This post is the fifth in a series which explores how to integrate spirituality and science.
The series began by exploring the Wesleyan quadrilateral of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. You can find those posts here:
Why The Bible Is Not A Magic Book.
Why Ancient Traditions Are Right Up To Date
Why Reason Is An Important Source Of Truth
Why We Need Experience To Teach Us
The series now shifts to explore how integrating science with our spirituality affects how we understand and experience different facets of our faith.
Human beings are incurably religious. Faith shapes everything from what we eat, and with whom we are friends, to the foreign policies of global powers. But it seems that few people actually spend much time thinking about why we need religion—if, indeed, we need it at all.
We tend to be very good at what we should believe—to such an extent that wars are fought over tiny elements of doctrine. But we don’t really seem to know why. Many religious people are happy to accept that we worship, believe, and belong to religious communities because God has told us we must. But, perhaps the most common reason given for why we need religion is that we cannot enter a blissful afterlife without it.We tend to be very good at what we should believe—to such an extent that wars are fought over tiny elements of doctrine. But we don’t really seem to know why. Click To Tweet
In his excellent book, Everything Must Change (affiliate link),Brian D. McLaren argues that the systems of our world are all controlled by a ‘framing story’. As McLaren explains:
If our framing story is wise, strong, realistic, and constructive, it can send us on a hopeful trajectory. But if our framing story is dysfunctional, weak, false, unrealistic, or destructive, it can send us on a downward arc, a dangerous high-speed joyride toward un-peace, un-health, un-prosperity, and even un-life.
McLaren’s idea of framing stories can also be applied to religion. Many spiritual traditions focus on personal salvation and the afterlife. There is often little or no connection with the earth, little concern for social justice, and little interest in what we learn from good science.
GOOD FRUIT AND BAD
Jesus taught that we can know whether something is good or bad by its fruit (Luke 6:43-45). In the light of this we do well to ask what fruit comes from the primary religious framing stories in our world. The focus on personal salvation does nothing to make us more concerned for other human beings. The focus on the afterlife does little to help us value our life before death. And the focus on an otherworldly bliss, combined with a belief in a final destruction of this earth, gives little reason to be concerned about climate change, environmental destruction, or the extinction of endangered animal species.Jesus taught that we can know whether something is good or bad by its fruit (Luke 6:43-45). In the light of this we do well to ask what fruit comes from the primary religious framing stories in our world. Click To Tweet
We have the world we have because we believe what we believe and have been shaped by the stories we tell. Our current framing stories have created massive gaps between rich and poor, global poverty, Third World debt, corruption, violence, racism, sexism, homophobia, and destruction of the natural world. I cannot see how we could possibly call any of this fruit good.
THE ALTERNATIVE STORY
But in all religions there is an alternative framing story that connects us with each other, prioritises compassion over self-interest, and leads us to contribute to the common good. This story is often associated with overthrowing corrupt and unjust systems, care of the poor and marginalised, stewardship of the earth, progress in medicine, healthcare, and education, and upholding the dignity of all creatures and people. This is all very good fruit. In the Christian tradition this framing story is usually called the Reign of God, but other traditions have their own versions.
The key difference between the good and bad framing stories is in their approach to science. The story that produces bad fruit tends to reject science, and cares very little for its insights. The story that produces good fruit embraces science as a partner and maintains a conversation between scientific knowledge and spiritual wisdom.The key difference between the good and bad framing stories is in their approach to science. Click To Tweet
When we choose to live from the dialogue between science and faith, we cannot help but reject a framing story of personal salvation in heavenly bliss. And we cannot help but find ourselves becoming increasingly immersed in the story of bringing justice, peace, and love into this world for all people. But in the end, this is a choice every one must make. Which one will you choose?When we choose to live from the dialogue between science and faith, we cannot help but reject a framing story of personal salvation in heavenly bliss. Click To Tweet
Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments. I’d love to hear your responses to this post. Over to you!
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A good post, John. Maclaren is correct in that all societies are framed by some kind of “origin” story. This is what is called “myth”. (This is the technical use of the word, rather than the popular sense of “fable”.) The precise details of the myth are not very important. All cultures have such a framing myth because it provides an orientation and an outlook and even a rationále for life. Thus, every culture has a creation myth. Every culture also has a “remnant” myth – whether it be indigenous north and south Americans, Chinese, Oceania, African, Middle Eastern and European, remnant myths abound.
However, one of the problems with our narrative approach is that for some, the world as it is is good. Or if not good, better than the alternative. If one is a wealthy, white, hetero, Protestant, patriarchal, CEO of a corporation, the world is probably good – from their perspective. I mean, who wants to give up all of that power and privilege? Giving it all up would be Socialism, right?
So the missing ingredient is compassion. This is what Jesus most shows us about God. Compassion is an identification with the suffering of another. Compassion is the difference between vaccination research and eugenics. So even science requires compassion, just as religion does. The worst of science and the worst of religion are both seen in the absence of the value of compassion.
Thank you, Craig.
I agree one hundred percent. Compassion is the essential missing ingredient. From my perspective that’s what keeps bringing me back to Jesus’ idea of the Reign of God. For me, the reign of God is rooted in compassion (or love, of which compassion is one expression).
I like your final statement – it is so true: “The worst of science and the worst of religion are both seen in the absence of the value of love.” Amen!!