Is there tension in your faith? Do you struggle with blind acceptance of what can be seen versus what cannot be seen? How much are you willing to let science answer matters of faith? How often do you let matters of faith attempt to refute scientific fact? Is your faith a pendulum swinging between reason and belief? A lot of questions to ask on a Thursday afternoon, but here are a few thoughts on the necessary tension between faith and fact.
Defining the Tension: Political Affiliations
In “The Call” by Os Guinness, the concept of tension is presented in a context of the “politicization” of religion. Guinness writes:
“…the problem of politicization is the lack of ‘tension.’ Called to be ‘in’ the world but ‘not of it,’ Christian engagement in politics should always be marked by tension between allegiance to Christ and identification with any party, movement, platform, or agenda. If that tension is ever lacking, if Christian identification with a political movement is so close that there is not any clear remainder, then the church has fallen for a particularly deadly captivity.”
There is a clear necessity for tension in our spiritual life. Are we allowing our political affiliations to draw us away from the very nature and spirit of Christ or do we weigh each and every decision with thought and prayer, not rushing to rash and “easy” answers?
If you are completely honest with yourself, there are certain lifestyle and political issues that make the tension often unbearable: Gay marriage, pro-life versus pro-choice, whether Democrats are more evil than Republicans (and vice versa depending upon who you ask), evolution. These issues have literally split churches in half over the years because of the answers that people stand upon.
But what about the “smaller” issues that are many times overlooked because they are perhaps less modern and not in vogue? Are they creating tension in your life? Are you a workaholic or a couch potato (sloth)? Are you jealous of what others do or have (envy)? Do you want more and more money, wealth and objects of desire (greed)? What about pride, gluttony, the rest of the seven deadly sins and the Ten Commandments?
Tension exists whether we choose to accept it or not and as you and I weigh each question, what happens to the level of tension between what we believe and what “reality” is perceived to be?
Is There Room In Religion For The Reality of Science Fiction?
In a fabulous TED talk from TED 2009 called Juan Enriquez Shares Mindboggling Science, Enriquez begins his talk with an analysis of our economy and finishes with three examples of how as a society we can turn the economy around in the future:
- The ability to engineer cells.
- The ability to engineer tissues.
These three topics are exciting, yet terrifying at the same time, because they are the science fiction of my youth becoming a reality. The ability to engineer cells and tissues will help the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, body parts and organs grown and replaced without needing to rely on a donor match, antibiotics and drugs that are “programmed” to eliminate disease, the sky truly is the limit. The sky becomes that much closer as you look at the development of robotic skeletal structures that are intelligent (watch the TED talk above for some amazing video of a self-correcting walking robot).
All of this excitement and possibility begs the questions, how much tension are you feeling when you really think about the impact that these technologies could have on the human race? Are you feeling the tension between the miraculous nature of supernatural healing and the ability to be a modern-day deity that can cure us of our humanity? How about the tension between creation and evolution?
To further the tension, Enriquez believes that human beings will eventually evolve from Homo sapiens to a new species, Homo Evolutis, “Hominids that take direct and deliberate control over the evolution of their species…and others.” A very interesting view that in a lot of ways makes sense and yet fills me with a sense of caution: “Am I putting my faith in man or God?”
Caution and consideration for the ramifications of progress can be best viewed in a handful of science fiction films that tell strong stories about the morality and ethics of scientific and technological progress in the future:
- Gattaca – Genetic engineering the perfect human species leads to a new way of discrimination based on an individual’s DNA.
- Terminator – Machines become self-aware and war against humanity.
- Matrix – Humans live in a virtually, fabricated world of the mind while their bodies generate electricity so that machines can be powered.
- I, Robot – Robots are developed and governed according to the Three Laws of Robotics until an evil corporation develops an off-switch in the next-generation of robots in order to maintain control of the human population.
Science fiction is fast becoming a reality, but it does not replace religion by any means. It does, however, generate a tremendous amount of tension in regards to where we continue to place our faith: In the abilities of man or in the power of God?
One Final Question of Tension: Tectonic Forces or Erosion?
The Siq, as seen in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, is a 1km-long (0.62 miles) fissure that leads to the ancient city of Petra, Jordan. It ranges in height from 300 to 600 feet, roughly as tall as a 50-story skyscraper. It was created by tectonic forces, defined as “forces that are generated from within the earth that result in uplift, movement, or deformation of part of the earth’s crust,” and smoothed over time by water erosion.
In 2000, I was privileged to travel to Israel and Jordan for two weeks and witness first-hand the awe-inspiring enormity of the Siq. On the tour, it was told to us by our tour guide that since the earth is only 6,000 years old, it took a couple thousand years for the Siq to form. Enter tension: Is the earth 6,000 years old or millions of years old?
Theoretically the fissure could have been created instantaneously by shifting tectonic plates and the smoothing could have occurred over thousands of year. It could have taken thousands of years, even millions of years, but ultimately it comes down to accepting that there is going to be tension between believing what is written in The Bible and what is written in the scientific journals of the modern age.
Which leads me to ask the real question of this post:
What Do You Do With The Tension?
Do you use the tension to tear down the viewpoints of others?
Do you allow the tension to destroy your faith?
Does your faith lose power and meaning because of scientific advancements or the hypocrisy of political agendas?
Or does the tension simply lead you to a place of humility, acknowledging that the answer eludes even the smartest man or woman?