Thursday, October 30, 2014

Yes, Bridget, Education is a Wonderful Thing

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There’s an old joke about an Irish immigrant woman who found a job as a housekeeper for an affluent American family during the early part of the last century. The lady of the house became upset with the woman’s work and said, “Bridget, the dust is so thick on that sideboard I can write my name on it!”
“Ah,” replied Bridget, “isn’t education a wonderful thing?”
I read this joke in a book about Irish American history. The author used it to describe the difficulty Irish immigrants had in being accepted into American society. Many Americans didn’t understand the Irish – not their “English,” nor their religion nor their self-deprecating humor. With comments like Bridget’s, many Americans didn’t know whether the Irish were sincere, were putting them on or making fun of them.
(My brother, Jack, who died in 2010 and whom I greatly miss, loved to tell the story about the time he and other family members were in County Waterford, Ireland. He struck up a conversation with a man on the street and asked him, “I notice two white lines painted here on the street, one straight and one squiggly. What do they mean? After some thought, the man answered, “The straight line means ‘No parking’ and the squiggly one means, ‘No parking at‘all.’” The guy may have been putting Jack on, but it’s still a good story.)
My point in telling the Bridget joke is this: Mexicans, Hondurans and Salvadorans are the new Irish. They are domestic servants, packing-house workers, roofers, restaurant busboys (and girls) and construction gofers. They do the kinds of jobs many of our ancestors did when they arrived in the U.S.
Unless you’re a Native American – and even then, your ancestors were immigrants, probably from Asia during the Ice Age – you are the child, grandchild, great grandchild or other descendant of immigrants. But how easily we forget. We tend to look down on the immigrants of today, much the same as many Americans looked down on our ancestors when they arrived from Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia, Italy and other poor areas of Europe. Most of them, like the Latin American immigrants of today, were searching for a better life.   

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The 2004 movie, A Day Without a Mexican, was sort of a science-fiction comedy set in Los Angeles in which all the city’s Mexicans suddenly disappeared. Without them, hardly anything got done. People were astonished about the extent to which they had become dependent on the cheap, ever-available labor of immigrants.
I write about this because believers must care about immigrants and their plight. Faith, after all, isn’t just a matter of believing. It’s about living your faith.
Mathew’s gospel has the story of John the Baptist who was obviously ticked off that members of the Pharisees and Sadducees, two politico-religious parties of his time, started showing up to listen to him preach but felt righteous because they were “children of Abraham.”
“…Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father;’” he said, “for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” What counts is how you live your life, he told them – the same message Jesus would deliver years later.
Of course, believing is important (even though many non-believers, as Pope Francis, has pointed out, live out Jesus’ message in their daily lives without knowing it), but it’s just a first step. Accepting God’s invitation to believe in him/her has consequences. It doesn’t come cheap. When you find God, his/her influence will show in every aspect of your life.
And that brings us back to immigration. To me, it’s not principally a political issue. Helping the immigrant is a traditional Judeo-Christian value.    
"You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you,” says the Book of Leviticus in the Hebrew bible; “have the same love for him as for yourself, for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt."
Jesus took up the theme. In the famous Sermon on the Mount in the Christian Bible, he includes among reasons people will find the Kingdom of God: “…I was a stranger and you welcomed me….”
Just and humane treatment of immigrants has for decades been a constant teaching of the Catholic Church and mainline Protestant churches. Back in 1891, the papal letter Rerum Novarum listed the first principle that should guide a discussion of immigration: “People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families.” Pope Francis has lamented the “global indifference” to the plight of immigrants and has urged a “reawakening of consciences.”
And in their pastoral letter, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, the U.S. Catholic bishops argue for “a series of reforms to the broken U.S. immigration system, including: 1) policies to address the root causes of migration, such as global poverty; 2) reform of our legal system, including an earned legalization program, a temporary worker program with appropriate worker protections, and reductions in waiting times in family-based immigration categories; and 3) restoration of due process for immigrants.”
People who are searching for God should, at the least, educate themselves about immigration reform. As Bridget said, “Education is a wonderful thing.”







