Friday, September 03, 2010

Science and Religion Don't Have to be Rivals

Whether we're even conscious of it, we need and desire a means of discernment. We seek a measuring stick with which to compare our own individual perspectives with something close to objectivity. We desire something firm and deeply grounded when the world around us is always changing. Increasingly, Americans view science as the final and ultimate say. To qualify my remarks, I don't caustically dismiss scientific progress out of hand in favor of religious belief. I do know that science is never static, and that it is a field which is constantly evolving as surely as are all living beings. To place complete, unwavering faith in science is to overlook the continual process of human discovery.

To illustrate what it is I mean one needs only contemplate medical warnings against moderate drinking. Certain studies believe we ought not to drink at all. Others encourage a couple glasses of red wine a day. Competing points of view appear to negate every conclusion which has been previously drawn. Our exasperation at these mixed messages and inexact results leads to a very understandable sense of consternation. We would not feel so betrayed if we did not place full trust in the latest miraculous advance in modern medicine. We crave surety, and surety so rarely arrives.

I have written quite a bit about living with bipolar disorder. No one knows better than those who struggle with this chronic illness that psychiatry is often primitive, imprecise, and extremely limited regarding holistic understanding. Treatment resembles alchemy at times. Proportions and combinations are its stock in trade. I recently talked with a dermatologist on this same subject, and she noted that in many ways her profession is just as beholden to the unknown. Nothing sends us, children of the Enlightenment, into a panic faster than mystery. We have a compulsion to understand, to discover, and then to create. It is for this reason that people will even destroy their health seeking ways to preserve it in others.

The question comes down to that of faith, depending on how one defines it for oneself. Faith to me is, as I have alluded to, mysterious, and it is in those terms which I view God. I'm always skeptical of any denomination, sect, or group which claims intimate, irrefutable knowledge of the Divine. Reducing God to suit human whims is a kind of Idolatry of the highest form and one adopted only for selfish, manipulative purposes. I was reminded of this when I read the recent Vanity Fair exposé regarding Sarah Palin. Oh, if I had a dollar for every self-styled Christian whose Higher Power always agreed with them in every imaginable circumstance. The God I know provides constant guidance, but he is not above calling me out in a spirit of love when I need it. The Enabler God is a golden calf.

I think we might consider directing our frustration towards different avenues. We are all religious people, placing our hopes and wishes on the shoulders of concepts and theories we are barely capable of understanding ourselves. The complexities of the human body, the material world, nature, and the role of God in our daily lives remain unresolved and confusing. One cannot easily make money off of the unknowable, and that's where I think the problem begins. Nothing sells like a miracle. Nothing rakes in the big bucks like the quick fix and the easy sell. That requires no sacrifice, no tussle with adversity that produces gains upon which no one can ever put a price.

It is written in Proverbs,

Evil people get rich for the moment, but the reward of the godly will last.


Jerome said...

Hey Kevin, I know this is a total threadjack, but are you the same Comrade Kevin whom I just saw a comment or two by on Feministe? If so, this is a small-ass online world (for liberals, that is)!

Comrade Kevin said...

Yes, indeed.

Colby Cheese said...

We love miracles – at least the idea of miracles. Each of us wants to be touched or rescued by God in a way that is touch tangible, directly personal, and inexplicably wonderful. We know that not everyone gets to experience a miracle. We know good and faithful people who are deserving, people who would benefit so much from a miracle. We know good and faithful people who suffer so much and never receive a miracle. Miracles seem so rare and fickle. Rarity and randomness seem to be part of what constitutes a miracle.

When we study the scripture and we find an act of divine intervention, a miracle – it is of secondary concern, almost a red herring. The purpose and focus of the narrative is not the miracle. The lesson of the narrative either surrounds the miracle or is much deeper than the miracle. The miracle either draws us to the lesson or is a gateway to the lesson. The miracle always serves the lesson. The lesson is neither subservient nor inferior to the miracle.

Miracles are prohibitively expensive. The cost of living in a universe that includes miracles requires a God who is capricious. Miracles require a Zeus or a Jupiter. Miracles require a God who is – unpredictably – either angry and onerous or calm and benevolent. It requires a God who is petty and arrogant and who has no qualms about interfering in, controlling, or playfully dabbling in the course of human events. This is a pagan god. This is not a theology that expands or promotes human understanding or raises the human condition. It is not a theology that enriches or informs the human experience. With a capricious God, our lives are a constant gamble and the universe is one big craps table.

This is not the God we worship. We do not worship a capricious God. We worship a God who is consistent – consistently and constantly loving, present, and inviting. A God who is consistent (who is not capricious) does not engage in either miracles of healing or miracles of retribution. God neither intervenes nor condemns, neither rescues nor punishes.

Have you ever been in the presence of an excellent person? Have you ever been in the presence of someone who has a gift and who excels in the use of that gift? A trained gifted singer can raise the performance level of an entire choir. Just one knowledgeable competent person can raise the performance level of an entire office. It is not by their sole efforts. It is by the singular influence of excellence on others, in the way that the presence of excellence inspires and enables others to excel in their respective gifts.

That is how God works. God is a presence – an influential guiding presence of excellence. God is not intrusive or manipulative, demanding or passive/aggressive. God is an influential guiding presence of excellence only to the extent that we make ourselves aware of it and learn to be sensitive to it. God can imbue our being – our thoughts, emotions, choices, actions, our very life essence – only through our invitation and practice.

In that context, in the presence and influence and guidance of an excellent God, there can be a miracle – the resurrection and transformation of the human spirit to a life of Good News, to being the Kingdom of God. Such a resurrection of spirit and radical transformation of character deserves the respect and wonder and contemplation that has always been reserved for the miraculous.


Jerome said...

Have you ever checked out Shakesville ( That's my absolute favorite of the feminist news sites and it's actually where I read most of my political news...