There's an old Swahili saying: "When two elephants jostle, that which is hurt is the grass."
Today in America, two elephants jostle: On the one hand, we have the hate-filled religious right, which has co-opted Christ's teachings and turned them into dispensationalist nonsense, somehow linking Christ's message of love and peace with the Old Testament's God of vengeance and retribution. On the other, we have the all-too-predictable backlash of the "God is dead (or at least, never lived)" rational atheist lavage of our brains. Left Behind v. Left Brain, if you will.
I, and millions, maybe tens of millions like me, are the grass which is hurt by all this. We are neither radically religious, but neither have we no faith in Our Lord. Lydia and I recognized this in each other about a year ago when I discovered her blog during the last Koufax Awards cycle (voting begins soon, folks! Vote for Lydia...and you can throw me a bone, too ;-) ), and she mine.
I reject the evangelical teachings not just of the Religious Right, but of my parents' church. However, I also reject the purely "reasoned" belief that this is all random clumpings of matter that scattered across the galaxy and somehow evolved into us and whomever else is out there.
That way denigrates the imagination, and if there is one thing we as humans should treasure above all else, the one thing that separates us from every other....well, almost every other...animal on the planet, it is our imagination. I hasten to note that recent published studies indicate that Bonobo monkeys are able to create music and not just repeat it. In fact, Peter Gabriel has taught some to play keyboards, and some chimpanzees can make compound vocalizations that seem to mean more than either individual vocalization in its own right.
But for the most part, we seem to be the only animal that can forward think, time-displace ourselves to the future, and even imagine an afterlife. If the universe were strictly rational and random, then what purpose would planning and imagination serve?
Comes now the elephant for the rest of us: Francis Collins is the director of the National Human Genome Research Project, and co-led the Human Genome Project (along with Eric Lander of MIT...sorry, I had to plug a classmate...)
Dr. Collins recently published a book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, and sat down with science writer John Horgan for a discussion of theology, which was published in this month's National Geographic Magazine. I'm going to highlight some of the more cogent thoughts I read:
As both a recipient and performer of miracles, I can appreciate Dr. Collins' statement: prayer isn't about finding a parking space. Prayer is about guidance to do His work.
Horgan: The problem I have with miracles is not just that they violate what science tells us about how the world works. They also make God seem too capricious. For example, many people believe that if they pray hard enough God will intercede to heal them or a loved one. But does that mean that all those who don't get better aren't worthy?
Collins: In my own experience as a physician, I have not seen a miraculous healing, and I don't expect to see one. Also, prayer for me is not a way to manipulate God into doing what we want him to do. Prayer for me is much more a sense of trying to get into fellowship with God. I'm trying to figure out what I should be doing rather than telling Almighty God what he should be doing. Look at the Lord's Prayer. It says, "Thy will be done." It wasn't, "Our Father who art in Heaven, please get me a parking space."
Some might take issue with us on the left who are religious. All we really want is to live life in His grace, to live in peace with our neighbors, to do unto them that we would want done unto us, and to find our own salvation.
Like Dr. Collins, I don't think God watches us daily to keep tabs on us. What a waste of omnipotence that would be, and in fact, would speak to me of someone with a personality disorder like OCD.
What scares me about this world, and in particular this nation, is that (to flip to the other elephant), there are people who believe just that:
Collins: What faith has not been used by demagogues as a club over somebody's head? Whether it was the Inquisition or the Crusades on the one hand or the World Trade Center on the other? But we shouldn't judge the pure truths of faith by the way they are applied any more than we should judge the pure truth of love by an abusive marriage. We as children of God have been given by God this knowledge of right and wrong, this Moral Law, which I see as a particularly compelling signpost to his existence. But we also have this thing called free will, which we exercise all the time to break that law. We shouldn't blame faith for the ways people distort it and misuse it.Don't blame faith for how people interpret it. In this country, people use faith almost like the red velvet rope at the door to a hot club. Wanna get in? Lemme see your faith. What? You're Jewish (or Muslim or atheist or Buddhist)? Sorry. You don't get in.
This is no different than what those who dropped planes on us on September 11 believe and I'll be damned but I thought we were better than this!
There's a lot more to this interview, but I don't want to ruin the surprises for you. Suffice it to say that Dr. Collins expresses in a few short answers what many of us have wrestled with our entire lives: why is there suffering? What is free will? Can you explain altruism without faith? Will we ever stop needing a God?
For me, God pushed the whole thing in motion and walked away for a sandwich, from time to time looking in on us to see if we're OK, and maybe throwing us a bone (or a Son) to remind us of who we are supposed to be.
God gave me a brain, true, but He also gave me a mind. He didn't ask me to be an automaton, but to find out that which I can about my world, and then find out what I can't know. If my beliefs are wrong, if I am condemned to die and spend eternity in hell, it seems to me that an awful lot of people (the Rapturists never talk about how Revelations really only expressly says 144,000 Jews, 12,000 from the Twelve Tribes, are going to heaven and everyone else is in deep trouble) are going to be by my side.
Or to sum up my feelings:
The defense rests, Your Honor.
Henry Drummond: Then why did God plague us with the capacity to think? Mr. Brady, why do you deny the one thing that sets above the other animals? What other merit have we? The elephant is larger, the horse stronger and swifter, the butterfly more beautiful, the mosquito more prolific, even the sponge is more durable. Or does a sponge think?
Matthew Harrison Brady: I don't know. I'm a man, not a sponge!
Henry Drummond: Do you think a sponge thinks?
Matthew Harrison Brady: If the Lord wishes a sponge to think, it thinks!
Henry Drummond: Does a man have the same privilege as a sponge?
Matthew Harrison Brady: Of course!
Henry Drummond: Then this man wishes to have the same privilege of a sponge, he wishes to think!
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