A Millennial Faith
by Rick Segreda
Pope John Paul II's recent encyclical called for the reconciliation between "faith and reason," which includes faith and science. This is the Pope, after all, that formally pardoned Galileo and said that the theory of evolution and Catholic did not cancel each other out. Yet as Stephen Hawkings wrote about in a meeting with the Holy See, the latter was not ready to accept the Big Bang theory. Certainly the Catholic Church is certainly more enlightened on the issue of science and religion than fundamentalist denominations, but on the evidence presented by Hawkings and others, the "reconciliation" called for by the Pope is still an elusive ideal. In this context, I would like to offer some modest suggestions to further this reconciliation along for those who appreciate the value of religion, mythology and metaphysical faith, yet struggle to reconcile this with new realities.
Joseph Campbell's book, Myths to Live By, was written shortly after the Apollo moonwalks. Here the world's greatest (along with Mircea Eliade) scholar of religion and mythology, who greatly appreciates the value of both, states outright that our ancient mythologies, especially the Bible, are not adequate for dealing the world as we know it. Especially through science and reason in this day and age. This didn't imply a lack of faith in the value of religion or mythology for Campbell. He simply argued that to demand that the faithful adhere to the letter and not the spirit of myths was becoming more a hindrance than a help to the progressive intentions of these very religions. He thus calls for a "new mythology," and concludes with the following:
"[On] this spaceship Earth there is no 'elsewhere' anymore. And no mythology that continues to speak or to teach of 'elsewheres' and 'outsiders' meets the requirement of this hour...addressed, that is to say, not to the flattery of 'peoples,' but to the waking of individuals in the knowledge of themselves, not simply as egos fighting for place on the surface of this beautiful planet, but equally as centers of the Mind at Large-each in his own way at one with all, and with no horizons."
Still, when liberal theologians fall all over themselves trying to rationalize what the Bible really means, while I support their ends, their means are problematic. For example, a common gay Christian argument for how one can be both Christian and gay is that Jesus said only to love, not to judge, and He never said anything about homosexuality. That is all true, but this argument is still blatantly tendentious. Jesus explicitly recognizes Scripture in both the Old and New Testament as having Divine authority, and in the books outside the four gospels there is much that is explicitly homophobic. In both, the God of Justice is given equal time with the God of Mercy. The Bible is also sexist and sanctions slavery. The New Testament is clearly hostile to Judaism, as is the Bible as a whole is to all other religions. True, the Bible really does have a lot to say about turning the other cheek and forgiveness and acceptance and unconditional love (the New Testament God of Mercy), but it also has a lot to say about the wailing and gnashing of teeth (the Old Testament God of Justice).
Between unexamined faith and a complete repudiation of religion, there is, as Campbell suggests, a third option: a new religion that based on equal parts faith and reason. I would like to expand on that. Rather than trying to shoehorn an old scripture, like the Bible, into new millennial social realities, we simply use our God-given reasoning skills to acknowledge but discount what is outdated (relevant, for example, only to a first century social and political context). Yet we could still keep what is of value to our universe and the people who inhabit it. This is not a call for an amoral religion, but rather a religion bases its morality on truth attained through reason as much as faith. Or in a sense, attribute a sacred value to reason. The truths inherent in religion could survive this, since neither reason nor logic has yet to fully answer questions regarding the mysteries of our lives when confronted with death.
Thus those of us who live who have recognize both the symbolic and literal value of a scripture such as the Bible can be free to further serve the ultimate ends of its words in creating a just and compassionate world. Non-believers will argue, as always, that the faithful are wasting our time being religious in the first place. But such a religion, incorporating logic, science, and reason, would do less to alienate those who live by a secular philosophy and open the way for their own spiritual growth.