Thursday, September 27, 2018

Two Events This Week On Religion and Science

At least two things happened, or are happening, this week that struck me and that have implications for how I understand religion and science: 1) I participated in a meeting of the BioLogos Advisory Council (of which I’m a member), and 2) I’m teaching, reading, and watching Shakespeare’s stunning Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet on Religion and Science
Let’s start with the Bard and R&J, his tragedy of two “star-crossed lovers” (Prologue, 5) written around 1595, when intellectual giants like Francis Bacon and a young Galileo walked the earth. 

In a word, the scientific revolution had begun. 

And so had the English Reformation, initiated by the oddest reformer, Henry VIII, who wanted a divorce that the Catholic Church wouldn’t grant. So he left the Church and his wife in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Their daughter, Queen Elizabeth, at the time of R&J,was fully enacting the English reformation that her father, Henry VIII initiated. Religion was changing too.

As I mentioned above, these two young lovers are “star-crossed,” which points to the medieval superstition (still very prevalent then and even today) that the stars directed human life, while also offering a nod to the rapidly expanding astronomy of the day. “Bill” (Shakespeare, that is) and his R&J fall right between Copernicus’s presentation of the heliocentric model in 1543 and Galileo’s defense in the 1620s and ‘30s. Even more, he was part of the growing consciousness that the universe was getting bigger and the medieval world of a “dome” (not entirely unlike a huge planetarium around us) needed to be discarded. This is, of course, what C. S. Lewis named “The Discarded Image.”

Shakespeare stands at this nexus of religion and science and their dramatic changes. That alone makes his work compelling.

 “What Does it Mean to Be Human?”
And then BioLogos, the organization begun almost a decade ago by the head of the Human
Genome Initiative, Francis Collins, who know heads the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and has spoken frequently and effectively about his conversation to Christ. I serve on their Advisory Council, and on Monday night, I attended a public event where the Cornell geneticist (and as I understand it, former student of Collins), Praveen Saderpathy addressed the question of “What is does it mean to be human?” He reminded us that it isn’t in our physical makeup since a huge proportion of our DNA is actually virus DNA, gradually integrated into our genome over the millennia and that in our bodies at any given time are a host (likely a host) of billions of non-human bacteria. In the end he pointed to Genesis 1 and God’s call on us to bear the divine image as God’s representatives and stewards on this earth.

In this post, I’m trying to avoid a forced link between these two things, but it does seem like they’re how we as human beings act—like mad lovers who flout convention, representatives of a gracious Creator and Redeemer, or something else? Answering this question led me to conclude that, minimally, we better stick with nature and with our nature. It’s only natural.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Seven Sources for Soul Growth

Imaginary friend: So, Greg, here we are back at Chico's Upper Bidwell Park, and our peripatetic musings on the soul is about to end, and I
wonder what topic you'd like to address.
GSC: I want to put it all together and respond to the question of how do our souls get formed. What are the sources for soul growth?
Friend: And by the way, who am I?
GSC: You’re the people that have affected and do influence my life spiritually—like my pastors Earl Palmer, Mark Labberton, “the Quad” (which is comprised of me, Gary, Ric, and Dan), and my wife, Laura, and countless unnamed others.
Friend: All those disparate people together?
GSC: Yes, see what you can do!
Friend: OK, maybe I’ll just ask questions! Can you list the sources for soul growth?

Seven Sources for Spiritual Growth
GSC: There are seven that I can think of: Scripture, theological tradition, art, prayer, meditation (or contemplation, mindfulness), corporate worship, and service.
Friend: Ok, speed round! Scripture?
GSC: It’s the definitive and authoritative keystone of the way God has acted and spoken. First of all, we’ve gotta read it and grasp the whole sweep of Scripture, to know God’s story and see how it becomes our story. Here’s a reading plan to grasp the overall story of the Bible that I helped put together. 
We also need to let it saturate our mind, to chew on it as a cow chews the cud. One excellent practice is lectio divina (literally "divine reading" in Latin), which leads us to find a passage of the Bible and see how it speaks to us. 
Friend: Theological tradition?
GSC: We have to get to know the masters like Augustine and his Confessions, John Calvin, Blaise Pascal, and C. S. Lewis(And, of course, there are many, many more.)I’ll get back to Lewis and his Screwtape Letters later, but the point here is to learn from these are great minds and souls that have gone before.
Friend: Art?
GSC: Art comes in so many forms. I’ll just comment on visual art and music. When I look at this piece, how can I not take in a new aspect of God’s care for us as the Prodigal God that takes in the Prodigal Son? When I listen to great music like Hillsong, I find God’s presence.
Friend: Meditation?
GSC: This has probably been the greatest area of growth in the past few years for me—to find myself quieted and calmed like a child (Psalm 131). I’ve been drawn recently to the practice of mindfulness as a way of calming my soul and preparing me for intercession, for service, and for life generally.
Friend: Prayer as intercession?
GSC: By prayer here, I mean, with Paul (Philippians 4:6-7), intercession with thanksgiving. We lay those burdens on God.
Friend: Corporate worship?
GSC: As much as like Alfred North Whitehead, I disagree with him that religion is what we do with our “solitariness”—we need to meet together and direct our attention, our praise to God. It can be pretty wonderful. But I also have to mention C. S. Lewis’s comments in The Screwtape Letters on the disappointing reality of the local congregation, the church as it actually exists.
It’s so good, I’ll quote at length—and remember this is from the perspective of a devil who’s trying to tempt a human soul,
“One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do riot mean the Church as we see her spread but through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes I our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather in oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print.” C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Friend: Service?
GSC: Jesus tells us that he is somehow present in the “least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46). In serving in his name, we actually meet him. Which is kind of wild. It’s all about our public witness to the Gospel, which is where I’d include our testimony, our words, as well.

