Thursday, February 14, 2019

My Spiritual Birthday and Keeping the Change

Just a few days ago, I celebrated my spiritual birthday--the day, at age 18, when I confessed faith in Christ for the first day. (Recently, I was interviewed by To the Best of My Knowledge about being "born again," which helped me remember and recreate this significant event in my life. See what you think.)
In a reasonably hard-line evangelical college group, I was once taught to formulate this as the most relevant question for spiritual discernment: Am I really 38 years old in Christ? Decades later, I’m not sure that’s the right approach. I think it’s more illuminating to ponder how I’ve lived now two-thirds of my life as a follower of Christ (counting, of course, my infancy in that math) and the ways my life has been formed quite substantially around Christian doctrines, practices, and community. 
All this leads me to reflection on being an American and our fixation on a conversion date, which represents a vestige of the American history of revivals. We need to own a specific day and time that we came to faith, and more broadly, when our life changed forever. As if that’s all there is.
I admit that there are some salient elements to a conversionist approach to faith and life. There are moments that change us forever. There are moments where God meets us decisively. But most of my life has been lived by slow, incremental change, by the habits of the heart
That last phrase finds its way into the profound 19th century study of our culture by Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. He wrote in French and his exact phrase was “habitudes du coeur." Cœur sounds a lot like coreIn commenting on Tocqueville, Parker Palmer, in a captivating video, notes heart shares an Indo-European root with Latin cor or cord—which echo core and coeur. Finally, to round this out, habits derives from habitus, which means things we do continually. That leads me to what I’ve learned from the science of change via Charles Duhigg and the other commentators on research about changing habits. It's slow and gradual. It's about forming habitual practices at our "coeur." Or habits of the heart.
The past few years, after years in large, evangelically-oriented congregations that highlight the excitement and event-nature of worship services, Sunday mornings Laura and I are now in a quiet, smaller Episcopalian Eucharist service. Every Sunday we confess our sins and find Christ’s forgiveness and reconciling love in the bread and wine. Whether we particularly feel sinful or not. Whether we sense God’s immeasurable love or not. But we do it every time we're there worshipping.
Worship, in this mode, seems more about creating habitus than conversion. That’s working for me... as I try to keep the change.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

New Topics in Science and Religion: Contours of What's to Come

I’m fascinated by the future. Often I’m trying to discern the contours of what’s to come. And so I’ve asked friends who seem to know, “What do you think are the top ten topics to come in science and religion?” 

Before I get to the list, I heard one as-yet under appreciated answer: Big Data. This reality, 
“extremely large data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions,” 
exists and, in some ways, describes billions of human beings. It's also the religious significance of this new reality bequeathed to us by the power of computing.

Admittedly, the presence of Big Data doesn’t have the directness of creation and evolution (How do we read Genesis 1-3 as authoritative revelation and take in human evolution?) or astrobiology (If there is life on other planets, what does that mean about God’s coming in a human being to save the world?). And yet, with a moment’s reflection, if you’re one of the 250 million or so smart phone users in the U.S., then we realize that little seven ounce device tracks us and records us and presents a data picture of who we are.

And some promote Big Data as the scientific cutting edge.
“Data is the new science. Big Data holds the answers.”Pat Gelsinger, Chief Executive Officer of VMware
Frankly, I’m just beginning to reflect on this topic. Still, I can imagine that Big Data raises at least three issues: 1) How do we as human beings conceive of the sheer volume of information? What tools do we need to help us manage these teraflops of information about us? 2) What should we do with this information? Who’s is it? This is especially tricky ethical question with healthcare. If my genetic information, for example, might lead a health care insurer dropping me from my coverage, do they have a right to know? 3) How do we cope with the “roving eyes” on us at all times? How does the Eye of Big Data relate to the omnipresence of our God? Does this give us comfort, concern, or some mix of both? Should information ever be discarded, especially that reveals our sin and separated from us “as far as the east is from the west”? (Psalm 103:12)
So what are the other nine? Here’s how I’d finish out my top ten (in some kind of loose,
descending order). The way to read this like could be “Finish the phrase ‘Religion, Science, Technology and Their Relationship to…”
  1. Artificial Intelligence and Transhumanism
  2. Climate Change
  3. Sexuality, especially Same-Sex Attraction and Gender Identity
  4. Evolution and God’s Creation (which will always be with us)
  5. Neuroscience and the Cognitive Science of Religion
  6. Genetics, especially Technologies like CRISPR cas9
  7. Astrobiology, Extraterrestrial Life
  8. Medicine, especially End of Life and Reproductive Technology
  9. Race
What do you think? What would you add?