review and dialogessay

January 6, 2009

My Mom sent me a link to this Christianity Today review of "The Faith of Scientists: In Their Own Words", edited by Nancy K. Frankenberry.

A bit of background... my folks are ordained ministers in The Salvation Army. For those who don't know, it's not just Red Christmas Kettle, Thrift Stores, and/or Food Assistance, but a group (like the "Save a Soul Mission" in "Guys and Dolls" that was based on it) that took the metaphor of a "war against Sin" a bit overly literally, to become something that feels like the (unarmed) paramilitary wing of Methodism...

Interesting... odd that with the page itself, it's almost tough to figure out the actual book they're reviewing.

My UU Science and Spirituality group hears quite a lot from Goodenough... which is funny, between that name and "Frankenberry" I'd almost think someone was pulling our collective legs... (I almost wanted to use the UK "taking the piss" but I couldn't quite use that w/o the distance of quotes, but it's a very useful concept that doesn't translate exactly.)

UUSS-types talk a lot about transcendence and emergence; there's a scientific observation about how very complex systems can emerge from relatively simple rules, how you can't really know how a brain works - much less a mind - just by a "forest for the trees" inspection of neurons, etc, and will kind of try to stake their sense of spirituality in that kind of "bottom up" approach rather than the "top down" idea of most Abrahamaic traditions.

In this country, it's kind of odd. There have been all these waves of fundamentalism, and it's those waves, much more so than the "clockmaker God" that many of the "founding fathers" embraced, that is in conflict with science. A literalist interpretation of the Bible, one that doesn't accept it as poetry or as a text rooted in and for a people who had far fewer tools to understand and analyze the world in the way that science can, is kind of a brittle thing, because if you put all your eggs in one spectacular immutable and divinely-protected basket, and then some corner of it - say, like Genesis as a 6-24-hour-day creation, starts to look unlikely, you have to adopt positions that are essentially untenable. (Either God set out to plant a lot of fossils etc to fool scientists and demand faith despite that, or it's a conspiracy of the labcoat and field researcher crowd, etc etc)

And also a faith that demands exclusivity - as many say Christianity does with Jesus "no one comes to the Father but by me" - has to explain why ITS supernatural worldview is correct as opposed to all the other ones. It was a thought like this - specifically the "problem of all those pious moslems" and the realization that, if I had had whatever the Arab parallel of my S.A. upbringing is, than I would probably be striving to be as good a Moslem as I was a Christian then - that largely provoked by crisis of faith when I was 16 or so. (Since then I've also had a bit of an interest in Christian Apologetics when it tackles this issue set.)

It's a problem a lot of the hardcore Atheists have, actually. And for them, Fundamentalist Christianity acts as a bit of a strawman. And I agree with those who point out that hardcore Atheism can be followed just as dogmatically as any attempt at "faith"

My mom response was as follows:
Hi, again, and thanks for your thoughtful response. I appreciate the carefulness of your thinking. I've never been a Biblical literalist, but neither have I felt the need to try and parse out its contents by literary definitions. If Jesus did actually say "No one comes to the Father but by me", I've often wondered (with apologies to Bill Clinton) just what the definition of "by me" is. Does it truly mean only through acceptance of Jesus Christ as personal savior does a person , or might it mean that as the mediator between God and humankind, Jesus is the judge of all humans, but that his "judgment" is not exclusively based upon a Christian confession? My bottom line is that I don't have to make that decision.....I need to live according to the light that I have been granted. And that's Biblical, too.
So, feel free to weigh in with comments, obviously trying to be respectful of other opinions and outlooks

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