Religious truth and scientific truth

A quote from a newspaper column by Michael Zimmerman of the Clergy Letter Project:

Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.
I recently got into a discussion in another blog about this question of the different roles of science and religion. A fellow interlocutor took a position not uncommon among atheists that purported that religion and science both attempt to explain the same basic "reality", with one using the proper means of trial and error and empirical evidence and the other using blind faith and unsupported assertions. I disagreed, suggesting instead the following:
Science can observe the ''what", but makes no statements about the "why'". That's where religion comes in.
Science and religion addresses wholly different orders of reality. Science looks at observable behavior in the physical world, while religion offers a deeper framework with which humans can ascribe meaning the selfsame world that science investigates. Fundamentalist religion notoriously confuses the matter by literalizing myths and thus confusing religious claims with scientific ones, but they aren't the only ones who commit this fallacy that assumes that both science and religion deal with the same questions about "reality". Many militant atheists also make the same assumption. But religion is at its root about meaning and transformation, not about making scientific explanations of physical phenomena. The two serve, or at least should serve, different functions.

Wanting to believe

A recent study has found that "lonely people were more likely to believe in the supernatural, whether it be God, angels or miracles, than when they were not feeling lonely."

It would be a fallacy to infer from this that therefore God is purely a human mental construct, built on a human need to want to believe. For one thing, many non-lonely people also believe in God. But, more importantly, the existence or non-existence of God doesn't depend on whether humans have motivations for wanting to believe in him/her. Whether my parents exist or not has nothing to do with whether I want them to.

Furthermore, a theist could just as easily argue that God the Creator specifically called forth within creation (or evoked the evolution of) a desire to experience God, which then happens to become particularly in evidence in times of loneliness.

The converse of this is also obviously true; having a psychological need to believe in God is certainly not an argument for God's existence. When I told my parents at the age of 16 that I was an atheist, my father retorted that "there are no atheists in foxholes, " as if somehow that were a logical reason to believe that God existed.

I recently had a discussion in another blog about the argument which says the following: since the brain can be stimulated physically to produce a mental religious experience of God, that somehow proves that the experience of God is just in the brain and has no objective reality. But this is plainly not a valid argument; the brain can be stimulated to experience light, but that doesn't prove that photons don't exist.

The upshot of this is simply that the truth of the existence of God does not depend on what the human mind or brain does or wants to do. People can come down on whatever side they want to on the subject of religion--they can believe in God, or not, since there is no way of proving or disproving God's existence. In that sense, I think that in the modern age religion cannot help but be a personal choice.

I think there is nothing wrong with believing in God just because that is what you want to believe. You have to have some reason for taking a position, given that there is no proof one way or another, so why not that one? As I said in that blog discussion about science and religion, science tells us "what", but religion tells us "why". And I think humans frequently do have a need to know the "why" behind our existence. I know that I do. Giving yourself a meta-narrative that imbues the world with a special kind of meaning--that is a role that religion can play in many people's lives. And if that meta-narrative is ethical, or better still contains some elements of rationality, then what's the problem? But not everyone needs religion for that purpose either. And not everyone need come up with the same meta-narrative. What I think ultimately matters is that, if God exists, he/she is more concerned about how we treat one another than what position we stake in a theological debate.

The religious life as its own reward

Here is a quote from James McGrath's blog: is worth asking theoretically, even if one hasn't been driven to ask such questions by one's own experiences or theological reflections, whether faith in God based on what God has done or can do for you is necessarily a wholesome, positive sort of faith. What if it turned out that God doesn't do anything for anyone specifically - the weather on your wedding day just happened to be good, and the person you love who recovered from an illness just happened to do so? What if it turns out that God is not the answer to our individual problems, but simply the meaning of our existence? How many of those who call themselves Christians would worship such a God for that reason alone, expecting nothing in return? Would willingness or unwillingness to worship such a God be a good thing? (emphasis added)

Religion, Evolution, and God's Nature

A rather long article in Sunday's Chicago Tribune by Jeremy Manier discusses the relationship between evolution and faith from many angles. The article begins by telling the story of Howard Van Till, a physicist from Calvin College in Michigan who wrote a book in 1986 "in which he argued that the stories of the Bible and science's account of evolution could both be true." What he got for his trouble was persecution from the dogmatic faithful at his religious college:

