Lesson 106- The Living Word and Changing Relationship with God
In my last two programs, I have been addressing the issue of Adam and Eve as it relates to the theory of evolution. For many people this has been a stumbling block because many fundamentalists Christians, whose total faith is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, find the theory of evolution to be incompatible with the Genesis account. In a previous program, I mentioned a seminar that I attended at a Protestant church in which the presenter insisted that the creation was only six thousand years old based on the number of “begots” mentioned in the Bible. You know! Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Esau and Jacob, Jacob begot twelve sons etc… By calculating how many generations took place between Adam and Jesus, these Bible based Christians concluded that the whole creation took place only six thousand years ago. Of course this flies in the face of a great deal of physical evidence that indicates that the universe is billions of years old.
If nothing else, this indicates that we should be very careful when we treat the Bible as a science book instead of a book about relationships: God relationship to us; our relationship to Him; and our relationship to each other. That is why Jesus said that the whole message of the Bible could be condensed into “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, mind, and soul and thy neighbor as thyself.” When we misuse the Bible by making it the source for all types of truths, we undermine it value as a source for any truth.
Perhaps this is why Jesus established a teaching, hierarchal Church instead of writing a book. The Bible is the “written Word” that records the growing and unfolding understanding of the Hebrew’s and ours’ understanding of the nature of God,. It is a revelation that gradually takes place over a period of time and, like the Hegelian Dialectic, our theory of God as expressed in it, is constantly being refined, not because God is changing, but because our ability to understand Him is improving. Anyone who reads the Bible soon discovers that God’s personality and instructions change over time. For example, He gives detail instructions as to how and when the Hebrews should offer sacrifices of various animals. Then later He says that he doesn’t want these sacrifices. What he really wants is justice and the moral treatment of our fellow human beings. And then, in the New Testament, we see, through the example of Jesus, that He really did want sacrifices but it wasn’t the sacrifices of cows, goats, and sheep. What He wanted was self-sacrifice out of love for others.
However, the tribal Hebrew people were unable to accept the idea of universal love for all Mankind and thus they had to evolve intellectually through the process of Thesis- Antithesis- and Synthesis. Thus, throughout the Old Testament, the name of God changes a number of times, and each time it does, so does their understanding of His nature. Finally, in the New Testament, which Christian view as the continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament, the tribal God of the Old Testament is finally revealed by Jesus as the universal God who is Love Itself. God doesn’t love. God, according to St. John, is Love and he who abides in Love, abides in God.
So to our atheistic friends, who challenge our belief in God, we should say that the final and ultimate proof of the existence of our God is the existence of Love. If love doesn’t exist, then neither does our God; but if it does, then so does our God and His absence or presence is detected by its presence. It is hard to imagine any atheist who would want to deny or reject the existence of love. Instead I suspect that most, in not all, would agree with the sentiments expressed in the popular song, “A World Without Love” that states, “I don’t care what they say, I won’t stay in a world without love.” In fact, I suspect that as we look at the present state of the world we would all support the lyric written by Bert Bacarack, “What the world needs now is love sweet love, it’s the only thing there’s just too little of…”
Thus, it is not our present understanding of God that most atheists are rejecting. Rather, it is the older and less complete understanding of the vengeful and dictatorial God of the Old Testament that some Christians still cling to. I doubt that anyone can read some of the sections of the Old Testament without cringing at some of the things done in the name of God. Thus, Steven Dawkins, a British scientist and atheist, who is very vocal about his opposition to religion in general and to Christianity in particular says,
“Religion may not be the root of all evil but it is a serious contender. Even so it could be justified if only its claims were true. But they are undermined by science and reason. Imagine a world where nobody is intimidated against following reason wherever it leads.”
He is particularly offended by the God of the Old Testament whom he considers to be a merciless dictator and there certainly are sections of the Old Testament that are hard for us to accept or understand according to modern standards. They certainly seem harsh and sometimes unjust. For example, a recent reading at Mass tells of an incident in which King David offended God and, instead of punishing David, thousand of people were killed by a plague. Even David complained to God that he, rather than the people, should have been punished.