Thursday, October 23, 2014

Will the Truth Really Set You Free?

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This just in.

After deliberating for several hours in U.S. District Court in Marshall, Texas, a jury found that Trinity Industries lied to federal regulators when it changed the design of highway guardrails in 2005, making them unsafe.

At least a dozen related accidents – some fatal – have been reported. Vehicles run off the road and collide with Trinity-made guardrail end caps that, instead of cushioning the impact, malfunction and spear the vehicle, according to lawsuits that have been filed against Trinity. Trinity has denied wrongdoing.  

Appalling, but most of us aren’t surprised when an individual or a company lies. As a society, we’re awash in lies, including many that are far from “little” or “white.” Most people know instinctively that lying is wrong, so instead of outright lies, we often engage in half-truths, withholding of the truth and bald exaggeration. The bottom line, however, is deception, an offense against the truth.

This is particularly evident now during an election season, when politicians strain our credibility with charges against opponents, insincere promises and various jugglery to interest us in “the sizzle instead of the steak.”

Here in Iowa, this is obvious in television advertising on behalf of two candidates for the U.S. senate. Dennis Goldford, a professor of politics at Drake University, wrote insightfully about the campaigns in a recent issue of the Des Moines Register.

Solutions to society’s problems are seldom mentioned, he wrote. Instead, one candidate’s principal message is that he is a “nice guy” while the other favors “sunshine, butterflies and honey.” Basically, the TV ads ask voters to choose one candidate because he is not the other candidate. Instead of disclosing their positions on the issues, the candidates’ purpose is to manipulate voters rather than inform them.  

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Why should God seekers care about this? Because as I mentioned in a recent blog, seeking the truth and seeking God are – from a believer’s viewpoint – indistinguishable. To be successful in their search, God seekers must cherish the truth, rejecting the contempt for truth so often evident in society.

Tempted to be cynical, we – like Pontius Pilate at Jesus’ trial – might ask, “What’s truth?” He asks Jesus this question, according to the Gospel of John, after Jesus tells him that his purpose in life is “to bear witness to the truth.” There’s no record of Jesus responding to Pilate’s question because Jesus seems to have answered it earlier when in a dialogue with Pilate he said that he was a “king” whose kingdom “was not of this world.”

The specific truth Jesus seems to have been talking about is that in life, there is much more than meets the eye, that there is a domain, or “kingdom,” that requires faith to perceive, even if faintly.

This idea harmonizes with another famous quote of Jesus about the truth, namely, that it will “set you free.” Just how will it do that?

I believe it starts in the astonishing idea that other people are children of God, making them brothers and sisters. I know, this sounds sappy, but I believe it’s hard to seek God without understanding that we come to him/her through others. We are freed from self-absorption.
Mahatma Gandhi, the famous father of Indian independence, understood this. He proclaimed the truth through love and nonviolence. Jesus did the same but also invited people to know God, his Father (or if you prefer, his Parent or Mother).

In the passage of John’s gospel where he says that faith leads to freedom, Jesus couches his words in the biblical language that his listeners would understand. He tells his smug listeners, who took pride in being “descendants of Abraham,” that he’s talking about freedom from “sin,” a word that is foreign and even taboo in today’s society.

He wasn’t just talking about individual bad acts, however. In much of the bible, “sin” refers to a general condition of estrangement from God, of being so buried in one’s own concerns and in the world one can see, God is effectively excluded. It isn’t about coercion or about believing because someone else wants you to, but about opening one’s mind to a reality that requires faith. That’s another way the truth brings freedom. You’re no longer bound solely to the world you can see.

There is no believers' truth or unbelievers' truth. There is just truth. And that’s what we seek in order to find God.    













Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Big, Black Spider in an Irish Sink

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Referring to some animal unknown to her, a person close to me (who will remain nameless) has several times asked, “What is it good for?”

