Monday, October 25, 2010

Science, Faith, Morality, and Compassion

I know many of us grew up in a society that assumed homosexuality was a choice. I know this is a hard thing to understand, but science, medicine and psychiatry have come to a new understanding of this issue, that started in the late 1800s with research done on sexual orientation. This work has expanded to include the complex question of gender identification. Do some reading. It’s that important.

Sometimes you have to choose: self-righteous moralism or compassion and justice? Reading Jesus in the gospels, the answer seems clear to me.

These two statements appeared in a blog by my bishop.  You can find them in context here:

I am not trying to take them out of context, and I hope that you will see this.  However, I am going to offer my response to these quotes because I think they lead to a very unfortunate place, and then I will try to deal with them in a responsible manner as I try to talk about the relationship of science and faith and then morality and compassion.

First, science and faith.  In his post, the bishop seems to lead one to think because science, medicine, and psychology have come to a different understanding of homosexuality, it should radically alter how Christianity has addressed the issue.  Because science, medicine, and psychology has come to see homosexuality as something "born" into individuals, the church should stop thinking of homosexuality as sinful and begin thinking of it as God given.

The problem with such a stance is the authority given to science.

Now, don't misunderstand me.  I know very well the importance of science.  Without those who have rigorously studied the natural world, how it works, and how to use what is in it, we as humans would be in a sorry state.  We have harnessed the power of fire, iron, steel, wind, water, the sun, the atom, and countless other things to alter our environment to provide us with safety and security.  Without science, we would still be living in caves, seeking out our meals, struggling to grow crops, and struggling to survive.  Science has enabled us to thrive as a species and provide food for 7 billion people.  Quite an amazing accomplishment!

But science is descriptive.  It cannot deal with the morality of people.  Therein lies the problem of my bishop's quote.  Science has also brought us evolutionary theory.  (Please note I am using evolution here with a little "e" and not a capital "E".  I am addressing the widely understood theory that species adapt to the environment and survive by such adaptation.  I am not dealing with the theory humans evolved from lower life forms.)  This theory is almost universally accepted to describe how species within nature interact.

Anyone who has spent generous amounts of time within nature knows: it ain't pretty.  Sure, we have glorious mountains and majestic trees.  They are pictures of beauty.  But within those landscapes, plants and animals are in a continuous battle to survive.  For the most part, it is eat or be eaten.  Only the strong survive.  The weakest within the species are killed off by predators or left to die.  Those who are different (for instance a white wolf) are attacked more often and must become stronger than the rest just to survive.  In nature, it is survival of the fittest.  Almost without question.  This is what science teaches us.

And I ask: where does survival of the fittest fit within the Christian faith? 

Take a moment to hear Jesus' words in the Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Does any of this teaching gel with evolutionary theory?  Does care and concern for the widows and orphans appear in nature?  Not a chance.  Only within the human species do we have such care and compassion, and it doesn't come from evolution.  It comes from our standards of morality.  And where do those come from?  Faith.  Plain and simple.

If Christians wish to appeal to the authority of science, they do so with risk.  Let us take the example my bishop uses with homosexuality.  According to evolutionary theory: homosexuals have been removed from the gene pool.  They will not contribute to the further survival of the species.  Therefore, they are using resources the rest of the procreating population could use.  Furthermore, since they compose a minority position in the species and are different, they should get used to bullying--for such things happen in nature all the time.  They must learn and become stronger if they are to survive.  They must learn to strive and compete for resources that should be used to help our species become stronger to survive.

Do you really want to go down this path?

I don't.

The Christian faith, at it's core, centers on a man who taught compassion and justice.  He leveled the playing field when it came to sin and taking responsibility for one's actions.  I believe Jesus would be appalled at those who would carry signs that say, "God Hates Fags."  I think Jesus would be appalled at anyone who would bully, not only homosexuals, but anyone who was smaller or weaker than another.  I believe Jesus would stand against those who would claim we should be more "scientific" in our treatment of each other and allow the "Law of the Jungle" to dictate how we treat one another.  I believe He would say, "It shall not be so with you."

Biblical, scriptural authority trumps such scientific authority every time.

Yet, at this point, we must deal with the other comment made by the bishop:

Sometimes you have to choose: self-righteous moralism or compassion and justice? Reading Jesus in the gospels, the answer seems clear to me.

Really?  I must ask.  Do you really mean that?  My Sunday School class and I had a real problem with this statement.  Every single one of us gathered at that table believed in some sort of moral standard.  We believed there was such a thing as right and wrong.  Yet, we also believed in compassion and justice.  It seemed that the bishop was leaving us out of the discussion.

Let me explain it in this fashion.  Jesus taught compassion, yet He also taught morality.  Here's a perfect example:

A little later on in Matthew, Chapter 5, Jesus says, 27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

Now, I am a man.  A heterosexual man.  God has hard wired me to be attracted to women.  I can't help that fact.  And there are women who are head turners.  I don't care how hard I might try, but when I see a woman who is curvy and vivacious, my brain starts going to places it shouldn't necessarily go.  I firmly believe the only guys this doesn't happen to are either gay or not breathing.  Therefore, I have committed adultery more times than I care to admit.  I have sinned and continue to sin.  I'm wired that way.

Yet, I have never run across any biblical scholar who argues:

Men are visual.
Men look at women.
Testosterone causes them to think about women sexually.
God created them that way.
Jesus is wrong.  It is not adultery.

It's a morality thing.  Jesus doesn't let me or anyone get away with it.  And if I think I'm better than someone else because they have physically acted on their lust and I have not; well, Jesus has news for me.  As humbling and as troublesome as that might be.

I think the tie in to homosexuality is clear at this point. 

Yet, it must be rammed home very strongly at this point, even though I don't measure up, Christ has compassion upon me--just as He has compassion on those who are homosexual.  Christ extends his love to me--just as He extends it to homosexuals. 

There is nothing wrong with the argument that God loves the sinner and hates the sin because that is true of each and every person--even down to a person's core identity be it sexual or otherwise.

And as such, as Christians, realizing that God has this stance toward everyone, and I mean everyone, it compels a Christian to act with compassion and justice toward those in need, those who are bullied, those who feel unloved, etc., etc., etc. 

Indeed, a Christian is called to strive to be moral as well as compassionate.  It's a both/and not an either/or.  And that morality should never, ever lead to self-righteousness.  No one is any better morally than another.  That's a lesson we get from Jesus time and again.

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