Sunday, April 29, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I began some reflections on the work of prominent atheist Richard Dawkins.  I suggested that he seems more of a high school debater than a learned academician, which is what he purports to be.  He defines his terms the way he wants, and then proceeds to ridicule the term as defined.  He defines faith as belief in the absence of evidence, and then proceeds to point out how stupid faith is, then, and how unlike science.

I suppose I would agree that faith is stupid if I agreed that faith means to believe in something for which there is no evidence.  But I don’t.   Rather, I agree with St. Paul’s definition in his letter to the Hebrews:  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Just because something cannot be seen does not mean there is no evidence for its existence.  Can you show me air?  Can you show me a thought?  They and many other things are not seen, but it makes perfect sense to accept their existence, based on evidence from science.  Dawkins does not want science and faith to have anything in common.  In fact, he says they are opposites.  “Where science is filled with doubt, skepticism, willingness to learn, open to correction, faith is just the opposite.”

Have you never found doubt helpful in your faith journey?  Have you not been open to learning more about faith?  We believe (that word again!) that faith and science are very compatible, even opposite sides of the same coin.  Both faith and science depend heavily on ideas that have no empirical evidence.  Did gravity only come into existence once we were able to prove and explain it?

Dawkins says that science has the humility to know there is much we do not understand, and asks why it is that no major religion has looked at science and thought: “this is bigger than we thought.”  He says that a religion able to look at the magnificence revealed by science might be struck by reverence and awe not revealed by religion.  Does understanding a sunset take anything away from its beauty and awesomeness?

He further says that faith has an arrogance that is missing from science.  Faith says: “I know the truth, and nothing will change my mind.”  Pathological faith, maybe.  He says believers say “my priest tells me the truth; I need look no further.”  That’s news to me.

So Professor Dawkins is not, in my estimation, a worthy representative of atheism.  In fact, quite the opposite.  He is saying what he accuses religion of:  “I know the truth, and nothing will change my mind.”  Pretty darn arrogant, if you ask me.  What do you think?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Well, Mr. Dawkins is going to have to wait again (a few weeks ago I wrote the first part of a reaction to noted atheist Richard Dawkins’ comments on how there is no room for faith in science and how faith is always unreasonable).  Last week, I had an experience I chose to share rather than dealing with Mr. Dawkins.  This week, a few things have happened in the institutional church that I know from your messages have disturbed some of you (me too!) to a point that to avoid addressing them would be a disservice to you, as well as dishonest.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll get a free trip to Rome after these comments, but maybe not a return trip.

First, the current Vatican office of our former Archbishop here in Portland, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, put a collar around the neck of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, saying that their point of view is too feminine and they need to be controlled by a man in order to assure their orthodoxy.  Second, a classmate of mine, who is the bishop of the Diocese of Peoria (Illinois), gave a homily in which, according to the secular press, he accused President Obama of taking the United States down a path similar to that of Hitler and Stalin in Germany and Russia, respectively.  Other than that, it has been a quiet week.

Even though I am away from the parish, I have received a few messages reacting to both of these events.  The writers express their pain and confusion about the disconnect between what they experience as Church in our parish community and what seems to be represented by the leaders of the institutional Church.  What are they to make of it all, they ask.

What am I to make of it all?  I cringe when I read such things, and try to read between the lines.  But in both these cases, what appears between the lines strikes me as even more problematic than what is on the lines themselves.  I wish they hadn’t done that.  I wish he hadn’t said that.  And I reflect on the timing—so close to the celebration of the hope and promises of Easter.

I can say for sure that my faith is not based on, nor is it contingent upon temporal actions or statements.  They shall pass.  Eternal truths are not contained in temporal measures.  Passing assumptions do not shape eternal life.  So I move on, with a much heavier heart, certainly, but also with a more radical energy as well.  We will welcome more guests.  We will feed more hungry, visit more sick, cloth more naked and house more homeless.  We will move deeper into the Body of Christ, where eternal life is found, and not get caught up in the pettiness of everyday life.