The Most Important Source
Friend: We’ve arrived at the end of our walk. 
GSC: Speaking of “ends” or goals, I’ll close with this: Our hope is a beautifully integrated life, fully alive. Integration—that’s what the Spirit brings. And if the soul and the spiritual life mean anything, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And that’s where I’ll end, with this hope—the hope grounded in the One who will continue the work that has begun in and among us. That hope is the Spirit of life.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Two Provocative Studies on Christian Belief and Affiliation

This week I read two articles.
  • One reminded me that the Christian faith has intellectual content and thus that people leave the faith when it fails to come up with durable and convincing answers.
  • The other highlighted that we often choose our religion for non-spiritual reasons, that many retrofit our religion to fit our political and social commitments.
(Incidentally, this week I’m taking a brief repose from the Soul Dialogues, although there are certainly connections.)

J. Warner Wallace, "Young Christians are leaving the church--Here's why"
Let’s look at the first: J. Warner Wallace wrote this, 
“When asked why they didn’t believe, many said their views about God had 'evolved' and some reported having a 'crisis of faith.'" 
He concludes by championing the idea that we need a “forensic faith” in which we offer a response to “intellectual skepticism.” (I’m using his italics.)

Bottom line: He overstates that “nones” leave the faith because of intellectual reasons, but rightly highlights that there is some cognitive content to Christianity. As a general conclusion, I find it hard to disagree with this statement: 
“It’s time for believers to accept their responsibility to explain what Christianity proposes and why these propositions are true, especially when interacting with young people who have legitimate questions.” 

Perry Bacon, Jr. 
"Americans Are Shifting The Rest Of Their Identity To Match Their Politics"
And then Perry Bacon Jr. writes
“We generally think of a person’s race or religion as being fixed — and that those parts of identity (being black, say, or evangelical Christian) drive political views. Most African-Americans vote Democratic. Most evangelical Christians vote Republican. But New York University political scientist Patrick Egan has written a new paper showing evidence that identity and politics operate in the opposite direction too — people shift the non-political parts of their identity, including ethnicity and religion, to align better with being a Democrat or a Republican.”
Bottom line: Religious identity is becoming less and less important in our country, which makes sense of the “nones” as a phenomenon—the 35-40% of emerging adults with no religious affiliation. Many, who lean left ethically and politically, are deciding not to affiliate because the church seems increasingly associated with the conservative views generally and with Republican Party specifically. 

How do we bring these together?
It’s not completely clear to me how to bring these together, except to affirm that yes, we do need intellectual foundations for belief, and yes, sometimes religious affiliation is not as important as other affiliations. (And, yes, as we see our country become less and less religious, this latter finding suggests that our country will continue to head in that direction.)

What do you think?

A final thought
With all that in mind, I'll offer this tentative conclusion: My own observation (derived from other studies and from my interviews) is that most emerging adults do not leave or reject Christian faith solely, or primarily, based on intellectual content. (Nor do most atheists.) It seems to be that we as human beings wind together emotional grounds ("heart," as many call it) for ascribing to some form of belief or worldview or personal philosophy with some measure of intellectual or cognitive grounds ("mind"). Importantly, this also includes our tribal affiliations. 

The United States is, in my experience, privileging the mind less and less. But it would be illogical to conclude that there is no place for intellectual engagement with Christianity. That's one reason I was interviewed on an apologetics podcast, Deeper Waters, on Saturday. 

I, for one, would not be a follower of Christ without those who think well and deeply about their faith and take the time to communicate their reasons to believe.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Wholly—and Holy—God’s (Greg Goes Wild or Greg’s Diatribe or A Kind of Soul Dialogue)

Sometimes in our family, we practice a soapbox moment, where we simply stand and
proclaim our views… as if people really cared. So I’ll start with a question on the soul from my imaginary friend, which is softball pitch for me to diatribe.

Imaginary friend: We’ve been talking for a while, and I’ve been wondering if there’s some payoff from all this discussion of the soul. Greg, what’s your point?

GSC: Integration. That’s my point. Bringing all of our soul to all of God. 
To be one, wholly—and holy—God’s. 
That is the point of talking about the soul.

Is it ok if I preach it? I’m convinced there’s just one you, and there’s simply one me that God created. We can talk about “body” and “soul” and “spirit” and “mind.” But God doesn’t want us separated. God wants us to be one person who relates to our one Lord. 

Now various sciences tell us that parts of the human brain developed in different ways, and so it’s natural (in that sense) to feel dis-unified. But spiritual life is the practice and power that brings us together and in some ways works to reverse what’s natural.

I mean, disunity is at least one huge component of sin. Isn’t that what Paul lamented in Romans 7—“I don’t understand my own actions”—that there were at least two selves fighting against each other? Sometimes it feels like a barroom brawl inside of my noggin!

And this seems to me to be one key element of monotheism—our belief in one God. We don’t go from deity to deity, like ancient pagans did—a god for our work guild, another god for love, another for the political life, and yet another for the home. And son on… As Christians, we know one God who loves, creates, and redeems all of us.

At our best then, our souls aren’t separate parts of us, warring against everything else—against our flesh, or whatever else.

Instead, being fully alive is bringing all of us to all of God. If anything, the soul ought to describe that unity. To be one, wholly—and holy—God’s. That is the point of talking about the soul.

How’s that for a soapbox moment?