Recently it seems as though I have come across articles talking about the demised of, either, Christianity or the Church in America. One famous astrophysicist said, something to the affect, “I don’t believe in miracles, I believe in science.” I believe in both.
In a sense, Christianity has been, “demising”, since the death of Jesus. The Christianity of Jesus is different than the Christianity of Paul, and both are different than the Christianity of the early church then, ultimately, various Christian denominations. And Christianity will look different on the coming generations. More accurately, the “demise” of Christianity would be the, re-defining, or better yet, a new exploration of Christianity.
So what does it mean to be a Christian? Christianity is a lens to understand and interpret life. I think part of being human is to seek meaning; meaning to life and suffering, to explore the complexities and intricacies of life and the human condition- on this planet and beyond. In seeking meaning, we look at life through a prism- a set of assumptions.
One of my assumptions is that there is a God, and how God is interpreted is open for discussion. In a sense, “God” is my, Higgs-Boson. Higgs-Boson is a particle that scientists theorize exist, but they can’t quite get their hands on it, they’re not sure what purpose it may serve, but they “know” it exists. I believe there is a God and the best I can describe my understanding of God is to borrow the language of astrophysics- God is the, “theory of everything”; and I realize some do not find this description helpful.
The criticisms of, “God” is that God is somewhat, capricious; the innocent die young while the scoundrel lives a lifetime in luxury or- “Why do some get stricken with an illness or horrible disease?” There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to God. To the specifics of any given example, I don’t have a good answer. I do know that our understanding of the complexity of human existence is in its infancy. We learn what we can and we pass our learnings to a new generation who grapples with things. What I do think is, 1) God reveals God’s self only to the extent that humans can understand and 2) humans only understand what they are emotionally able to understand.
1) Imagine sitting with the great minds of 2000 years ago, You’re sitting around the campfire talking about the stars and the heavens, creation and the purpose of existence and you say, “The beauty of quantum physics is that is gives us an understanding universe and how it is really the product of quarks and leptons. The real challenge facing us is a unifying theory.” First, those around the campfire would have no clue what you’re talking about because that’s not their lens through which they understand life and, those words and concepts were not in their vocabulary. The point of the analogy is, we can only understand what we’re able to understand, what we have the vocabulary for. The human understanding of God has evolved over the span of human existence, and will continue to evolve.
2) We can only understand those things that we can emotionally accept. It could be that God is fully revealing God’s self everyday but emotionally we can only accept so much. For example, evolution has a scientific rationale to it. But there are those who, for emotional reasons, cannot accept evolution. When evolution was first suggested, it was dismissed because it challenged the prevailing world view. Over time it became more accepted and as it was more accepted, the thought behind it was less challenging. But, still in some religious circles, evolution is emotionally unacceptable to the point that in the 21st century, some states won’t teach evolution a science.
Humans like, “order”. We need to know that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west; that winter follows fall- which follows summer. Order helps us to make sense out of life- so western religion has taught that God is a God of order. So, it’s not so much that homosexuality is morally wrong- homosexuality challenges the order of things. Boys and girls fall in love, get married and have babies. People who marry and have no intention of having children live outside the norm. Sex for the sake of sex? That’s sinful. More recently, couple living together challenged the order of things, and they are still “frowned” upon. Most recently, the acceptance of homosexuality has challenged the order of things. Two men holding hands challenges the, order of things. Currently, we are struggling with transgendered people, men who self-identify as women, etc. Regardless of what science and genetic testing might show, emotionally some can’t and might never accept it. But what if, “faithfulness”, defined God instead of order? Sometimes life isn’t orderly. As much as there is order in life, there is chaos. An aspect of order is control. Parents control children- and children rebel; the Church likes to control people, and people rebel. But what if, “control” isn’t a priority in the nature of God? What if, “freedom” is? How would that redefine life? What would it look like if we spent less time judging people for their gender identification or partner selection and encouraged them to explore what it means for them to be fully human? Do we have the courage to enter uncertainty? The words we chose to define God matters.
It’s not that religion is dying or that God is passé. It could be that the words once used have lost their significance and we’re looking for a vocabulary. As science continues to struggle and search with meaning and purpose, so I continue to search for a meaningful understanding of God.