I was recently reading a past issue of Zion's Herald magazine that had been given to me, and in it was an interview with Huston Smith, an expert on world religions who has written several books I've used and seen others use for classes on the topic. He's now a fairly old man (around 90) and has written a book on Christianity. He spoke about the way he doesn't align with either party of the polarized church - he disagrees with the way fundamentalists discount any historical context of the Bible and he disagrees with the progressives over-reliance on science. I was intrigued by that idea, as one who considers herself to be a progressive and is also the child of two engineers. I'd never heard it said that science was our main problem - just another in a list of issues. It's had me thinking all weekend about how my thinking has been shaped and how much I take science for granted. The scientific method was a basic lesson in junior high school and I remember when I was hearing it explained, it was kind of a "duh" experience - like it was intuitively obvious that that was the way to think through a problem or a question. I didn't understand how big a deal that process is and how much it had already shaped my way of thinking and viewing the world.
I've also been reading about baptism and conversion experiences and it's really got me thinking about how I view God, particularly in light of this scientific basis I know I have. (FYI, before going into religion, I was a music major but had a hard time choosing between music and genetic engineering - it's in my blood.) I want to say that I believe in miracles, but if I'm honest, I know I would be completely skeptical of anyone who told me they had seen one. The scientist in me would want some kind of proof, some kind of evidence to back up the story. Faith doesn't work like that though - we don't have proof, at least not in the scientific kind of way, that there's even a God. I have faith - I KNOW there is a God and I know that God is loving, just and merciful. I know that I am loved, as I am, but I can't explain it or prove it - I just know. So why can't God do miracles and people just know that too?
The Bible is full of stories of healings and all kinds of miracles that I, frankly, dismiss as some kind of ancient need to explain things that couldn't be understood any other way but as some kind of magical power. Look at the things that the church does, even today, with the rites around Eucharist and baptism - there is all kinds of stuff that we say happens, but that is something mysterious and unexplainable. The Catholic church believes in transubstantiation - that the bread and wine literally become Jesus' body and blood - I just can't buy into that! Many Protestants don't buy into that, but why not? If God can perform miracles and do all these mysterious things, why not that one every week? Do we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit or don't we? Where is the line between what we will accept as miracle and what is false?
I try to keep historical context in mind when I read scripture, and I've often wondered about the daily practices of the common every day people in biblical times. What did they really think about the religious practice of sacrifice at the temple? How much did they understand what was going on and what it all meant? Did they care or just go through the motions as prescribed by the priests? What about other gods from other religions? Did they believe in magic? It seems like they must have but I don't know that much about it. I know a little more about the dark ages and the magic of pagans that the church ended up incorporating in various ways. There was exorcisms from the first century on in the Catholic church - fighting the powers of darkness and Satan. But I don't think I believe in that kind of magic, and so don't need my God to be that kind of a magician. Magicians are really just skilled at directing your attention away from what's "really" going on - and I want to know what's actually happening rather than what I'm told I'm seeing. So I guess it's partly a scientifically based skepticism and part of it is not trusting the ones in authority (the institution especially). But does my intellectual deduction thus make God way too small and "like me"? I'm afraid it might. There is something to be said for the mystery, for the power of the Holy Spirit and the things which God can do - I just don't know how far I can go with it....