I confess that I don’t know how to justify this and how to mesh it with the forgiving nature of Jesus in the New Testament except to say that either God changed or our understanding of God changed. From what I have said before, I think it was our understanding. Our scripture scholars tell us that to truly understand scriptures, we have to be aware of the culture and context in which they were written. We all have a tendency to project our own level of understanding on any information that we receive. Thus, we tend to understand things in the context of what is familiar. At different times, our interpretation of God and the universe reflected the current level of understanding. In the age of machines and clocks, God was seen as a clockmaker and the universe as a clock. This led to the theory of Deism that described God as a disinterested clockmaker who had made the universe and put it aside to run by itself. In the computer age God and the universe are seen as analogous to computers. And now in the age of interactive computer games, the universe is seen as analogous to an interactive game like Super Mario where the decisions of the players sends the game off in different directions with different challenges and consequences. In short, as our knowledge and experiences grows so does our understanding of the Ultimate Reality, who is God.
Nor is this type of distortion limited to religion. Any theory, when it moves from the drawing board to reality, is transformed by the mindset of those who interpret it. The benevolent workers’ paradise described by Marx in his theory of communism became the dictatorial system of the Soviet Union and China when interpreted by Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Tse Tsung. Everything goes through the mental filter of those who receive it.
Mr. Hawkins desire for “a world where nobody is intimidated against following reason wherever it leads” is a reflection of the premise behind the French Revolution that was led by Secular Humanist like himself who, rejecting Christianity, wanted to return to the “good old days” of ancient Greece and Rome where philosophical speculation based on reason replaced faith in God. Of course, they ignored the horrors of the ancient world where torture and cruelty was committed by even the most enlightened. In fact it seems that even these devotees of Reason during the French Revolution, who built a statue to represent Human Reason and worshipped it, had trouble being reasonable. After destroying monasteries, convents, churches, and killing the monks, nuns, and priests, they turned on each other and created a Reign of Terror in which no one was safe from the guillotine. What is really ironic about the French Revolution and the secular humanist who rejected Christianity and chose to worship reason is that, from what we now know about the human brain, the logical left hemisphere, which is the source of reason, is, according to Christian theology, Jesus Christ, the Divine Logos. As Shakespeare once said, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet,” and we might add, “Jesus by any other name is still the “Truth that will set us free.” So when the secular humanists say, “There is no God to save Mankind; Mankind, through Human Reason, must save itself,” we should remember that Christian philosophers in past centuries have always referred to our ability to reason as the Divine Spark within us. And, if they are right that Reason will save us, we should respond with a resounding “Amen!” The problem however is that Reason can save us only when our premises are consistent with Divine Wisdom.
As Christians, we are not opposed to Reason. In fact, like the humanists, we worship it too because it is the Jesus within us. The problem is not with Reason. The problem is with the premises that we present to reason. Reason, which is based on logic, will always lead us to the logical conclusions demanded by our premises. In other words, it insists that we must always reap what we have sown. So if we don’t like the consequences, don’t blame Reason, blame the premises that we presented to it. And it is the premises that flow from our hearts that is the source of our chaos. If our premises are right, our conclusions will be right. But if they are wrong, then our conclusions will be wrong. As a computer age adage says, “Garbage in! Garbage out!”
