Howard Duncan rabbit

What Can a Large White Rabbit Show Us?

A while back I was, as was my habit, reading a popular blog and the comments about the current post there. The usual religious skeptics were there and they always capture my attention. One person in particular caused lots of reaction with this comment:

If I said to you that I have an invisible rabbit by my side named Harvey who follows me everywhere, I would not ask YOU to prove its nonexistence. The question of Harvey’s existence would be MY responsibility. Translation: it is not the responsibility of atheists and secularists to prove the nonexistence of Rufus, or whatever your god’s name happens to be.

Rufus was a biblical character but not God himself. He was the son of Simon of Cyrene whom we all know was forced to carry the cross for Jesus. As one person commented, “I am so sick of Harvey the Rabbit. Not one atheist in the blogosphere has missed using it.. You guys all use the same playbook.”

He Was Referring to What or to Whom?

Many of the old movies you see on T.V. like It’s A Wonderful Life at Christmas and other old black and white flix starred the popular actor James Stewart. This sarcastic blog commenter was referring to the movie Harvey from 1950. It starred James Stewart and in it’s day was very popular. The story actually began life as a Pulitzer Prize winning broadway play with 1775 performances in it’s original production. A longer run than Titanic, Hair, Evita or Dream Girls and a long list of others. Josephine Hull won an Academy Award for best supporting actress as the sister and Stewart was nominated for Best Actor in the lead as Elwood P. Dowd. The 8.1 poll rating shows that it is still a very well liked movie.

It’s A Good Story. So What?

Okay, you have the background now to my point.

The commenter continued his argument:

You seem to have a problem with metaphor. I didn’t say that believers call their God a rabbit or Harvey or anything else. I said by way of the Harvey story (still waiting for a solid refutation; it won’t be forthcoming, alas) that there is no difference between the two: both beliefs—that there are invisible creatures in the world; that there’s a dictatorial and insecure Supreme Being who needs to be loved and worshiped—are rooted in make-believe.

The stories that we tell can certainly be make believe in that the characters and plots may never have existed to our knowledge, but, in order to use a story itself as a metaphor (one thing conceived as representing another) the plot has to be followed or else you are making up a different story. I hope more anti-religious persons will use this popular story in their attempt at metaphorical reasoning. The actual story tells of persons denying the existence of this very real 6 foot 3 and a half inch white rabbitPooka. This realization, Harvey’s existence, makes this story a great metaphorical way of revealing the behavior of those who have rejected Christ .

Those Who Deny

The supposedly non-existent rabbit named Harvey was actually very real to some of the characters in the story. Elwood (Stewart’s character and Harvey’s best friend) for sure and his sister Veta Louise. She unfortunately admits to a psychiatrist that she has seen Harvey while at the same time attempting to have her brother admitted to a sanitarium permanently. The reasons she gives are his drinking, although we don’t see Elwood drunk at all, and that she “can’t stand another day of that Harvey”. I suppose that she thought Harvey would follow Elwood into the sanitarioum. Veta is a socially active person trying to involve her daughter Myrtle Mae socially in order to find her a husband. She realizes that others don’t see Harvey at all and her daughter at one pont called her uncle “the biggest screwball in town” despite living in the same house with him and Harvey. Veta tries to ignore Harvey because she perceives others as firmly believing that large talking rabbits do not exist.

Just as this blog commenter is anxious to distance himself from God, he was as anxious to align himself with most of the characters in the story that did the same with Harvey by believing that invisible rabbits just cannot exist. We know this is the popular reaction se when Elwood introduces Harvey to Veta’s women friends and to his aunt. The atheist commenter probably just forgot the plot. Each person’s reaction to Elwood’s certainty regarding Harvey is the appeal of the story when we know the truths in the story as observers.

What is True, Can Only Be True

Few of these people saw the rabbit directly and we don’t see him at all. Marvin Wilson, the orderly from the sanitarium, appears to me to be very close to most atheist behavior, especially excitable militant ones. Wearing the expected white coat he pursues Elwood all over town in order to force him back to Chumley’s Rest sanitarium for treatments for his delusions. Wilson actually had an experience that could not be explained any other way except that Harvey really existed but denies it in confused disbelief. He looks up the word Pooka in an encyclopedia and reads, “A fairy spirit in animal form always very large…very fond of rum-pots, crack-pots, and how are you mister Wilson.” He puts the strangeness of a personal comment read in an encyclopedia printed in the thousands out of his mind after he tries to talk about this to his Psychiatrist boss Mr. Chumley. Chumley puts him off as he also is anxous to capture the escaped Elwood. So Wilson continues on his pre-determined path of finding, as he tells Myrtle Mae, “the screwiest uncle that ever stuck his puss inside our nuthouse.” The pursuit of truth is last in his list of pursuits. Probably comes after his pursuit of Myrtle Mae which brings up another subject for another article.

Would Wilson have believed in Harvey even if Harvey had appeared right before him and Wilson was able to touch him? A similar proof was required by St. Thomas’ need to put his finger inside Christ’s wounded side. It was enough for the other disciples to see and talk to him, a how are you was enough. I get the same impression as I read most atheist comments and writings and watch their debates. How many of us would really think that evangelizing a Wilson could be a productive endeavor?

The sister Veta, although older, also can metaphorically speak to us about another segment of real life. Statistics show that a noticeable social trend exists.

Boomers appear to be the first American generation that dropped out of church participation in significant numbers when they became young adults. So, in one sense, the Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) were part of the evolution of the church dropout phenomenon during the rise of youth culture of the 1960s.

What everyone knows and says, as Veta can plainly see, has a strong influence on behavior even in the presence of truth.

O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. Psalm 95.

Thanks for reading and if I ever see you in person please let me give you one of my cards.