Science and Faith

A couple of things.

One cannot know with infallible certainty, anything. Science is the only reliable objective method by which we may reach reasonable certainty about ourselves and the universe. Yet that knowledge is continuously challenged, changing, and sometimes upended.

Science is the realm of knowledge.

Theology is the realm of faith or belief. There are no accepted creeds of Christianity that begin “I know…”. They all begin with “I believe…”.

Faith has its own assurances that science cannot speak to. Yet science, unlike faith, is of such objective character, that only a fool rejects its findings. I dare say that we have an ethical, and hence MORAL obligation to accept the *clear* findings of science. The same cannot be said of faith. No one is morally obligated to believe, in spite of what many xtians say.

Faith is rightly understood to be a response to a perceived encounter with the divine. It cannot be subjected to the scientific method and therefore has no objective ethical obligatory requirement.

I speak as a xtian. I do not believe God has dropped a book in our laps that tells us everything we can and should know about him. There are no such books. Neither is there any divine authority on earth to tell us what to believe.

I do believe the cosmos speaks his name, but my experience is no one else’s experience and is probably irrelevant to anyone but me.

The long and short of it is that God may or may not exist. It cannot be proven by any means to the satisfaction of all or even of mankind in general. Therefore, we should get about the business of being better humans rather than trying to belittle those who do or do not believe.

The one thing we DO have in common is our humanity, and I think that is enough to warrant morality and good living.

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Sin and the Problem of Natural Evil

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I cannot help but think the problem of sin was not the primary reason for the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Traditionally, the story line goes that mankind fell into sin through Adam and Jesus came to redeem man from it. It’s all pretty transactional. Adam sinned, we inherited the guilt of sin and it’s consequences, Jesus came to deliver us from that and give us new life.

That’s all fine and good, but what about the problem of evil? It just doesn’t work to say that all evil in the world is because of the moral failure or sin of Adam. Nope. I don’t think Adam is to blame for hurricane Maria’s devastation of the Caribbean. Hurricanes aren’t caused by moral failure. They are purely a natural phenomenon; yet they produce tremendous evil and suffering.

Looking at Holy Scripture in the light of modern scientific knowledge, I have arrived at an hypothesis. God created the cosmos in a state of chaos. As Genesis tells us, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) The pattern we see throughout the first chapter of Genesis is of chaos being brought into order. Generally, Christians have concluded that the creative work of God is done and that he simply sustains the creation by his Spirit. I think this is incorrect. It appears to me that the Genesis pattern is the pattern for the whole of history and future of the cosmos. God is not finished creating; he is still bringing order to chaos and hastening the creation to it’s final eschatological end of perfection in order and symmetry.

The Big Bang is how science describes the initial creative event. Evolution is how science describes the rise of life and various life forms. I’m not certain there is a name for the evolution of the cosmos as such, but I believe it is a reality.

I admit,  I may be off the mark here, but it seems to me that primitive history was far more barbarous and “evil” than today’s world. It is now theorized that birds are the direct descendants of the dinosaurs. Consider how brutal the world of the dinosaurs was. Bloody life and death, day in and day out. Yet through a series of events still not fully know, that world has passed away and the descendants of that world are likely the beautiful feathered singers we call birds. The chaos of those days has evolved into an ordered beauty.

This scenario is a microcosm of the whole of history, I think. Sin, as moral failure, only became a reality with the rise of consciousness in humanity. Prior to that there could have been no moral or ethical values. Yet, looking back, we see there was great brutality and evil. It was not a world which was ordered and peaceful. So, when Holy Scripture speaks of “sin”, I think it is this larger, broader perspective that is ultimately in view. Jesus did not come simply to erase our transgressions, but to right all wrong. He came to bring “shalom”: to make things as they should be.

It was in his humble submission to the brutality, the evil of this world, this cosmos, that he entered into death and triumphed over that evil by his resurrection from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus both demonstrates God’s approval of Jesus and his life and work, as well as seals forever the victory of God over the powers of sin and death.

The notion that sin is primarily moral failure fails to address the idea of natural evil. It personalizes sin in the extreme and removes the redemption of God from the cosmos and places it merely on the souls of mankind. The personalization of sin has, at length, brought about a myopic view of the world to the Church. Christians are unable to deal with natural evil without invoking God or Satan as it’s cause. Natural evil is seen as judgment and a culprit is often found to blame it on. Often the culprit is a social minority seen as “sinful” by Christians. Christians fail to remember that judgment begins with the House of God. Only when His house is set in order will he judge the world.

