I Don’t Dislike Religion
I don’t dislike religion. I believe some people need it and some don’t. I do have a problem when religious leaders mislead their congregations, in order to control them, or lie to them for political reason. Today I see pastors ignoring and denying science because they fear it will weaken their position of leadership. The fundamentalists and evangelicals have a right to be alarmed because science does indeed threaten their belief system. Moderate religious leaders also have a dilemma about where to draw the line on the acceptance of science, especially evolutionary science.
The Indianapolis Star posed a question to three Indianapolis pastors concerning their willingness to accept change or, encourage their congregations to withstand change. The pastors missed an opportunity to address this conflict between traditional superstition and changeable science.
Indianapolis Star “Faith Forum”, Sat. May 26.
“In Matters of Faith, change is not a black-and-white issue.”
The question proposed to three Indianapolis pastors by The Star was this: “Should religious leaders be willing to adapt their faith to keep step with church members, or should religious tenets be everlasting to withstand the forces of change.”
Three Indianapolis religious leaders responded to this issue with predictable results. They all claimed change is good as long as it does not conflict with established church wisdom. Nothing new here, no original thinking, no insight into long standing church problems, no controversy over the conflict between science and superstition, no admission of past church inflexibility, and no admission to sins of intolerance based upon ancient dogma. Had American Jewish, Muslim or Hindu leaders been asked for their opinion, the replies would have been similar.
Frank Mansell, a Presbyterian Pastor, wrote, “To always adapt to cultural shifts suggests little integrity to core beliefs and tradition. By cultural shifts does he include scientific progress? And, what’s wrong with adapting to scientific shifts? And then he expressed the balancing opinion; “To only subscribe to ancient tenants without considering modern approaches suggests recalcitrance and stubbornness.” By “modern Approaches”, does he include factual scientific approaches? The pastors were careful to avoid the underlying conflict between the changing world of science and Bronze Age religious dogma. As he well knows, religious beliefs are threatened by the public’s growing understanding of science, especially when it clearly contradicts church doctrine, such as evolution and creationism. Church doctrine traditionally has resisted science and only reluctantly allows changes. When it does not, it becomes out of step with science and the needs of humanity.
Ethan Maple, a United Methodist Pastor offered the second opinion. He wrote, “there are aspects of every faith that are shaped by culture and history”, but “ there are fundamental beliefs that should not bend to the demands of an ever shaping world.” What does he mean by an “ever-shaping world”? Does he mean the “ever-shaping world of science?” Without specifics, it is difficult to know what he really meant. He says he believes in a “never-changing God”, but does that still mean the never-changing God that commanded Christians and Jews to stone disobedient children, non-virgins, and those who labor on the Sabbath, as once was preached and believed. No? Has God changed his mind? Why have these practices been abandoned? Did the ancients misread the scriptures and God’s intent? Does the Reverend Maple read and interpret scriptures correctly when the ancients did not? The Reverend writes, he “does not like flip-flopping based upon the whims of the world” Again, does he mean whims of science world? Does new scientific knowledge, such as in evolution, mean he should now interpret the scriptures differently? Does new scientific knowledge mean the ancient church fathers mistook poetic metaphors for the word of God?
Callie Smith of the Christian Theological Center offered the third opinion. She writes “change has sometimes left us grieving and afraid.” She adds, “But change can come as a friend.” She believes religious leaders should be willing to adapt to change, but adds, religious leaders should help their followers to “withstand the forces of change.” She, like the other pastors, accepts change but resist it as well. They have missed the whole point of the Indianapolis Star’s question, which asked the three religious leaders if they should adapt their faith to keep step with church members. In other words, if their church members are prejudiced against new science, or minorities, or women, or other religions, would and should they go along with their congregation’s prejudices or speak out against them? Would and should they try to convince their congregations to abandon prejudicial views? Would and should they educate their followers to advances in natural and social science that contradict scriptures? The question, as asked by the Indianapolis Star, was not answered by the three pastors.
Granted, the Star question was so vague it left the three pastors plenty of room to maneuver and avoid the main implications of the question. In my opinion, most Christian pastors preach a traditional message about salvation through Christ. They are not interested in keeping step with their followers. They believe their duty is to lead their congregations and have the congregations keep in step with them.
Most pastors do not believe it is their duty to enlighten their flock about scientific truth and social justice. Their duty is to preach from an ancient book in order to save souls.