If Mr. Hawkins really believed in following Reason wherever it leads, he wouldn’t say, as he did, that “accidental evolution” allows him to be an honest atheist. To believe in accidental evolution is to believe that an accidental process went from a hydrogen atom to a man following the laws of Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest. In other words, not only did chaotic subatomic particles stabilize into a limited number of stabilized atoms, but these atoms proceeded to follow a Law of Complexification towards a point where they stabilized into living beings, who not only maintain their stabilized forms but were able to reproduce them. And then, following the same Law of Complexification they organized themselves into more complex forms of life until one of them actually developed a rational brain that, as scientists, foolishly spent their lives seeking laws in an accidental, lawless universe. G.K. Chesterton once said, “The problem when people don’t believe in God is not that they believe nothing. It is that they believe anything…”
The existentialist philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre said he was an honest atheist because, unlike other atheists who, although they didn’t believe in God, believed in natural laws, he accepted that if there is no God, there couldn’t be any natural laws. Thus, the universe was accidental and absurd. If he’s right, then scientists are wasting their time looking for the mathematical laws behind the universe because math implies logic and logic implies reason, and reason implies an intelligent mind. So this raises some reasonable questions. Why is Mr. Hawkins a scientist if the universe is accidental and absurd? Or why is he an atheist if he believes in natural laws?
He is as much a “fundamentalist atheist” as some Christians are fundamentalists when it comes to the Bible because he is closed to any explanation that contradicts his own pre-supposition. If they are “true believers” then he is a “true unbeliever.” But maybe there is hope because the very fact that he declares his devotion to Reason means that we are not as far apart as we might think.
Maybe if both Christians and secular humanist would show a willingness to reevaluate their positions in the light of new understanding they might be able to find a synthesis that would satisfy them both. Of course, Christians would have to stop insisting that the Bible must be interpreted literally and as a source for scientific truth and secular humanists would have to stop insisting that any answers involving God are unacceptable. If they are interested in philosophy, let them consider the speculations of Christian philosophers who seek to find the synthesis between the intuitive knowledge of faith with the logical knowledge or reason. Of course, the best source for this synthesis between faith and reason is the Catholic Church that is committed both to the revealed truth contained in the Bible and the natural truths found in the Natural Laws of the universe. How to blend these two sources of truth depends on how we approach the Bible.
If all we had was the Bible we would be confronted with two problems. First, since the written word is static and unchanging, we would be caught in a circle of a non-evolving revelations in which practices dictated during a earlier and more primitive time were still binding in the present. Thus, all the kosher laws of the Old Testament would still be binding. Every woman, following her menstrual period would have to go through a ritualistic bath. Every man who touched a woman who was menstruating would have to do the same. Adulteresses would still be stoned to death. In fact, all of the prohibitions against blood in the Old Testament would still be binding today. The Jehovah Witnesses, stuck with a non-evolving Bible, forbid blood transfusions and Muslims and strict Jews still refuse to eat pork. Women who are suspected of adultery are still stoned in Pakistan and other conservative Arab nations.The second problem is that once one understands that there is an evolving process taking place in the Bible, it loses the rigidity of the “unchanging word”, and, instead, becomes a “flexible word” subject to personal interpretation. The result of this is a babble of interpretations resulting in the fragmentation of the church into thousands of competing interpretations on important issues. Thus today, ever since Martin Luther proposed the theory of “private interpretation of the Bible”, the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church has splintered into many churches, ranging from little “store-front churches” created by “self-ordained” ministers to mainline churches, like the Unitarians, who deny the Trinity, and the Episcopalians, who interpret the Bible so liberally, that they are ordaining actively gay men and women. The result of these two approaches are either stagnation or chaos.
However, Jesus, the Logos of God or Divine Wisdom, foresaw this problem and that is why He never instructed them to write a book. Instead He established a Church and placed Peter, the Rock, and the Apostles and their successor in charge of it. It was to them that He gave the “keys of the Kingdom” and the power of “binding and loosing” and promised to protect them from error through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In this way, He created an institution that was equipped to deal with the changing and evolving nature of human understanding that was capable of discerning which changes were consistent with the immutable truths that it had inherited and which ones were not. Thus, it would be capable of changing without losing its essential identity.
Therefore, as Catholics, we share in the best of both worlds. Unlike fundamentalists, whose sole source of truth is the Bible, we are not stuck with the literal interpretation of non-evolving Biblical truths. And unlike the liberal churches, we are protected from interpreting ourselves right out of our Christian identities. We can change to incorporate new truths and insights without losing our basic identity because we have a Magisterium, consisting of the Pope, cardinals, and bishops whose job it is to lead us through the complexities of evolving truth.
