Sunday, May 05, 2002

Faith and Miracles
Many people look to religion to escape the limitations imposed by the demands of the physical world. For many people the most convincing evidence for grace is in miracles that seem to violate natural laws. The more unbelievable the better. But what does this say about the nature of God? Does He need to violate His own laws to bring us blessings? I think not. This brings me to the seminal miracle of the Christian faith, the resurrection.

When examining history we really don't have very many tools available. One expert analysis is just as good as another. Each will make certain assumptions and build a tale around them. What tool do we have that can reach back into the past? The only tool that we have today that can make sense into the past is the principle of universality. The same forces we see at work today are the forces that were at work in the past. No more. No less. So what can this principle tell us about the resurrection?

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. In our own day we have seen how the early demise of a beloved figure can lead to stories about mysterious posthumous appearances. We can not prove or disprove that such is not the case with Jesus of Nazareth. In all accounts of the resurrected Christ he makes an encounter then disappears from the scene. In no account do we see an extended phenomena of continuing ministry after death. Nor do we have an independent historical confirmation of his resurrection as we do of portions of his life and of his death. The upshot of this is, like so many things religious, there is simply no objective proof either way. We must concede that the Resurrection is, in the final analysis, a matter of faith. Too often in our religious speech and in our zeal to be convincing, we get lazy and tend to speak as if things of faith were indeed things of fact.

In the long run this does more to hurt our cause in the world at large than help it. When we confuse faith and fact we are easily dismissed by the unfaithful as adle-pated fools. We need not fear to express things in terms of faith that merit that treatment. People have a need for faith and will often respond in those terms when there is no objective proof available.

There is a method to weigh the merits of one set of faith beliefs over another, believe it or not. For the purposes of discussion I consider something a "faith concept" if it defies both refutation and confirmation by objective methods. If a particular faith concept leads each of us to be a better person (however one chooses to measure that) then there is no harm in believing in it. On the other hand, if a faith concept leads to counter-productive behavior or meanness in any way it bears closer look to see if it is worth holding on to.

The objective world is a harsh taskmaster and we must give it its due. When matters of faith come into conflict with sound science, faith must give way even if we would prefer otherwise. Remember that nature is an expression of God more powerful than both scripture and tradition. It must always take precedence.

A Modest Proposal
I was watching a documentary about one of the many New Guinea primitive tribes. They had a custom where men could not take a wife until they had established themselves to some degree. When a man was ready for a wife he would typically choose a young girl in her early teens. Then he would work for the girl's family for a while to convince them that he would be a good husband for the girl. If all went well he would eventually take her for a wife and set up housekeeping.

What struck me about this was that here was a solution for the problem of young families being insecure. You have a proven provider for the children and a young mother that is at the peak of her fecundity. But what, you may ask, do you do with the feisty young males and the women that are past their childbearing years? It seems reasonable that you would put them together as well. The young men would be able to learn how to treat their future wife and family from those with a wealth of experience. And sexually it would be a match. The randy males could enjoy their education as freely as they wanted without producing children for whom they were not equipped to care. And the women would have companions that could keep them satisfied. Perhaps many of today's social ills could be addressed in this fashion. The need for birth control and STD protection would be reduced. The number of children in poverty would be reduced. The social training of the younger generation would be improved because each would sit under the intimate tutelage of a member of the older and wiser generation. I wonder if anything like this has been practiced on a large to medium scale.

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