So, to sum up, the word “sin”, in my opinion, should include natural evil. Especially in light of modern scientific discoveries that show us the chaotic brutal past that is our history on this planet. The cosmos is moving towards it’s consummation of perfect order and symmetry as the redemption of Christ plays out in history.

 

The Beastly Priest

Here is a poem I wrote some time ago about a corrupt priest. I think it’s quite fitting to repost it now in light of the Charlottesville terrorist attack by white supremacists.

White people, white CHRISTIANS, wake up! You ignore racism to your own peril. If it’s not being preached against in your pulpit, YOU are the problem and your church is complicit. You don’t want to be complicit. Trust me.

____________________________________

There once was a priest
who was a little beast
His name was Daniel Brown.
Hellfire and damnation
was what he preached
in the church in the center of town.
Women would swoon
in the warm afternoon
when the heat of the hellfire was hot
Ol’ Daniel would bellow
and scare all his fellows
til repentance they had got.
The little ones cried
and the elderly died
under the hand of the beastly priest.
At judgement I”m sure
he’ll come out like manure
Because he didn’t care in the least.
When the graves open up
and the carrion birds sup
When Armageddon is nigh
Then Father Brown
will stroll into town
to watch all humanity die.
Some call him “Scratch”
others, after a match,
call him Lucifer because of his smell
But the truth, dark and sordid
Is Farther Brown always courted
The devil in his preaching of Hell.
The moral is this
you cannot achieve bliss
by threatening people with fear
For fear leads to dying
and eternal sighing
in the place where nothing is dear.
If you’re going to preach
then season your speech
with mercy and grace and love.
For this is the way
that in the end will pay
with everlasting joy up above.

Rich in Poverty

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. – Matthew 26:11

We all know who the poor are. It's obvious. We see them every day. Many of us actually fit the bill for being poor.

This passage from Matthew's Gospel is a troubling one. The context is the story of Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, breaking open an expensive bottle of perfume and anointing Jesus' feet. The disciples grumbled saying, "This was expensive perfume. Why wasn't it sold and the money given to the poor?"

Jesus, though, saw things a bit differently. Mary was in poverty. She probably spent all she had to purchase the perfume so she could anoint Jesus' feet with it. In the kingdom of God, there is nothing more precious, more valuable, than the full self giving of oneself, in love, to God. Remember the time Jesus and his disciples were in the temple observing people giving their tithes? They saw both rich and poor giving money, but it was of the poor woman who gave all she had that Jesus said, "This woman has given more than anyone else. They gave out of their wealth, but she has given out of her poverty." The same principle applies here with Mary. Not only would it have been cruel to take the heart offered gift from Mary and give it to someone else, but it would be an insult to her poverty and sincerity in her self giving.

Jesus did not take what she did lightly. He was not glorifying in himself. Rather, he showed the utmost humility in receiving from a woman in poverty. He was not above her. He did not set himself as superior to her and her gift. He graciously received it.

The "poor" in the original quote are not merely those of financial poverty, but anyone who is in great need. Whether it be ignorance, addiction, entitlement, or whatever, these are people who are in deep and desperate need. We often think of them as victims of their own foolishness. And perhaps they are, but that does not eliminate their present situation.

As Christians, we are to condemn NO ONE. We are to love all. We are to pray for our enemies (and not in the sense of asking God to 'get them' or 'make them like us'), bless those who curse us and give sustenance to any who are in need of it.

The world is full of poverty of all sorts. We have not been called to eradicate it, as it will never happen, but we are called to love, to feed, to give.