We will also weep for those who use the Body of Christ to assert their own understanding of truth, as if that really mattered.  We weep because of whom they hurt and because of what they are missing.  Which is more fulfilling: to be on the right side of an argument or to go beyond oneself for the good of others?  In choosing the second, perhaps we can bypass the first.  Perhaps.  What do you think?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I am postponing  writing the second part of my reaction to noted atheist Richard Dawkins in order to relive and share an experience I just had.  I am away from the parish for  series of meetings of all the pastors of parishes staffed by the Congregation of Holy Cross.  Prior to the week-long meetings, I was present at the priesthood ordination of one of our members.  It was great to greet this young man into the presbyterate (when did they start ordaining them so young?)!
Between the ordination ceremony and the reception and dinner which followed, a close friend and I went to grab some coffee and talk a bit.  We started our own ordination journeys together, as freshmen in high school, but have rarely been assigned anywhere near each other, so catching up was appealing to us both.
We never made it to either the reception or the dinner.  The first time either of us looked at a clock, we’d been talking and listening for about six hours!  We had as authentic a conversation as I’ve ever had.  In fact, the closest to it I immediately remembered was the way we and a few other friends would talk as a group in high school!
The least significant part of our conversation was the ‘what have you been up to’ part.  Rather, the ‘who have you become and what’s it been like for you’ was the real focus and gift.  Heart was speaking to heart.
I know this is how my parents communicated during their 66 year marriage. I would think and hope this is the way many people in long term partnership and marriage would spend a lot of their time communicating.  But for me it was a rare insight of what it is to be faithful to the Holy Cross constitution that warns against speaking least of what concerns us most.
I’m not sure this sort of experience can be planned.  But, clearly, one (two, really, or more) has to be predisposed for it to occur.  We started by reflecting on a few friends and family members who have died and the impacts they had on us.  Soon we were talking of our own illnesses and issues of mortality (there was  nothing morbid about it at all, and we laughed often).  Then conversation entered the zone, and time stopped mattering.  It strikes me that the deeper our communication, the less we are aware of time.  Sort of a taste of eternal life and the ultimate, divine communication we are promised.  Perhaps that’s a key way to make the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.  What do you think?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Here's what they said about Easter.  What do you say?

“...if (Jesus) really was both God and human, then when Jesus died, God died too, and when the God Jesus rose humans rose too, because they were one and the same person…”-Dorothy L. Sayers

“The answer of Easter has become possible precisely because the Christ has been
buried. The new life would not really be a new life if it did not come from the end of the old life.”-Paul Tillich

“The resurrection claim should mean to us that Jesus’ victory over death ushered in a new age, an age in which the almighty power of God is already fulfilled but not yet consummated, and age in which death is conquered but not yet abolished. The new age is an interim period in which this divine power in the form of the Holy Spirit is at work among us. The significance of the resurrection claim is that, despite how tragic and hopeless present situations appear to be, there is a God who sits high and looks low, a God who came into this filthy, fallen world in the form of a common peasant in  order to commence a new epoch. Easter focuses our attention on the decisive victory of Jesus Christ and hence the possibility of our victory over our creaturehood, the old creation and this old world, with its history of oppression and exploitation.” –Cornel West

“The decision for or against Easter faith is not taken on the grounds of some miraculous event or other, but on whether one is ready to see reality from God’s viewpoint and to rely totally upon God in living and in dying.”-Walter Kasper

“Faith in the resurrection must come from real glimpses of our ability to make whole our suffering world. For the work of Christian grace and love is now, and not just later.”-Rita Nakashima Brock

“If the last words of Jesus in Matthew are that he will be with us to the end of time, the last words of Jesus in John may be affirming the final fruit of the resurrection: a believing community of Christians will remain until Jesus returns.”-Raymond E. Brown

“The Easter story, rightly understood, enables us to engage evil and suffering,
transmute it for constructive ends, and move forward in hope to God’s future and our own.”-J. Deotis Roberts

“Easter is God’s “class action suit against sin and death.” -James A. Forbes

“The resurrection has its analogues in the human experiences of forgiveness, the
renewal of love, and the rebirth of hope. It means release from fear for the self, and its entrustment to God in life and in death.”-Daniel Day Williams

“If we die in the Lord, we shall live in the Lord.” -Romans 14:8