Therefore, we should always remember that it was the Church that created the Bible, not the Bible that created the Church. In fact, when the Church began, even the Old Testament did not exist as a single work and the writers of the New Testament, including Paul, did not know that they were writing scriptures that would eventually become a New Testament. When Paul, says that all scripture was useful in teaching and edifying, he probably was referring to the Old Testament, not to his own writings or those of the four evangelists or the letters written by Peter, James, John and Jude. It was the Church that later declared them Holy Scripture and combined them into what we now call the New Testament.
The point that I am making is that we should not get upset if our childhood understanding of the Bible is challenged by new information. So if the account in Genesis of the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve turns out to be a story that should be interpreted allegorically, nothing is lost. The story still contains deep moral truths. In fact, they may be deeper when interpreted allegorically than when interpreted literally. Our faith is grounded in the Church that Jesus established that for over two thousand years, like a rock, it has weathered many challenges and changes and yet it still stands having outlived all its heresies and enemies. That is because it is constantly renewing itself during times of crisis by growing organically. It is forever old and forever new at the same time.
We have things to teach the secular humanists and they have things to teach us and that is why I have quoted Eric Fromm extensively in previous programs. By blending his psychological insights with Biblical truths and Catholic philosophy, we have an opportunity to look at old beliefs with fresh eyes.
Thus, as I ended my last program I was discussing Eric Fromm’s theory about destructive and productive relationships. Destructive relationships attempt to create order thorough a sado/masochism mechanism in which the sadistic side tries to establish order by controlling others and the masochistic side tries to establish it by having someone else control it. This, as I pointed out in my last program, is a natural relationship between a parent and a child and it only becomes pathological when it either expresses itself through sado/masochistic sex based on domination and submission or when it fails to develop into a productive relationship based on freedom and love. The Old Testament represents the sado/masochistic phase of our relationship with God. It was based on laws, rules, power, and punishment, much as the relationship of parents with children. However, even in this phase, God expresses His dissatisfaction with this relationship when He complains that His people, the Hebrews, are like slaves or hirelings who, operating on the principles of hedonism, only do what they are told either when they are threatened with a whip or bribed with the promise of a reward. Whenever they thought He was not watching, they sat down underneath the nearest tree and fell asleep. In other words, He sound like a parent who, exasperated by disobedient children who only behave when punished or bribed, wonders when they will grow up and understand why the rules are necessary. He was complaining about the basic defect in laws that are able to change behavior but not the heart. What He yearned for were sons who, having a vested interest in His enterprise, worked freely and out of love. In other words, he yearned for a productive relationship with Mankind and that is what the New Testament is about.
Jesus said that He had come to fulfill the law, not to destroy it. Yet, He violated the “letter of the law” on different occasions while maintaining that He was obeying the “spirit of the law”. When the Pharisees opposed Him for healing a man on the Sabbath, He asked which one of them would not rescue one of his animals that had fallen in a ditch even though it was the Sabbath. Then he said that Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. When He and His Apostles were criticized for picking grain off of stalks on the Sabbath, He reminded them that King David and his troops ate the Holy Bread from the temple when there was no other food. When they brought a woman caught in adultery, which, according to the law, should be stoned to death, He responded by saying that the person among them who was without sin should throw the first stone. Then He proceeded to write what some claim were their sins in the dirt. When none were left, He asked the woman, “Where are those who condemned you?” When she answered there were none, He replied “Then neither will I. Go and sin no more.” He didn’t say that she hadn’t sin. He merely implied that “ people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”, or people with a beam in their own eyes were in no position to condemn others with a speck in theirs. When His apostles were criticized for not fasting or for not following the strict hygienic customs required by the law, He defended them. So what was His point? His point was that behind the law was a spirit based on the love of God and of one’s neighbor and that it should be applied with compassion, common sense, and love.