For believers, that question should be easy to answer, especially if you mean, “What use is any animal or plant to humans?” with the implication that an animal’s only worth is in its service to us. That idea contradicts the message about the value of God’s creation. Though many Christians may be unaware of, or ignore, it, the traditional Christian view is that all creation is sacred precisely because it is, through the evolutionary process, God’s work.

I must admit I haven’t always seen it this way. Like many Christians who should know better from Scripture and tradition, I was, at best, indifferent about the natural world. I think what got me to think more about it was an experience I had years ago in Ireland.

Gerald Waris, my lifelong friend, and I were staying in the house of an acquaintance in County Kerry. Dan (known locally as “the Derd”) O’Shea, a sixty-something who kept a watch on the place for his absentee cousin, was showing us around. We entered the bathroom and in the sink was a huge, black spider. I found a magazine and was about to dispatch the spider to spider heaven when Dan grabbed my arm. He gently lifted the insect and took it to the door where he released it to the magnificent Kerry countryside.

I was stunned. Dan, a Mass-attending Catholic bachelor who raised cows and occasionally other livestock, understood better than me – a priest at the time with a graduate degree in religion – that something as lowly and seemingly useless as a spider has intrinsic value. It helped me think more about the sanctity of creation, and now I kill roaches and other household insects only when I can’t turn them loose outside. More importantly, I’ve become aware of environmental issues and am eager to protect the natural world.

I’m thinking about this currently because I’ve begun reading “Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love” by Elizabeth Johnson. For those of you unfamiliar with her, Johnson is a Catholic nun and professor of theology at Fordham University in New York City. She has been head of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society, but has been criticized for being a “feminist theologian.” A committee of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops has criticized her for not conforming sufficiently to Catholic teaching in one of her books.

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We have the image of the earth as “our home,” Johnson points out, but humans are in the minority by an overwhelming margin. According to the FactMaster web site, there are between  two million and 50 million species of plants and animals.

Johnson’s book sets out to answer this principal question: “…What is the theological meaning of the natural world?

“This world evolved in all its splendor without human help,’’ she writes. “It was the context in which the human species itself evolved, and daily provides irreplaceable nourishment for human bodies and spirits. In our day, its future is in jeopardy due to human action and inaction, destructive behavior shot through with a disastrous failure of our vaunted intelligence and virtue.

“…Far from being made only for human use,” she writes, “these living species have an intrinsic value in their own right. Once one understands that the evolving community of life on earth is God’s beloved creation and its ruination an unspeakable sin, then deep affection shown in action on behalf of ecojustice becomes an indivisible part of one’s life.”

Presumably, that applies even to big, black spiders. You’ll be hearing more about Johnson’s book in future blogs.

My fellow believers and I could be partially excused for our blindness in seeing value in the natural world, perhaps, because we have heard precious little about it from our religious leaders. But that’s changing, as evidenced by many recent statements of Pope Francis.

In a message to the Vatican diplomatic corps in May, he said: “Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is it the property of only a few. Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.”

He condemned “…the greedy exploitation of environmental resources. Even if ‘nature is at our disposition,’ all too often we do not respect it or consider it a gracious gift which we must care for and set at the service of our brothers and sisters, including future generations.”

Concern about the natural world is not on the periphery of faith but is at its core, a rational deduction from belief in God as the author of all life.

“We are losing the attitude of wonder, contemplation, listening to creation,” Pope Francis said in an address on World Environment Day last year. “The implications of living in a horizontal manner [is that] we have moved away from God; we no longer read His signs.”

Searchers for God should know that efforts to preserve and protect the natural world are an essential part of faith. When and if they become believers, they should be involved in the public forum on the environment, including those about climate change. You can argue about which group of scientists knows best, but in my view, you can’t argue against preserving and protecting creation.  

The “person close to me” mentioned at the beginning of this blog, by the way, is a prime example of someone who consistently lives her faith. Despite her question, her respect and love for God’s creation is a model for anyone searching for God.  

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Is Reason the Enemy of Faith?

