In 1966, Charles M. Schultz created one of America’s most iconic animated works, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. This adorable Halloween-themed show typically takes a backseat to Schultz’s ever- popular A Charlie Brown Christmas. Schultz has long been praised in the Christian community for the overt evangelistic message of his cartoon while television networks have been criticized for airing this “narrow-minded” Christmas show that excludes non-Christians. Rarely does anyone look to the Great Pumpkin for a message pointing to anything higher than trick-or-treating, but deep in the pumpkin patch rests a seed of wisdom for Christians and skeptics alike.
The Peanuts gang is busy preparing for their big Halloween night, complete with costumes, candy and a party. Linus is busy too, making his own plans (and signs) to welcome the Great Pumpkin. At the cost of suffering laughter from Snoopy and ridicule from all the rest, (words and phrases like blockhead, stupid, strange and “waste of time”) Linus acts on his belief that the Great Pumpkin will visit his pumpkin patch on Halloween night. He writes the Great Pumpkin a letter, declaring his belief and offering encouragement since Santa gets more publicity. Linus convinces Sally to forgo her Halloween plans and wait with him for the Great Pumpkin. After many cold, quiet hours, Sally realizes the Great Pumpkin is not coming, lashes out at Linus and leaves utterly disappointed. Not giving up, Linus remains until 4:00 am when Lucy drags him inside and puts him to bed. The next day, Charlie Brown consoles Linus, claiming to have also done “stupid” things. The credits role with a defensive Linus promising to not give up on the Great Pumpkin next year.
In nearly every conversation regarding his beliefs about the Great Pumpkin, Linus uses a very curious word: sincere.
“He’ll come here because I have the most sincere pumpkin patch and he respects sincerity.”
“Each year the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch he thinks is the most sincere….I don’t see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look all around and see signs of hypocrisy…nothing here but sincerity as far as the eye can see.”
“Next year, I’ll find a pumpkin patch that is REAL sincere!”
According to Linus, the Great Pumpkin will appear, thereby proving to be real, based on the sincerity of the believer. Not history, not tradition, not empirical evidence, not morality…sincerity. Linus’ belief is one of the most common beliefs about religion: it does not matter what a person believes in. As long as they are sincere in their belief, the object of their faith is irrelevant and their faith is legitimate. Because the Great Pumpkin never shows, Schultz, simply and brilliantly, communicates sincerity is worthless if the object of faith is false.
The Apostle Paul was clear in pointing this out to the Christians in Corinth:
13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
Paul said if Jesus is not who Christians claim He is (the Christ who rose from the dead), their faith is futile. It matters not the vast number of followers, the wealth of well-written Christian blogs, the millions raised annually for mission work, the passionate charisma of Christians preachers, the thousands unified in a worship gathering with voices and hands lifted– if Jesus isn’t real, the Christian faith is worthless.
It’s a lot easier and far more popular to take the Unitarian Universalist route and believe we’re all on the same team, climbing the same mountain but taking separate paths to the summit. As long as a Muslim is a good, faithful Muslim, they must be okay with God. What about Mormons? They all serve two years as missionaries…do we really need to question their beliefs about Jesus? The Jehovah’s Witnesses? They are incredibly devout, going door-to-door rain or shine. My Hindu neighbors? They are so nice…they are so sincere.
Some believe genuine faith in anything is good enough. Some Christians believe the key to a successful Christian life is having more faith in Jesus. Both are wrong. Faith, as small as a mustard seed, placed in the right object, is all the faith God requires.
Sitting in a pumpkin patch this Halloween will not produce the Great Pumpkin no matter how sincere you are. We need more than sincere belief – we need the truth. There is only One who is truth.