Category Archives: rants

a better ethos

I grew up in a house where respect for science was common currency, not unlike many houses in the United States. My mother, before marrying my father, was a research chemist. Both my parents took it as gospel that science and reason give us useful access to the world and its wonders. I grew up believing the earth was ancient and the universe even older. As readers of National Geographic, we all followed the exploits of the Leakey family as they fleshed out a plausible narrative of ancient paleontology. Louis Leakey was both a follower of Darwin and a devout Christian, not an unusual combination in the circles my parents traveled in.

When I became a believer in the early 1970s I began a long and sometimes tortuous relationship with the evangelical church. I had no problem with Jesus, but some of his followers weren’t so happy with me. God, however, saved me in many ways by the blood of Christ and fellowship of the saints. I needed the church and devoted my life to serving God.

My evangelical adoption came with many things as a package deal. Short hair (no big deal, I was in the Air Force anyway,) a literal interpretation of the Bible, and a deep devotion to God. I’m sure you can guess where we are going with this. I adopted with my new family a literal interpretation of the Bible, itself a very modern method, and struggled to reinterpret the world in those terms. I have to say that in my euphoria of early salvation, I glossed over the troubling consequences of literal interpretation and because of my grateful reaction to God I rebuilt my world with a young earth view.

None of my education at Valley Forge Christian College prepared me to face the consequences of such a naïve view of the scripture, though I was learning that not all scripture could be read literally. I did adopt an old earth view during that time, seeing that it was one reasonably supported view in Christianity. The curious thing was that I defended it with a strange logic of scripture. God perceived that a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. So, if time was relative to God, then I also would count the six days of creation to be relative. This realization did nothing to dissuade me from literalism, if I could import a reasonable argument to defend what, on the surface, appeared to be true, that the earth looked like it was very old.

I discovered later that the young earth creationists, many of them my brothers and sisters in Christ, also believed that the earth appeared to be very old. What seemed strange to me was that they spent most of their time proposing arguments more gimmicky than mine to prove that the earth was actually very young. I rebuffed their nuances when I realized that they were not as interested in doing science as they were in discrediting it. I started to see those people as one would see a dull witted uncle who still argues that the New Deal of Roosevelt’s era was a bad idea. You still invite him to Thanksgiving dinner but hope nobody brings up politics. My problem is that I like to get him going and ride the excitement, even though sometimes it turns sour. I don’t think he gets it.

When I was doing my doctoral studies at Temple University, I became interested in the history, philosophy, and sociology of science. I discovered that within these disciplines, a critique of science was emerging that at once acknowledged the middle state of our knowledge and the embeddedness of the scientific enterprise within human limitations. Science, on this view, could not declare its findings with certainty, even though it had mastered technologies of many kinds. I found comfort in the realization that unlike the young earth creationists, the scientists, with many exceptions, were able to critique their own work. That seemed to be a much more honest way of engaging the world, and I adopted that ethos wholeheartedly. I hadn’t abandoned Christ, but believed that he would prefer this sort of humility against the principled dishonesty of the young earth creationists. I call it principled, because it resides within a tradition of biblical interpretation that had for a large part been a profitable means of exploring scriptural truth. I call it dishonest because its participants were not interested in the truth of the world any longer, but building a rational citadel against infidels. Their method had become naïve propositional logic and not faith in God.

In order to enter the kingdom of God one must become like a little child. Between the scientists and the young earth creationists, the scientists were more like little children being guided by wonder, beauty, and curiosity. I am not suggesting that scientists are blameless and more holy than the young earth creationists, but rather that they model an ethos that leads to the kingdom of God. They are also continuing to obey the command of God to subdue the earth.

an old rant

You may or may not be surprised to know that the insular character of modern conservative church life is one of the chief reasons people reject the gospel. If you are really interested in helping people find Christ you will expand your borders beyond the default comfort zone. As Isaiah said, “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion.” People need saving, and closing ourselves off from them and their ideas is a sure way to get them to ignore us.

We permit football (the modern equivalent of bloody gladiator sports) into our Christian homes, not only because it will get people saved if they realize some of the players are Christians, but because we like it. To shut off science because it somehow sullies our Christian thinking is a bit hypocritical. Some of you may also shun the sports arena. That’s fine. I admire your purity. But Jesus went where the people went. He didn’t sit in the Temple and wait for people to come to him.

things that irritate me

I am sorry for the negative note, but there are things that irritate me. Do you know that there are conventions in place for driving that tell us before we ever come to a stop sign or stop light what to do? Well there are, If there is a four way stop, and you come to a stop before anyone else, you can go first. If you and somebody to your left arrive at the same time, you can go first. If you and somebody else to your right arrive at the same time, you must wait till they go before you do. Here is the thing that irritates me. People who, thinking they are being polite, or giving you something, or according you privilege of some sort, and wave me on irritate me. They think for some reason that you need to be allowed to do what you are, by convention told to do anyway. Or breaching convention they wish to allow you to go first when you arrive at the same time or later from the left. I try to ignore these people, but when it is really my right to go first, by convention, I feel angered because it looks like them waving me on is something I am obeying. I feel like stopping in the middle of the road to prevent them from going. I feel like getting out of the car and asking them if it is OK to go now. I feel like getting pissed off. I realize that there are so many people doing this completely idiotic thing, that I would spend my day being angered by them and reacting to them. I feel like giving them the finger. I am far too polite and respectful, however, to do any of these anger-induced things.

I thought I got over road rage in Birmingham AL. But this is a new thing. I haven’t found the zen of traffic at stop signs, yet. I will. There is no fruit in revenge, or violence, or trying to shame them into doing what comes automatically for a socially conscious driver. They are just humans, and they may really be trying to be courteous. Who am I to stop people from being courteous in such a rude world? Well, it certainly would be counterproductive to be violent when much of what my life is concerned with is peace.

To the idiot drivers who never went through driver’s ed, I am sorry for my anger, sorry for my anxiety. But I will continue to ignore you even as you continue to ignore common sense. I will not try to tell you that green means stop and red means go. You would not believe me. That is too obvious. The more subtle things like traffic conventions are beyond your ability, even as being kind towards idiots is beyond mine.

How about people driving with cell phones attached to their psyche? It is illegal in some states for good reason. How about tailgaters? How about drivers who pay more attention to their passengers than to the road, or traffic? How about people who take half a mile to accelerate to 35 miles an hour? The list is not endless, but long enough for me to desire even more horsepower to get around you, and away from you.