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I’ve recently finished a fascinating book called Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. A best-selling classic in thirty languages with more than 10 million copies sold around the world, it describes in remarkable detail the lives of three generations of Chang’s family in twentieth-century China.

Starting with her grandmother, who was a war lord’s concubine, Chang takes the reader through the transition from feudalism to communism and the bizarre succession of communist regimes that governed mostly by whim. This includes, of course, the long reign of Mao Zedong and his “cultural revolution,” which interrupted the lives of millions of students and workers to eradicate, among other things, grass, which was considered “bourgeois,” and melt pots, pans, machinery and everything metal to contribute to the nation’s need for steel.

During much of this period, ideology and the personal cult of the Great Leader always trumped human reason. The consequences were predictable. Humans discouraged from reasoning were reduced to little more than domesticated hominoids living in a confused state of uncertainty and insecurity. The book reminds you how important the use of reason is to making us, and keeping us, human.

That’s why it’s unfortunate that many contemporary people see reason as the enemy of faith. Our daily lives are a mixture of random experiences, successes and disappointments, chores and projects, continual decisions, and incessant attempts to make sense of things. Indeed, the human brain is continually searching for meaning. Though we may not express it this way, it is perhaps just another way of describing the search for God.

And the search for meaning, which is at the heart of faith, is as rational as the search for the composition of dark matter.

That’s not how many see it, of course.

Adam Hincks, a Jesuit priest and astrophysicist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, writes in a recent issue of America magazine that many people see faith as “unscientific, subjective and private,” and knowledge as “scientific, objective and part of a common fund.” But is the human brain really this disjoined?

The common view that the brain has two hemispheres that determine our proclivities and aptitudes seems to support the disjoined view. In this scheme, the left hemisphere is responsible for logic, language, details, patterns in things and looking at “parts” as opposed to “wholes.” The right side is responsible for emotions, meanings, music, art and synthesizing into a whole.

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According to recent studies, however, this is mostly myth.

“There is a misconception that everything to do with being analytical is confined to one side of the brain, and everything to do with being creative is confined to the opposite side,” says Dr. Jeff Anderson, director of the fMRI Neurosurgical Mapping Service at the University of Utah as quoted on the Web site, livescience. “In fact, it is the connections among all brain regions that enable humans to engage in both creativity and analytical thinking.”

This seems to support the view of Hincks, the Jesuit astrophysicist, that there’s a fine line between reason and belief, pointing out that belief is at least as much a part of everyday learning and observation as reason and that “we accept, at least implicitly, that belief is rational.”

“I did not personally verify the vast majority of scientific theories that I learned while earning my degrees,” he writes. No, he took them “on faith.” He adds that “no one…sees such instances of scientific belief as fundamentally irrational.”

We believe if we trust the source, and we test the insights gained from beliefs against other data until we’re satisfied that they are trustworthy. A child believes his/her parents, for instance, because of his/her experience of the parents’ trustworthiness.  

Hincks argues that authentic religion involves both knowledge and belief (Some would say that belief is one way of obtaining knowledge.) and “…our belief in God is complemented by the immanent knowledge of God we acquire through prayer and spiritual exercises.”

And that brings us to the view that besides complementing reason, faith as a gift from God goes far beyond belief.

“Faith is thus primarily a grace that draws us beyond the sort of believing and knowing that we can achieve through human reason,” Hincks writes.

The bottom line is that God is both the creator of reason and the giver of faith. They complement each other and human beings have trouble when relying solely on one or the other. Faith is not reason’s enemy, nor is reason the enemy of faith. People who promote the view that the two are incompatible do a disservice to both.

The lack of either, as shown in the lives of the millions of Chinese who lived during Mao’s regime (and North Koreans in our time), cripples our humanity. And it’s only as fully functioning, healthy, rational and faithful humans that we can successfully seek God.  


Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Big Tent

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For several years, I’ve grown tomatoes in my back yard. I usually have only four plants, and some years they have yielded lots of fruit (or are they vegetables?) while other years have been stingy. Even in this year, a good one, the size and quality of the tomatoes have varied widely.