A Few Things About Globalization 

It’s one of those days when I want to say something but have not yet gelled my thoughts enough to get it out. So, I’m just going to blabber a bit and hope to say something worthwhile.
Without touching on any specifics about politics, I’d like to say something about the political climate and general feeling of hopelessness and fatigue many of us are experiencing. 
While it may seem trivial, we now live in the 21st century. Not only was this an historical milestone for the books, but it was a generational climax for those born as children to the baby boomers. Most of us counted the years down in anticipation of the new millennium and dreamed countless hours about what life would be like for us in the year 2000. It was as though the “future” were just around the corner and we would live to see it and perhaps even influence and share in it. 
The turn of the century marked a real, tangible break from the old, dated, and tired Western culture with the rediscovery of the broader world and the influx of cultures. The possibility of a united world was made all the more real by the world wide web and the interconnectedness of communication across the globe. While the roots of these technologies lie in the 20th century, their fruitfulness rests in the 21st and beyond. 
Globalization is the enemy of nationalism; its arch-nemesis. Yet to many of Generation X and their offspring, globalization is an absolute inevitability. It’s cliche’, but old ways die hard. The current subculture of nationalism, fascism, nazisim, etc, is the direct result of revolt against globalization. It is the remnants of the 20th century attempting to reassert it’s meaning and value into today and wrest back or at least slow down the impending globalization of culture and politics. 
It takes on the forms of religion and patriotism but is actually, simply, fear of the future and the unknown. The shells of religion and patriotism give it a sense of self viability, but to any with eye to see and ears to hear, it’s “clarion call” is empty of anything but promises that cannot and will not be kept. The exposure of the emperor as naked is happening before our eyes. The hypocrisy of the past, namely misogyny, racism, sexism, and every form of prejudice and discrimination, are becoming so blatant that it’s hard not to laugh. 
There are those who will blame religion or patriotism. But those are merely the conduits through which these forces have chosen to flow. After they are finally dead and gone, religion and patriotism will remain; rejuvenated and transformed. 
In my opinion, not only is globalization inevitable, it is desirable. Without it we cannot solve many of the worlds problems such as hunger, poverty, ecological issues and global warming. 
That said, there are also those who would force globalization on a not yet ready public. While we should work for and toward globalization, to force it on a public that does not want it would be disastrous. Slowly but surly is the best method and the only one that will work. It is not without reason that many have had the foresight to write in literature and cinema about future civilization rising from the *ashes* of the old. I am reminded of the novel “A Canticle for Leibowitz” in which the author explored the unending lust of humanity for self destruction. I pray his assessment is wrong and that we have within us, not only to survive, but to thrive in the future without destroying ourselves. 
Finally, let me say that whatever happens in this election is not the end. For those who despair, the fate of the United States of America is not a signal to the end of the world. Yes, America is Great, but she is not immortal. One day she will die, hopefully to rise again just as the other ancient countries and civilizations have done for millennia. Vote your conscience and go about living your life. Change what you can and hope for the best for yourselves and your children, but do not despair if things don’t go your way. You are but a particle of dust in the winds of history. Your legacy will live through values and ethics you instill in your progeny. When a nation instills great values and ethics into it’s children, then that nation will rise up and be a great nation. Likewise, if those values and ethics are deeply flawed, so will the nation be who follows them.

Trustworthy or Not?

Aside

There once was a man who spent his life in honesty. He was not an intelligent person and didn’t understand much science. He was rather superstitious in his views of the world, but he had personal integrity.

Now, some would argue, that because the man was ignorant and superstitious, he could not be trusted to tell the truth. They would turn his integrity upside down into a terrible vice of dishonesty. Nothing, they would argue, that he says is to be trusted. In fact, only a fool would give him the time of day.

So, let me ask you, the reader, is this fair to the man who lived his life honestly? Granted his errors, but do they trump his overall character of honesty? Is he therefore not a man of integrity?

Suppose your general character were to tell the truth and live according to what you believed. Then, suppose, one day, in weakness you told a lie. The lie was discovered. Does that therefore negate the rest of your life lived in honesty? Are you therefore now 100% dishonest and untrustworthy?

What do you think?

Piety and Me

aristotle-philosopher-for-though-we-love-both-the-truth-and-our-friends-pietyFor most of my adult life, including also my teen years, I have striven to be a pious Christian. Being a questioner by nature, I have always wanted to know exactly what piety is and how to obtain it.

I remember in high school “senior seminar” class, we studied the American puritans, briefly. I recall being impressed with their austerity and conviction and wondered how they arrived at such certainty and willingness to be faithful to their beliefs. I have always been introspective, and this questioning about puritan piety led me to a time of deep reflection. I was filled with doubts about myself, as most teens tend to be, but I also had, unknown at the time to me, clinical depression.

I loved God. I loved the Church. I loved Christianity. I was persuaded in the depths of my soul that it was the true and correct faith and that I should and would live the rest of my life seeking to be as good and loyal and pious a Christian as possible.

But, in the cocktail of emotions that was my inner self, I could not settle down on anything. I was down and sad most of the time. I would try to be good, and fail over and over. Every time I believed I had made some success, I would fall back; all because of my emotional distress over which I had no control. I thought, however, it was my own fault and the fundamentalism I was raised in reinforced this.

