Saturday, February 27, 2021

Is it Good for Us to Go to Church?

What will church be like “post-COVID”? (And really, what does “post-COVID” mean?) Moreover, when the effects of the pandemic subside, will it matter if we don't go back to church?

As far as I can tell, it seems like the most important parts of religious life are what COVID is restricting (like being together in the same room), which makes these questions particularly relevant.

(By the way, I chose this pic because "fifty" is misspelled, which brought a smile to my face and reminded me of how many times the slides for worship singing had errors.)

Scripture: It's a bit ambiguous in my reading as to whether Scripture tells us "to go the church" in the way we generally do in 21st century America. This is a huge topic, perhaps to be addressed at another time. 

Nevertheless, I'll affirm that the New Testament does, of course, underscore that the first followers of Jesus met together in worship (Acts 2) and that "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing..." (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Science: In this post, I'm particularly interested in what science says--Is it good for us to go to church, or put another way, to be religiously active? 

Bottom line: Scientific research supports the conclusion that religious life, or being “religiously active,” is good for human health. 

By “good,” I mean that, for individuals, religious life correlates statistically with the following: 

  1. Good for physical health 
  2. Good for mental resilience and happiness 
  3. Good for prosocial behavior 

How about for the society as a whole?
  • Being religiously active can be good via altruism, but it bad by restricting the use of medicine (blood transfusions and Jehovah’s Witnesses) or lead to overpopulation (restrictions on birth control) 
But here's one big catch: Religion can increase prejudice. A few years ago, I heard a talk by Robert Putnam who drew a distinction between "bonding" (in-group), and "bridging" (inter-group), social capital. Attending church per se does not increase “bridging social capital.” Religious life tends to be good at the first but not the second, and that leads to the correlation between religiosity and prejudice (see Robert Jones on the research conducted by PRRI). 

And here's a second catch: Our religiosity (to use the academic term) needs to be “intrinsic” and not “extrinsic”--as I've blogged before--that, it has to be authentic and essentially, not something we do for someone else.

In sum: As far as I can tell, yes, generally there are some positive indications from scientific research about going to church, but how we approach religious life correlates with whether it diverges ultimately into negative or positive outcomes.  

Friday, February 12, 2021

Something from Luther that's Blowing My Mind

Recently, I wrote on science as a Christian vocation, and in light of that piece, and particularly the one that followed, this excerpt from Martin Luther is, yes, blowing my mind ("Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate") 

Written in 1520, it's still relevant five centuries later...

From all this it follows that there is really no difference between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, "spirituals" and "temporals," as they call them, except that of office and work, but not of "estate"; for they are all of the same estate -- true priests, bishops and popes -- though they are not all engaged in the same work, just as all priests and monks have not the same work. 
This is the teaching of St. Paul in Romans 12:4 and I Corinthians 12:12, and of St. Peter in I Peter 2:9, as I have said above, viz., that we are all one body of Christ, the Head, all members one of another. Christ has not two different bodies, one "temporal," the other "spiritual." He is one Head, and He has One body. 
Therefore, just as Those who are now called "spiritual" -- priests, bishops or popes -- are neither different from other Christians nor superior to them, except that they are charged with the administration of the Word of God and the sacraments, which is their work and office, so it is with the temporal authorities -- they bear sword and rod with which to punish the evil and to protect die good. 
A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops, and every one by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other, that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, even as all the members of the body serve one another.

Friday, February 05, 2021

Why We Need to Bring Science to Church

Since the nonprofit organization I co-direct has a mission of “cultivating a stronger church through meaningful dialogue with mainstream science,” I thought I’d give the key reasons why the task of Science for the Church is strategic and valuable. 

Here are my top five.

  1. Why: Because the Church needs a viable Gospel.

    • In their research, the Barna Group found one of the top six reasons emerging adults are leaving the church: They see it as “anti-science.” Too often this perception is accurate, and we need to stop this. Barna also found that 49% of church-going teens believe the "church seems to reject what science tells us about the world."

  2. Why: Because, without this dialogue, the church loses the glorious insights of science. With it, the Christian community flourishes.

  3. Why: Because this is our heritage as Christians.

    • The Scientific Revolution arose in the Christian west. This, of course, isn’t to say that all of science arose from Christianity (that would discount Muslim science, for example). Still, I will say (along with many others) that the Christian doctrine of God’s creating a cosmos, and not a chaos, means that we can study it and understand it. This is our Christian heritage, and we must not forsake it. It’s also a key part of our American history. I think of the Puritan pastors, like Jonathan Edwards, who, as the most educated people of the day, regularly combined reflection on theology with “natural philosophy” (the name for science in those days).

  4. Why: Because the United States needs Christians engaged in the sciences.

  5. Why: Because, as people disaffiliate from churches, we need to Christians to be in the world of science and technology.

    • God gathers the church in worship, to be sure, but God also sends out the church scattered. This is naturally an evangelistic task, but also, as Makoto Fujimura calls it, the task of “culture care.”

Those are my top five. How would you prioritize them? Do you have any to add?