot, the owner of the poem continued to insist that the item was real, in spite of the evidence and testimony of the professional handwriting expert. With an air of defiance, he said,

“I’m going to take it somewhere else and sell it to people who can really appreciate it. I think they’re going to be sad tomorrow morning when they wake up and they don’t have it in their store.”

This kind of thing happens on the show all the time. And I assume it happens even more often off-camera in the normal operations of a pawn shop. People cling to their beliefs against facts. They have been told, or told themselves, a story so often that when they are presented with evidence that maybe things aren’t exactly what they believed, they deny the evidence rather than change their belief.

This behavior is fascinating but not original. Christians do it all the time.

When new (or new-to-you) evidence comes to light about the origins of the Scripture, the virgin birth, the translation of certain words into English, the history of the Church, archeological discoveries, intra-textual contradictions, or myriad other challenges to firmly held belief, people have the same choice as the person who just learned their Jimi Hendrix poem isn’t worth the paper it was written on. They can either adjust their view of reality or deny the evidence.

It would be easy for me to condemn those people who bury their head in the theological sand. But I really don’t find immediate fault with ignoring those things that shake our faith. It can be a traumatic experience and not everyone is ready. It is difficult to change, or even assault, the foundations of our belief.

But I do believe that there comes a point when we feel safe, secure, and supported and we have the choice to engage, to remove the theological training wheels, and wrestle in the void of unknowing. This is the place of fear (holy and otherwise). It is a place of unknowing.

It is where faith has a purpose.

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