Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Matter of Faith, Part 1

    I imagine the scene: All I have to do is sign on the line and pay my $100 co-pay and they will drug me, deliberately give me hypothermia, crack open my skull, stop my heart, drain a bunch of blood from my body and stick a knife in my brain. I’d have to be crazy to decide to have that done to me right? But I can see making that decision under certain circumstances. I can see making it on behalf of a loved one or a child. Because, I just have that much faith in science.  

In case you didn’t catch the word ‘co-pay’ this describes a medical procedure. For certain rare cerebral aneurysms doctors know that letting them go untreated they will kill the person who has it sooner or later. But if doctors try to operate on it with the heart pulsing blood through the area it will kill immediately. So to operate they have to stop the blood flow, and they have found that hypothermia will allow someone to survive a short period of having their blood flow stopped. It’s been demonstrated that patients can live through this type of operation.
Really, though, I don’t trust science all that much. I know that science has come to a lot of faulty conclusions that it has had to revise over the years. A when you are talking about dealing with situations where there are uncontrollable variables, like medicine is, science can’t confidently predict the outcome of a specific case. In fact before I consented to the above surgery I would probably have to sign a paper saying I understood there was some risk of death from that surgery.

photo by Sibeaster, via Wikimedia Commons

I have much greater faith in God than in science. But in the post I would fail Abraham's test Rachel Held Evans scolds me for being ready to put as much faith in God as I would put in science. When Abraham heard heaven in Genesis 22, it didn’t just "sound like" God’s voice. Abraham had heard God before and knew from experience this was His voice. God had proven Himself faithful over the years. And in particular, God had worked miracles before in protection of the promise of His blessing to the bloodline of Abraham and Sarah. When God says “Take now your son, your only son,” I don’t think He is forgetting Ismael, I think He is alluding to the fact that Isaac is the only son of promise, the promise that God has proven Himself faithful to.
I don’t think Abraham was being any more immoral in trusting that God had a plan to preserve the promise of Isaac and make things right than we are if we trust our children's lives to a medical doctor, or an airplane pilot. Our minds have to stretch further to trust that which is beyond human comprehension, and our hearts much expand to encompass that fullness, and yet will still overflow, but there is no moral difference. I believe and hope that I would pass Abraham’s test.

Evans’ larger point concerns what to do when our instinctive moral sense of what is right and wrong revolts at an action God seems to take or endorse in the Bible. She rejects the notion that we can unquestioningly accept what seems to come from God. But then she seems to default to accepting unquestioningly what comes from her own conscience. Our conscience were created in the beginning by God. But they can be broken, imperfect and warped as all things of fallen humanity can be. When there is a conflict we do need to question what seems to be from God: Is this really God that is being heard from when someone claims a new revelation? Is the implication being drawn from the Bible really the implication intended in the text? How does this action fit in with the overall moral framework being presented?
But we also need to question our own instincts. You need to tease out what is a universal from what is particular to your own situation that you may be projecting onto a foreign situation. Are your instincts coming from a consistent moral framework or a habituated preference. And if your moral framework turns out to be inconsistent with that of the Bible or of Christianity, you need to think about whether you need to choose between them.
I agree with Evans that questioning is better than disengagement, but one need to question his or her own ideas as well and come to understand their roots as try to understand where scripture and religion are really coming from.

Here I want to digress and follow a side issue that Evans brings up about SBC doctrine. (My church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
First I need to clarify that “age of accountability” is not an official doctrine of the SBC. The Baptist Faith and Message is a document that defines what core doctrines we think are so important and defining for us we think we should agree on these key points. It is written with the understanding that there many significant doctrinal points where there can be and is honest disagreement between us. It deliberately leaves open those matters, taking care to speak only to those matters considered crucial. The point of the phraseology in “Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.” is that the document is only speaking to human condition after someone achieves capacity for moral action, deliberately leaving open the question of when that point is and what the situation before it is. The Bible doesn’t speak clearly on this so that there is room for debate and differing opinions, and my experience is that there are a diversity of views on this within the convention.
However there are some who endorse an “age of accountability” doctrine. And I think Evans is wrong in the way she thinks this doctrine is in conflict with the notion that we need to respect God’s notions of righteousness even when it is in conflict with our moral instincts.
Now those who argue for an “age of accountability” position usually don’t included toddlers as being at that age yet. But toddlers do have moral instincts. Does anyone think that toddlers can’t be capable of an instinct for kindness? or a sense of something being unfair?
But because their moral reasoning is still undeveloped they may need outside help, like support from their parents to project from the sense of wrongness they feel when someone takes a toy from them to the situation where someone else has a toy they desire. So the argument of an “age of accountability” doctrine is not whether a moral instinct is present but whether there is the capacity to sort out moral instincts from other instinctive desires and to use outside sources to come to an understanding of absolute right and wrong.  

And since this is already pretty long I’ll continue with looking how we can reason about God’s righteousness without judging him in another post ….

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