Later St. Paul, who was a strict Pharisee before his conversion, tells of the radical change that took place in him once he accepted Jesus into his life. He said that he had been set free because he was no longer under the law. In fact, he said the law led to death while the spirit led to freedom. What was he talking about?
Laws are a form of “other control” and part of what Eric Fromm called a destructive relationship in which the will of someone else is imposed on us. Even though they may lead to order in our lives, they also cause resentment because they offend our sense of being free. Another problem is that, although they can change behavior, they can’t change the heart. As a result, there is a tendency for us to violate them when the enforcer is not watching or the punishment or penalty is removed. That is why God complained that the Hebrews were like slaves and hirelings who only worked when they were threatened or paid. It is also why Jesus said that anyone who looked at a woman with lust in his heart was already guilty of adultery. The sin was not only in the act; it was in the attitude. Therefore, a change in behavior was not enough; what was required was a change in attitude. It was the heart that had to change not just the behavior. And that is what Eric Fromm meant when he said that in healthy development a person had to move from the destructive mode of relationship, based on law, compulsion, power, and obligation, to the productive mode based on love and free choice. The first one is unfree and the second one is free and it appears in that in the eyes of God free relationships are the only ones that have lasting power. In fact, the scriptures says that at the end of time, everything will be shaken and only those things grounded in love will remain standing. And love, by definition, is a free relationship.
The parent/child relationship is a destructive relationship because, being based on genes, it was not freely chosen by either one. Parents are obligated to love their children and children are obligated to love their parents. But real love can never be based on obligation. In fact, obligatory love is an oxymoron or self-contradiction. If it never moves beyond obligation, to one based on love involving mutual interests, values, and respect, then it never attains the level of a productive relationship. Even if it should continue for a lifetime, it will always be one that would never have taken place or have lasted for any period of time without obligation. Thus, parents and children sometimes discover that they are different people, with different interests, and different values and, if they were not connected by genes, they would never have associate with each other. They have similar genes but different souls. However, there are fortunate parents and children who, once the destructive phase of their relationship ends, they reconnect on a productive level. My wife and I have been fortunate in this way because, once our parental phase ended with our children, we reconnected as friends with shared values and interests. Even if we were not related, we would still want to know and associate with one another.
And that seems to be the purpose behind evolution. In the first two levels- the Chemical and Organic- the relationship between the Creator and the creation was based on laws, tropisms, blind instincts, passions, and drives, all of which forced the creation to move towards goals of which it was unaware. In other words, it was a destructive relationship in which blind obedience took precedence over conscious choice. It was a sinless world because nothing in it had the freedom of choice or any conscious knowledge of the moral purpose behind the creations. In other words, none of the creatures possessed the “Knowledge of Good and Evil.”
However, once a creature acquired a reflective brain when its left hemisphere received the gift of language and logic, and became a reflective agent on its intuitive right lobe, free choice and sin entered the world. As a rational being it was now made in the “image and likeness” of the rational Creator of the universe and, being free, it could choose to obey or not obey. But, for the most part, its rational powers were still weak and undeveloped and, like children and animals, it lived in Gehenna, the Kingdom of Empty Thought and Mental Darkness. Thus, the history of Mankind and the Mental Level of evolution is the story of the growth of the power of the logical, rational left lobe and its attempt to lead us out of Gehenna into the Kingdom of Mental Light and Understanding. It’s a long story with many ups-and-downs as step-by-step the growth of the left lobe displayed its growing presence through the growth of civilization.
It is interesting to note that historians claim that the two pillars of civilization are Art and Science that we now know to spring from the right and left hemispheres of the brain. However, as we shall see, it was Art and the right lobe that dominated human life in its earliest stages and that civilization, as we know it, didn’t flower until the logical left lobe began to exercise its power.
In many ways, the story of the maturation of the human race throughout history corresponds to the maturation of each of us and, like our own maturation, it is the story of our movement from a destructive relationship with God and our fellow humans towards a productive relationship. In my next program I will start to describe the growth of the left lobe throughout history.
Well, I see that my time is up. Here’s Dom!