Humans are like tomatoes. Our human genomes may be nearly identical to each other, and we may have many cultural similarities, but we’re also very different. And we like to compare ourselves to each other.

As I mentioned in a blog about the tendency to judge others, Christians who are serious about their faith find it hard not to disparage those who may not appear to be as zealous. In the Catholic Church, in fact, some have suggested that we should expect and welcome a smaller church, one that comprises the “true believers.”

It’s sort of a “take-it-or-leave-it” attitude about religion. If you can’t summarily accept everything the church teaches, you should leave, or shouldn’t bother to search for God. For some, this means that everyone should also accept the devotions and peripheral religious practices of some church members.     

Thinking about it, I may have been guilty of this kind of thinking. I used to mentally mock baseball players, mostly Latinos, who incessantly made the sign of the cross when coming to bat or starting to pitch. God has more important things to do than to help this player in a game, I thought.

I’ve changed my mind. What makes what I want from God more important than whatever the athlete wants, whether it’s victory or protection from injury?

I’ve also been reproachful of the religious devotions of the "uneducated," having a vague feeling that they “border on the superstitious.” I now realize you don’t need a theology degree to be close to God. In fact, that may not be advantageous at all.

A recent America magazine article by Frank DeSiano, a priest of the Paulist Fathers, whose special ministry is to estranged Catholics, explored this theme. 

He cited the famous Gospel parable of the sower and the seed, the opening parables in the gospels of Mark and Mathew. Jesus makes a point about seeds that are productive and seeds that are not, but also the gradation among the productive seeds – those that yield thirty, sixty and a hundredfold.

You can presume that Jesus was talking about a continuum from 1 to 100, acknowledging that our degree of commitment and the fervor with which we embrace the faith will vary widely. If you “score” in the 1-100 range, writes DeSiano, you are “productive.”

He uses another example that may definitively answer the question about who is, and who isn’t, in “the kingdom of God.” In Mathew’s gospel, Jesus tells the story of the judgment, when he separates the “sheep from the goats.” The sheep are rewarded; the goats punished. What distinguishes them?

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“I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink….” The interesting part of this story is that the sheep themselves are unaware that they did anything to warrant their reward.

“Master, what are you talking about?” the sheep ask, according to The Message translation of Mathew’s 25th chapter. “When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and gave you a drink?

“Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me.” 

Doesn’t this mean that we can’t fit people into our categories about who is and who isn’t a child of God? And it may mean we shouldn’t try to fit ourselves into these categories, either. Writing to the Romans, Paul urges his readers to see things as they are, “each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned.”

God, it seems, accepts anyone who seeks him/her, “true believer” or not, holding the “big tent” view long before the term was invented. But if so, why be a Catholic, or a Christian, or a member of any religion? Why not just settle for being a good person?

You can, of course, but the more you achieve goodness, the more you may want a closer relationship to God, the author of goodness. And, the more fulfilling your life may be. As my mother used to say, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well,” so it is a rational goal to improve our “spiritual” lives, becoming more empathetic and helpful to others and closer to God. And “cool” or not, religion can help us do that.

My view is that we’re each drawn to God in different ways. Or, to use the active voice, God draws us to him/her in different ways. Were we born into a religious family that has passed on its faith to us? That may be the right path for us. Or, we may feel the need to explore other paths that lead to the same goal.

So does that mean that the paths are equal, or that it doesn’t matter what path we take? Not necessarily. We have to find the right path for us, and traditional Christian theology maintains that God guides us in our choices. We should be open to his/her gentle invitations.

So, what about the “true believers” versus “ordinary Christians?” Do we all have to burn with zeal about religion, or talk and think about it all the time, or appear to be religious? No way. Trying to appear to be more than ordinary in our faith may be a fatal attitude. Truth is, we need to be sincere, persistent and patient in our search for God and understand that “finding” him/her can take a lifetime.

