With between 30-50% of Christians (millions of people) believing in a literal interpretation of the Bible, it is important to consider the scope of that thinking in a rational context. Here in an excerpt from my book “The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age,” is a look at apocalyptic thinking in a rational context.
These considerations are really crucial in a media environment where radio and TV talkers make veiled but threatening comments about the nature of our existence and the future of the world.
Apocalyptic thinking in a rational context
For a rational perspective on the reality of our existence, we turn to scientific educators such as Ann Druyan, widow of the late Carl Sagan and head of Cosmos Studios, a science-based entertainment company. Druyan is quoted on the Cosmos website (www.carlsagan.com) where she puts our material position in perspective: “The violent and brutal struggle to dominate this planet is a function of our inability to come to grips with our true circumstances, the reality of the pale blue dot that Carl (Sagan) was trying to convey. Once you grasp that all life is related here and that this is our heaven, you have a completely different attitude, you become less greedy and less shortsighted. The notion of stealing the oil from that country, or of dominating one little corner of this little dot, becomes pathetic.
Druyan expresses faint hope that this rational take on reality can be allowed to inform culture as to the right decisions on stewardship of the earth. “The Western religious tradition is based on a fear of knowledge. It goes right back to the Garden of Eden, to God’s threat that if we partake of the tree of knowledge, we will know only misery and death. So we keep one thing in our heads that says, yes, our cell phones work, our TVs work because of science, but we keep an infantile, geocentric view of the universe locked within our hearts. If only an elite minority understands science and technology,” Druyan warns, “there is no hope of democracy, because then we, the people, cannot make informed decisions. We will always be manipulated.”
A few religious believers who are also scientists have chosen to take an active role in trying to unite the tangible truths of nature with faith. The Rev. Canon Arthur Peacocke is a British physical biochemist and Anglican priest whose pioneering research into DNA and other scientific issues have led him to call for a new theology for a technological age. In a Chicago Tribune article dated March 9, 2001, Rev. Peacocke was quoted: “The search for intelligibility that characterizes science and the search for meaning that characterizes religion are two necessary intertwined strands of the human enterprise and are not opposed. They are essential to each other, complementary yet distinct and strongly interacting, indeed just like the two helical strands of DNA itself.” As Reverend Peacocke points out, Genesis and genetics may not be so far apart.
The Rev. Peacocke is unafraid to ask the big questions: “Why is there anything at all? And why does it develop this extraordinary form? If you put all considerations together, the best explanation for the existence of some kind of world we have is some other being that has characteristics that we normally in English call God. Scientific discoveries in astronomy and molecular biology during the past 50 years have for the first time opened to humans the extraordinary vistas of the whole sweep of cosmic development. We need a theology that will give meaning and significance to those advances.”
Rev. Peacocke epitomizes a truly hungry soul, one who wants to know the answers that might lead one to God. The challenge is to overcome the clinging weight of anachronistic and dogmatic tradition. Rationalists such as Arthur Peacocke and Ann Druyan identify the importance of developing connections between religion and naturalism that can help us develop a comprehensive worldview informed by reason and affirmed by tradition. The Bible can play an important role in the future of the human race, but its influence may ultimately be limited if forced to play the role of a tyrant determined make the world play by its own, literal rules. Literalism is a sanguinary approach to faith and life. But in this regard it is seldom alone. There are many kinds of tyrants in the world. We can learn much from those who show the courage to resist them.