In the year after I graduated from high school, I left the Baptist church of my youth, and became Reformed Presbyterian and a Calvinist. Calvinism, with it’s far reaching implications, gave some structure for me to bind up my emotions. I began to read the works of the Puritans and formed my piety after theirs. In doing so, I very nearly destroyed myself. I was wracked with guilt, constantly. I saw myself as a failure as a Christian and a human being. Perversely, Reformed theology lauds such a view of oneself. It is on this pretense that one may “flee to Christ, resting only in him.” And so, I did.

As the years passed and I reached my mid 20’s, I began to realize that I was actually dying inside. The more I worked to be holy and pious, the more reviling I found myself to be. I began to explore Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism and discovered a rich trove of spirituality that not only supplemented my Puritan approach, but seemed to correct it…for a while.

I married in 1994 at the age of 24. We had a very Reformed wedding and continued to attend the Presbyterian church of which I was a member. Then, one year into our marriage, we went to seminary. It was a seminary of a conservative denomination in the Episcopal tradition. At first, I was stoked, but as time went on, the pressures of school, work and marriage took a mighty toll on my life. I was literally falling apart at the seams and had no idea what to do about it.

When 2001 and 9/11 happened, I was in a state of major depression. I had spent nearly that entire summer in bed; unable to work or do anything meaningful. My wife and I were fighting every day and in February 2002, she left me. I returned to my parents house as a broken, confused, essentially dying, man. In late 2002 I admitted myself to the hospital for suicidal thoughts and was sent to a mental hospital for a week. There I was diagnosed with major depression and put on medication. I began to feel better. A lot better. I was beginning to see some light at the end of a long dark tunnel. Yet, I was still broken inside. My faith had failed me. My mentors and their promises of happiness if I obeyed the Lord failed me. My orthodoxy failed me. The only things that did not fail me were my parents and a few close friends.

After I was on the meds for several years, I thought I had “dealt” with the underlying issues that were causing my depression. So, under my doctors supervision, I went off the medications. Within six months I was suicidal again and again admitted myself to the hospital. However, this time, I was determined not to come out of the hospital the same person. I made an oath to myself that I would find out the truth about myself, God and the world, and then I would be free. What I didn’t realize, was that by making such a promise to myself, I had already taken the first step in the right direction by acknowledging that the ways of the past had not worked and I needed to separate myself from them.

I began to systematically deconstruct my entire moral and ethical system in my head. I seriously wanted to start over again and I did my best to rid myself of any and all baggage from the past. I realized what I needed was not to be good or follow the rules, but to have someone, like my parents, who loved me unconditionally. I needed a God like that. Not the God of the Puritans who was impossible to approach and only rewarded impossibly difficult to keep rules.

I was nearly 40 by the time I came to myself, as a real person, and decided I would no longer believe anything simply because someone told me, no matter who they were or what esteem I held them in. I determined to find the truth, but this time without so much baggage from Fundamentalism. I largely threw that out the door with it’s narrow piety and legalism.

Now, as I am in my mid 40’s, reaching on toward 50, I still feel the baggage that I have tried to offload. But, the future is much brighter. In the past, I had lived my life in fear of everything, especially hell. But I have made it clear to myself that I will fear nothing because where there is fear, there is not love. Love being the key to happiness.

My piety has greatly changed from my teenage years. I still love God, the church not so much because of the horrendous abuse and evil I have experienced in it. I still want to be holy. I still pray every day. I still seek to do the will of God, but my perspective is very different now. Whereas before, I would be mystified at how to be “good”, I no longer feel the need. Being a Christian is not about right doctrine, tradition, or a specific brand of piety, but about following Jesus. According to St James, “True religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is to visit widows and orphans in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” There is a vast difference between the piety of James and that of most Christian traditions today. Most traditions have lost sight of the simplicity of piety as “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” and myopically focused on the emotional/internal aspect of piety. Feeling right has trumped doing right. In fact, doing right, in these traditions, cannot be pleasing to God unless it is done from a “pure heart” aka: right emotional state. I’ve left that all behind. All that matters to me and God is that widows and orphans and anyone who is oppressed, disenfranchised, marginalized, should be treated with love and respect and dignity as is becoming for a human being. I will stand against injustice wherever I see it.

This is genuine piety. Say your rosary. Do your prostrations. Pray the daily office. Fine. But these are merely peripheral practices that have little if anything to do with piety. If you do not love your neighbor as yourself, you have failed both God and the Gospel. That is the bottom line.