This post comes to us from our friend Duo Dickinson.


What is momentum?

Soon, we will all hear pundits and political scientists declare that this or that candidate, policy, party or demographic has “momentum”. It’s a tidal surge of inevitability, a groundswell of overwhelming support: it is uniquely human. Animals can stampede, but that is in fear, fish can school, birds can flock – but that is instinct. Momentum is often expressed as a fact when it’s merely desired – like the long gone “Joe-mentum” of President Lieberman’s campaign.

Momentum is often cited in sports commentary when the “analysts” have no clue as to why any given team is succeeding. I have sat in scores of stadia with my fellow fans hearing “momentum” cited as the key to either the favored team’s success or their opposition’s ability to control the game.

Ignorance abhors a vacuum — so reasons must be found for things like momentum. But like gravity, momentum is felt, but it’s reasons are elusive. One son felt it during a pick-up performance of Beethoven’s 7th at his conservatory. The other son felt it during his last game when his team went on a 35-0 run against a favored opponent in a Division 3 bowl game.

ep-161029876-jpgmaxh400maxw667I was reminded of momentum’s mystical powers when a Yale coach told me how Underdog Yale came out against Big Dog Penn last Friday with a burst of momentum, only to see that bubble burst with a critical fumble and 42 points followed the transfer of said momentum to Penn. If momentum was quantifiable, able to be understood or defined it could be replicated at will, versus found, and lost, by miraculous spontaneity.

You could say Western organized religion has had 2,000 years of momentum. Huge waves of evangelism followed tiny origins in Christianity. A guy preached for 3 years, got killed for it and now billions believe He was more than a man – with no videotape.

A few hundred followers became thousands – with no benefit to the believers until the cult of personality became a sweeping wave of momentum – to become billions. Now momentum in the 21st century seems to be shifting, in the First World, to something other than belief in God.

Jumping on the bandwagon are the equivalent of sports analysts who trying to suss out how religion has lost its Big Mo. Michael Paulkovich has written “The Fable of Christ” that “proves” the nonexistence of Jesus. Biblical historian Joseph Atwill is convinced that Jesus was a fiction created by dovetailing to the writings on a Roman Caesar – Messiah via plagiarism….

I find the deciphering of “momentum” and its loss by those who have never experienced it to be a lazy exercise: it would be as if we stopped trying to understand the reason gravity exists because we can measure it to a level sufficient to predict its effects and use it. Momentum may be inexplicable, but ascribing reasons for it based on superficial observation is about as thoughtful as racial prejudice.

Neither musicians nor football players understand momentum, but some have felt it, versus observed it. That may be insufficient to us who have not felt it so intensely. We have all felt inspiration, we have all been in love. Individual devotions are all around us. I had a great game in a 21-0 loss in 1972 – but the sweep of humans acting in uncoordinated but completely unified concert, with nothing but common purpose to focus the effort has eluded me.



I do see it sometimes, the shift from doing a job on the field or concert hall to being a wave of humans in unison, but momentum is not a “reason” – momentum is a result. Belief in God is not reasoned. It’s undeniable. Belief in sacrifice is not logical, but the momentum to faith has swept much of this planet for 2,000 years.

Those obsessed with fact-checking Jesus might as well fact check colors. Faith is as real as music: unnecessary, inexplicable but undeniable. Of course many base belief in tangibles: miracles, the poetry of the language, the human stories of the early faithful. Those are real, too – until proven otherwise.

But if I had to justify believing that Franklin & Marshall would beat Delaware Valley 3 years ago, I could not, and neither could the team. They took the field and something happened. Bleacher Creatures all around me, having seen more games than me, declared, like Joe Lieberman, “We have the Big Mo!”

But declaring a reason for belief was not on the minds of the F&M Diplomats that afternoon. No one sight reading Beethoven’s 7th at Jacobs School of Music 5 years ago thought about why it sounded near perfect – they were all just swept away by it.

Finding that momentum is unjustified did not work for Delaware Valley’s football team 3 years ago. They experienced to other side of it: like any number of warriors in untold battles, for some undefinable reason sometimes the strategies are insufficient to the tasks on the ground.

The tasks for Paulkovich at Atwill are easy to define: invalidate an ancient set of facts that sprung a world wide sea change of belief: but the idea that a strategic analysis overcomes the facts on the ground of overwhelming personal transformations – whether by musicians, football players or the faithful is like telling those those players they should not be playing that well.

Momentum is felt first, rationalized later. Just like Faith.