We should take a cue from the tomatoes. They’re big and small, flavorful and not-so-flavorful. And they take practically a whole season to ripen. 


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Belief in an Afterlife a "Crutch?"

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Back in the day when I was a priest, I preferred funerals to weddings.

That may sound strange, but when asked to witness weddings, I often felt like I was being rented along with the wedding hall, tables and chairs. Often, I suspected, the bride and groom had a church wedding because their parents wanted it. The couple often had little interest in the religious aspect of the wedding. They seemed to be involved in a sort of mutual self-absorption, and many people attending seemed to be more interested in observing wedding clothes and other attendees than in any encounter with God.

It was much easier to get the attention of people at funerals. They were having to deal directly with death, a subject they had spent much of their lives trying to avoid. Believers had to deal with their doubts about the hereafter. Non-believers had to confront the expected oblivion. Unlike those at a wedding, most were eager for anything you could say to relieve their discomfort, and many, I believe, actually prayed.

Truth is, most of us experience a plethora of emotions when considering death (about which I wrote in a blog on Nov. 11 of last year). Oddly, we’re fascinated by it – as evidenced by the innumerable movies, TV shows and video games whose main ingredient is violent death – and feel fear and revulsion at the prospect.

Tomas Halik, the Czech psychotherapist, priest and professor of philosophy and sociology whom I’ve quoted often in these blogs, calls belief in an afterlife “a kind of touchstone for the authenticity of our belief in God.

“If we restrict ourselves to the playing field of this life then maybe all we need of Christianity is what remained of it after the post-Enlightenment selling off of transcendence – a smidgen of moral principles and humanitarian kindness, a slightly updated version of existentialism, and a poetic sense of the mysterious.”

Even the faith of staunch believers, however, can be severely tested when confronted by death. That’s because to imagine the afterlife is to imagine the unimaginable. If our “spirit” outlives our bodies, it will be in a form that is unlike any human experience.

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Halik quotes the First Letter to the Corinthians in the Christian Bible, which paraphrases Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible. Here’s The Message translation: “No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, never so much as imagined anything quite like it – what God has arranged for those who love him.”

Jesus provides a few stories in the gospels about the afterlife, undoubtedly trying to help people overcome this lack of imagination. For example, he tells the famous story of Lazarus, the poor man “covered with sores,” and the unnamed rich man, who, according to The Message translation, was “wasting his days in conspicuous consumption.” They both died. The rich man was in torment in hell but Lazarus was “taken up by the angels to the lap of Abraham.” The rich man begged for Lazarus’ help, but Abraham explained that “in all these matters there is a huge chasm set between us so that no one can go from us to you even if he wanted to.”

The rich man wanted Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers so they don’t end up in the same place. “They have Moses and the Prophets to tell them the score,” said Abraham. “Let them listen to them. I know, Father Abraham,” the rich man said, “but they’re not listening. If someone came back to them from the dead, they would change their ways.” Abraham answered: “If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they’re not going to be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.”

This and similar stories may help, but they use images designed for people who lived nearly 2,000 years ago. An excerpt from another part of the gospel may provide better understanding and hope.  “Trust me,” Jesus says in the same translation of the Gospel of John, “There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home.”

Belief in an afterlife is for many the acid test of belief in God. We want to believe it, but it seems too good to be true. And apart from those who say they have had “near-death experiences,” there is nothing in our daily temporal experience, or even our histories, that support that belief.

Still, many of us maintain hope, mustering all our faith to recite with fellow believers the part of the Nicene Creed that says, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

Some militant atheists point to a belief in the afterlife as the ultimate “crutch” of religious belief. We just can’t accept the nothingness that awaits us, they say. What they forget, along with many Christians, is that life after death is a two-edged sword.     

“I have always found it odd and even comical,” writes Halik, “when the Christian vision of eternal life is described as “a crutch” or “cheap solace.” After all, according to Christian belief the first thing awaiting us beyond the gates of death is God’s judgment. On the contrary, isn't “cheap solace” precisely the notion that death is the end of everything and we don’t have to answer to anyone for our lives?”

