“I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, consider you may be mistaken.”
So there’s this TV show called The Big Bang Theory that I’m sure many of you have watched. I’ve caught parts of several episodes and it appears to be the same old trope over and over—nerdy guys and hot babes living in the same apartment building. I only mention the “Big Bang” because in this blog I’m alluding to another popularized principle of physics: Werner Heisenberg’s so-called “Uncertainty Principle.” The uncertainty principle is from quantum mechanics and refers to the impossibility of knowing the exact location of any specific electron—but it is usually invoked in the context that in the measuring of a phenomena we change the phenomena and so in a sense we can never be absolutely “certain”of our measurement—the deeper implications of this rends reality more than a little squishy.
I ran across the Cromwell quote in the Jacob Bronowski series The Ascent of Man. This series was shown on the BBC and PBS way back in 1973. The episode titled “Arrogance, Dogma and Ignorance” was filmed at Auschwitz. In this camp four million people were murdered, some of them his relatives. Bronowski makes the point that science does not turn man into a number, or in any way account for the dehumanized madness of the Holocaust. What does that is the “assertion of dogma that closes the mind.” He further makes the point that science is always on the brink of error, of the unknown. As opposed to that of many so-called scientists, Bronowski’s attitude struck me as profoundly humble.
My musings on this were spurred by the recent debate on evolution or creationism by some churchy guy named Ken Ham and the science guy: Bill Nye. I did not watch the debate as I generally try to avoid controversies in which I have no skin. I read some of the give and take on Fb and thought, “Uh, not for me.”
However, the arrogance of many scientists is simply amazing. I’m particularly struck by their pronouncements concerning evolution and global warming—two salient theories usually presented as fact—as in there can be no serious debate. These two theories have now acquired the status of dogma—dogma that’s clung to with the death-grip of religious fervor.
In the same vein, the most pernicious dogmatic beliefs are those of organized, fundamentalist religions. They rival the arrogant certainty of many scientists. Be they Muslim, Christian, or whatever creed, it’s the fundies who create most of the divisiveness, conflict and war in this world—the folks who believe with absolute and generally arrogant certainty that their beliefs are the only truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And you, my friend, if you stray one iota from their dogma are a heretic. If they do not murder you in reality with bombs and bullets, they will murder you in their thoughts by totally dismissing you and your beliefs. They will ignore you, shun you, render you a non-person, perhaps even label you sub-human—as did the quasi-theology of the Nazis.
I know this because I’ve done it. In my own thoughts I’ve first dismissed and then murdered plenty of people who didn’t agree with my beliefs—with my exalted, learned opinions. But what I’ve discovered is that as I’ve grown older my beliefs have moderated considerably. In the light of more biblical and worldly knowledge, and with the Holy Spirit’s illuminating presence, I’ve had to make considerable revisions. What I knew with absolute certainty a decade ago I’m not so sure of today. I dont read Greek or Hebrew but I’ve often found that the biblical commentaries of those who do broadens and changes the meaning of many passages. I’ve also come to consider the cultural context in which each book was written and the audience for which it was intended. Though I believe it was intended for all believers at all times, I think we must be careful. When I label the Bible as the “uncompromising word of God” I’m likely to believe what I think scripture says is really the uncompromising word of God. The operative word is I.
There is a very common proclivity of thought which I will give myself credit for not having, perhaps even eschewing—and that is the need for having absolute certainty. This need for total clarity infects a lot of folks. Many demand it, and think that the interpretation of scripture given to them is surely God answering their demand. That strikes me as rather arrogant. I suppose it is in some way this trick of thought is realted to the anxiety disorder of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Anxiety is basically fear, anticipatory fear, and the OCD symptoms are a dysfunctional way of dealing with that fear. But we know that perfect love casts out fear (I John 4:18).
Anyway, it appears to me that God doesnt want it to be simple. If HE did the Bible would be but a few short chapters. I believe it is a vast and complex document because HE wants us to search, and to think, and to pray for wisdom and illumination. But when you think you’ve found the answer take that with a grain of humility, consider that you might be mistaken. In more than one place in scripture we’re told to not get too full of ourselves in our knowledge (Job 38:1-5; I Tim. 1:3-7, etc). I’ve come to value humility a lot more, even tho I’m sure I still don’t always act that virtue out. My beliefs have changed a lot over the years, but what hasn’t changed is their core: (1) Jesus is my savior; (2) My job description is to love God and to show that love by caring for other people. Beyond that, it’s all open for debate, and the things which I don’t understand (and that’s plenty) I’m willing to take on faith. When Jesus says that the Kingdom will be revealed to little children (Luke 10:21) it’s not because they’re innocent, it’s because they are incompetent. They are abysmally ignorant and have no choice but to have faith.