From the Downhill Slope

ARE YOU A PERSON OF FAITH OR SCIENCE?  I embrace both .  Many I know are anti-science or anti-faith.  Some live at one end of the extreme or the other.  I found this article about the need for both on next to best favorite physician Keven Pho‘s  blog. (My Kaiser Permanenta physicians own the number one spot.) I read Kevin’s blog religiously because  he keeps me up to date on what is happening in the medical world–the science, the economics, and the inner life of physicians.  Moreover, he uses a great many guest bloggers, so although he controls the content, he shares many points of view .  The writer of this article is Anees Chagpar, MD.  The article first appeared in Physician.

Science makes me a better doctor, faith makes me a better person.

I have one quarrel with some people of  faith who disparage science as well as those who  tout only science and disparage religion.  Both add to the divisiveness destroying our world  when the greater good lies in a post-modern marriage of the two.

My view of post-modernism is to keep windows open on possibilities.  I live with “maybe” and “perhaps” more  than “I know” or  as my mother used to say “God’s honest truth.”

I question when others speak as if their knowledge is a sacred text and so  am less popular as any writer or blogger desires.  But I have to be me.

I live in a constant state of doubt, but doubt according to two ideas that drive my life.   Those two: The Buddhist concept of beginner’s mind and my human development guru Jerome Kagan‘s about uncertainty.   Both believe uncertainty fuels growth.  Moreover, my guru Kagan  sees uncertainty as a source of  anxiety that can make people close their mind to contradictory thoughts. That is probably the root of the saying “There are no atheists in fox holes.”

I often laughingly describe myself as a Wandering Buddhist Jew.  I am a Jew, I keep a kosher home, I observe the Shabbat, but I have wandered all over the religious map.  Early on my contrarian nature found me seeking faith in a house where faith was not high on the list of values.  My mother sent me to Sunday school when I was three or four, but quickly pulled me out when the preacher on a Children’s Day–designed to lure lapsed parents into the fold of Christianity– preached a fire and brimstone sermon against smoking.

Mother in her own contrarian way, shook the minister’s hand and then walked four feet away from him, took out her ever-present pack of Old Golds and lit up.  She stood and smoked cigarette after cigarette until the minister had retreated back into the church. Then we went home; thereafter, I slept in Sunday mornings.

My next encounter with faith was when I was ten and a neighbor asked me to join his church’s Youth Fellowship.  It was fun, until the group leader asked me to go into a small adjacent room.

Once there he told me, “To be a true Chrisitian, you must confess your sins.”

I couldn’t think of any, and somehow knew his request was snarky.  I never went back to that youth group which was a personal decision, as I didn’t tell my mother why I didn’t want to go there anymore.  These kinds of stories continued in one way or another until I lost all faith in Christianity and in most in other religions.

When  I married, my husband suggested I study his religion and in time I settled on Judaism as the place that nurtured both sides of my personality–the hope and belief we were more than we seem to be and the right to question even G-d.  Jews are always questioning, but are also stubborn and hard-headed in some aspects of their faith.  Others often describe me in the same way.  However, the study of Torah which is a constant in the life of an observant Jew promotes questioning. In the end when it comes to some questions the path seems to be a  willing embrace of not knowing.

Faith is hoping what you believe is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and also doubting.  For me that means believing as my mother did only many things are not known or as she often said,  “God knows.”  She was religious in her own way.  We all are.  Faith in science alone is a religion.

The article and I agree the purpose of religion is to make you a better person.  I believe the quest to believe you have found a truth you must pass on to others is not the way of compassionate behavior.  Jews are not interested in converts.   Judaism focuses on doing good.  The G-d of the Jews expects us  to honor our more complicated  contract with Him, but doesn’t  expect others to do so.  Our G-d  loves all who are  people of compassionate action. Only Jews are to abide by his other rules, their task is to bring peace to the earth so the Messiah will consent to visit.

All others, whether religious or not need abide only by the Ten Commandments and as the great Rabbi Hillel said, those boil down to one what all religions call “The Golden Rule.”  Hillel lived 50 years before Jesus, and I suspect Jesus of quoting him when he said, “Do unto others as you would others do unto you.

A few  last thought that about  an after life.  Until Saul of Tarsus took over management of Christianity, you had to be a Jew or join the Jewish tribe.  That meant getting circumcised if an uncut male, and agreeing to abide by many more rules. Consummate salesman, Saul decided “Faith alone” combined with baptism into the one True Church would suffice to get you to heaven every dying person’s hope.

In time,  the great warrior Constantine saw that he could use faith as a tool of war.  He changed the Roman Empire into the Roman Catholic Church and following his death, that church set out to convert the world as the Romans had set out to conquer the world.  (One of my contrarian thoughts about Saul, was that he was struggling with mid-life impotence and so brokered for abstinence. The push toward celibacy did much to rob the world in my mind of the G-d given gift of sexual release. )

Constantine’s wish to rule the world was foiled when a powerful rival to Christianity arose in the form of Mohammed.  Mohammed upped the ante for getting to heaven by making dying while killing an infidel a fast ticket to the hoped for pearly gates.

The Golden Rule is nearly a universal ethic of all religions, but is applied un-ethically by many.  Un-ethical application is divisive application; my family, my sex, my race, my tribe, my co-religionists, my country, or perhaps only my stock brokers or bank account deserve treatment as I want to be treated;  all outside the circle of who I believe worthy are fair game.  Some religions believe cows sacred, others pigs of the devil, but the saddest are those that limit worthiness not to behavior, but a certain belief in a certain G-d.  My guru Kagan believes the troubles of the world today stem partly from the challenge posed by science and other challenges to beliefs others hold with certainty but contrary beliefs shake that faith.  Shaken faith either changes or seeks to blot out views that great doubt.  Not healthy for the survival of the world.

So where to I stand.   I believe with the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson’s   beliefs about God  as stated in these lines of his poem, The Children of  Darkness.

If there be nothing, good or bad,
But chaos for a soul to trust, —
God counts it for a soul gone mad,And if God be God, He is just.
And if God be God, He is Love;
And though the Dawn be still so dim,
It shows us we have played enough
With creeds that make a fiend of Him.

How does this relate to science?  We were created to explore and learn.  Science is one of the creator’s gifts.  Spurning science is spurning the creator or creators. Be not blind about faith or about science.  Both are gifts of love.  Both need questioning, both make living a life of love possible.  Finally, faith aside, perhaps this life is all we have, so I at least want to make the life I know I have a life that shines on all.  I want the children of the world to inherit a better world.

Share, care, and stay strong.

Agree or disagree, comments are always welcomed.

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