Halik says he looks forward to it because it will reveal the truth. “…We’ll discover at last the entire and real truth about ourselves, about our lives and about everything that appertained to them. …That truth will have the last word has always struck me as very liberating.”

Ours is not to know, but to wait, he says – while we continue attending weddings and funerals.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

God and Randomness

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I have a friend who is retired from a very successful career in a medical specialty. Years ago, I remember asking him, “With what you know now about science and medicine, are you more or less persuaded about the existence of God?”

“Less,” he responded without hesitation.

I was surprised, and judging by his current behavior, I believe he may have changed his mind. But I was surprised because the complexity and precision of human biology seems to cry out for a “designer.” It’s hard to imagine the evolutionary process as entirely random.

Though I’ve lost the reference to this, I recall reading a quote that said something to the effect that believing that creation is entirely random is like believing that a press building explodes and a fully bound, up-to-date Encyclopedia Britannica blows out of the explosion and onto the street. For those of you unfamiliar with this classic work, the Encyclopedia in its various forms had from 12 to 17 volumes, each with at least 1,000 pages, on practically every subject you can think of.

I thought of this because of the recent visit of my son, his spouse and their 3-month-old baby. I didn’t have to change his diaper, but while watching his parents do it, it occurred to me how the baby’s emerging internal organs and systems are developing. He’s currently being fed by mother’s milk and his digestive system works accordingly, but as it grows and develops its digestive system will, incredibly, adapt to solid food.

Here are other facts, not at all among the most significant, about the human body that I find no less than amazing. They’re from the web site,
·       The head is equipped with eyebrows whose principal purpose is to keep sweat from running into the eyes. To help protect and keep the eyes healthy, you blink over 6 million times per year.
·       In one day, you shed about 10 billion skin flakes and salivate an average of 1-3 pints of saliva.
·       The heart produces enough pressure to squirt blood over 35 feet. It beats an average of 35 million times per year, or around 100,000 times per day.

Instead of wondering why at my age my biological processes and organs are slowing, I marvel that they still work at all, that wounds still heal and that although I’m losing brain cells, I’m also generating them. I find that incredible. What human-made thing is as efficient and durable? 

Ok, so the universe is amazing. That doesn’t disprove the randomness of evolution or prove God’s existence. That’s true, but just as some people write off God and religion because of their “gut feelings,” my rational self can’t accept the total randomness of evolution. I understand that many scientists say the universe has no need for a designer, but evolution without one, and without a “goal,” makes no sense, and making sense is important to humans.

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It occurs to me that the randomness of evolution may be similar to that of a casino slot machine. According to an on-line article by John Robison in the American Casino Guide, the machines are designed to pay out, say, 95 percent of what is inserted, so the “house” will always derive 5 percent on average. But the chances of an individual player winning at any particular time are still random.

“Random does not mean that everything is completely unpredictable and unknowable,” says Robison.

Returning to evolution, it seems to me that a God who used evolution and its randomness to create, nonetheless had certain results in mind. It’s the most plausible explanation for how, or maybe why, the universe is evolving. We assume, of course that contemporary humans are the end result and the apex of evolution, but that may not be the case. After all, as the Psalms say, who knows the mind of the Designer?

Theologians remind us that faith is not meant to answer scientific questions, and I believe them. However, to make sense of reality, all of us have to reconcile what we know from theology and science, and science has been unable to answer how, let alone why, the universe exists.

Given what I know from my brief time on this earth, the “big bang” seems less like the explosion of the printing press – an event that occurred for no particular reason and with no particular “goal” – and more like a deliberate, purposeful event kicking off billions of years of evolution that resulted in what we experience as contemporary human beings.

Getting from that idea to the idea of a personal God, who knows about me and cares for me, is another matter, of course, but that subject must await other blogs (although I’ve written about it in previous blogs). Unlike my retired doctor friend, the little I know of science and medicine, and of what I observe on a daily basis, confirms my faith in God.