Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"In a State of Journeying"

I'm a practicing Catholic, so I believe that God created - and is creating - everything. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 279, 301, 302-305)

That's not necessarily the same as believing that God the Almighty looks like Charleton Heston's Moses.

It's certainly not the same as believing that God created the world, exactly as it is today, about 6,000 years ago.1 Or even believing that the world hadn't changed a bit up until about 1850, when science and technology started killing everybody.

Which reminds me of providence, secondary causes, and free will. And that's another topic. Topics. (Catechism, 306-308, 1730-1742, 1853)

Thinking About God

I suspect that quite a few folks - myself included - find it hard to think about God, because God is so, well, God-like. Almighty. A "mystery beyond words." (Catechism, 198-227, 230)

It's a lot easier to think of God as someone who looks pretty much like me, only a little taller, a little older, and with better hair.

"Easier," not "more reasonable."

"In the Beginning - - -"

Here's what got me started with today's post:
" 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.'116 Holy Scripture begins with these solemn words. The profession of faith takes them up when it confesses that God the Father almighty is 'Creator of heaven and earth' (Apostles' Creed), 'of all that is, seen and unseen' (Nicene Creed). We shall speak first of the Creator, then of creation, and finally of the fall into sin from which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to raise us up again.

"Creation is the foundation of 'all God's saving plans,' the 'beginning of the history of salvation'117 that culminates in Christ. Conversely, the mystery of Christ casts conclusive light on the mystery of creation and reveals the end for which 'in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth': from the beginning, God envisaged the glory of the new creation in Christ.118"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 279-280)
As I've said before, I take the Bible seriously. Including Genesis 1:1. That doesn't mean that I look for answers about fixing software in the Bible. Holy Scriptures aren't a technical manual. The Bible wasn't written by Americans, either: and that's almost another topic.

Science, Poetry, and Truth

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has a pretty good resource online. Several, actually, including this:
  • "Understanding the Bible"
    Mary Elizabeth Sperry, Associate Director for Utilization of the New American Bible
    1. Bible reading is for Catholics
    2. Prayer is the beginning and the end
    3. Get the whole story!
    4. The Bible isn't a book
      • It's a library
    5. Know what the Bible is
      • And what it isn't
    6. The sum is greater than the parts
    7. The Old relates to the New
    8. You do not read alone
    9. What is God saying to me?
    10. Reading isn't enough
There's more under each of those 10 points. Like number 5:
"Know what the Bible is - and what it isn't. The Bible is the story of God's relationship with the people he has called to himself. It is not intended to be read as history text, a science book, or a political manifesto. In the Bible, God teaches us the truths that we need for the sake of our salvation."
("Understanding the Bible")
Thinking that the Bible isn't "a science book" isn't the same as thinking it isn't true. There can be truth in poetry, but that doesn't make poetry "scientific." Or "unscientific," for that matter.

And I am not going to get side-tracked by Virgil, Parmenides, and metaphysics.

Stuff Changes: Deal With It

There may have been times when one year was much like the last. When generation succeeded generation with little to mark the passage of time, apart from the familiar turning of the seasons.

Today isn't one of those times. My father spent part of his childhood in a pre-industrial pocket of America, I remember when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, and my son plans to run a computer repair service.

Technology isn't all that's changed. I remember when "she's as smart as a man" was supposed to be a compliment, and someone with African ancestry wasn't allowed to use the same drinking fountain as someone with a genetic melanin deficiency. Not all changes in American culture and society have been for the better, but I remember the 'Good Old Days,' and am glad they're not coming back.

Nostalgia, Nature, and Notions

I think it's easy to mistake nostalgia with virtue: and feel that if only things had stayed just like they were, everything would be okay. Or at least better.

The secular version of that attitude shows up, I think, in 'back to nature' beliefs: the notion that science and technology are icky, and that we should all live 'as nature intended.' I'm not fond of smog, but I don't think trying to climb back into the trees is a viable option, either. (January 16, 2012)

A religious take on the 'change is bad' notion doesn't necessarily reject technology. It's been a while since I heard a variation on "if God had meant man to fly, He'd have given us wings." On the other hand, I think it's interesting that folks who are gung-ho for "old fashioned values" also tend to think science is bad. In my experience, anyway.

Evolution: Getting Past the One-Liners

The science that seems to get the 'good old fashioned family values' folks upset most is 'evolution.' I've gone over the Victorian-era snit that I think is behind much of 'Bible science' before. (July 5, 2011)

Nifty one-liners notwithstanding, what scientists are learning about human beings isn't that 'we used to be monkeys.' Here's a pretty good summary of what we've learned so far:
"...Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution. While the story of human origins is complex and subject to revision, physical anthropology and molecular biology combine to make a convincing case for the origin of the human species in Africa about 150,000 years ago in a humanoid population of common genetic lineage...."
("Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God," International Theological Commission, via Internet Office of the Holy See (July 23, 2004))
Interestingly, the president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is a microbiologist who has been studying how DNA is involved in evolution.

Change is Okay

I think it's a mistake to assume that God doesn't exist because things change: or because we've learned some of the rules that this creation follows. That's as silly as assuming that God wouldn't take 13,750,000,000 or so years to get the universe to where it is today because I wouldn't have done it that way.

I suppose God could have made a physical world that was finished from the start. But that's not the way things are:
"Creation has its own goodness and proper perfection, but it did not spring forth complete from the hands of the Creator. The universe was created 'in a state of journeying' (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. We call 'divine providence' the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward this perfection:
"By his providence God protects and governs all things which he has made, 'reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and ordering all things well.' For 'all are open and laid bare to his eyes,' even those things which are yet to come into existence through the free action of creatures.161"
(Catechism, 302)
Related posts, getting a grip about:
1 Ussher didn't approve of 'Papists,' and worked out a detailed chronology of the world: including the particular date in 4004 B.C. when Eden was opened for business. I've been over this before:

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