For years after the book's release in 1986, Van Till reported to a monthly interrogation where he struggled to reassure college officials that his scientific teachings fit within their creed.
Eventually, Van Till realized that it was necessary to re-evaluate his faith:
He rejected the idea of God as a supernatural being who took care to design every galaxy and blade of grass. The God he sought couldn't have designed everything at the outset, because the universe that science reveals is always unfolding, always changing. He began to think of God as a silent presence within nature, the source of the nameless awe he felt when studying the genesis of solar systems and the life of our endlessly fertile planet.

"If your faith requires supernaturalism, or a God who wields overpowering control over nature, then yes, evolution will challenge that," says Van Till, who took early retirement from Calvin College in 1999."The key is to correct your portrait of God," he says.
Jeremy Manier described this as an "audacious suggestion", but in fact, what Van Till was advocating sounds to me quite similar to process theology. Manier, unfortunately, makes no explicit reference in his article to process theology, which in fact has offered important contributions to this debate, and I think this is a glaring omission.

Manier cites John Haught, a professor of theology whose ideas also seem to resemble in many ways those of process theology:
[Haught] says religious traditions have never absorbed the scope of the scientific story that emerged in the 20th Century through the refinement of evolutionary theory. That story can overturn believers' assumptions, but he believes it also leads to a richer form of faith.

For Haught, evolution means that the chore of creation is going on all around us, all the time. Most important, the process does not follow a preordained path, because God loved the world enough to set it free.
I am unfamiliar with Haught's work, but his book "God After Darwin" sounds interesting and worth checking out; it appears to me that at a minimum he shares at least some of the ideas of process theologians, although perhaps he disagrees with them on certain points. It is, of course, central to process theology that God's participatory creative activity is constantly with us, while at the same time the outcomes of evolutionary processes are never pre-determined. Manier correctly notes that those attempts at forging a doctrine of "theistic evolution", not to mention the scientifically untenable notion of Intelligent Design, involve God using authoritarian power to micromanage the process of biological development--and this poses a host of problems:
The image of God as a micro-managing autocrat leads to some awkward paradoxes. For example, supporters of intelligent design often point to the flagellum, the complex molecular motor that allows bacteria to move, as an example of something that evolution could not have produced. Yet if God designed even the tiny flagellum, why stop there? Intelligent design implies that the creator's blueprint knows no limits. And if God designed every last element of life, that makes him minutely responsible for nature's cruelty and failures as well as its beauty.

"It gives you a God who cared enough to make the motors for bacteria, but wouldn't stop the motors of the planes on 9/11," Van Till says.
These problems are solved by conceiving of God, much as process theology does, as something other than an authoritarian micromanager. The article describes Haught's views this way:
"Love persuades, it doesn't force," Haught says. "God doesn't compel the world to be a certain way, and that's because of how love works. God lets things be, and lets the weeds grow up with the wheat."...

"Creation itself is not divine pyrotechnics but the consequence of infinite mystery contracting itself, making itself small, so something other than God can come into the world," Haught says.
I especially like the statement that "creation is not divine pyrotechnics". I view creation as not a one-time event, and Divine creativity is not a magic show; rather, it is a continuous and co-participatory activity with uncertain outcomes. However, when Haught describes God as "letting things be" and as an infinite mystery "contracting itself", he seems to be suggesting that God voluntarily withholds autocratic power and thus chooses to stand by when things happen. I am not really comfortable with this expression of the concept; instead, I view Divine power as inherently a persuasive and creative lure--autocracy is not "voluntarily" renounced because autocracy is not built into God's character in the first place. As I see it, it is important to note that God is never just standing by and "letting" things happen, but is always urging creation forward in particular ways, and always cares about the outcomes of events. That being said, I think that both Haught and Van Till seem to have many interesting things to say.

Dowd and Dawkins

In my previous posting, I quoted from Michael Dowd's book Thank God for Evolution! The quote includes a reference to Dawkins, which isn't the only such reference to be found in the book. Dowd is, of course, referring to Dawkins the scientist, not Dawkins the would-be debunker of religion. But I still find it a bit amusing, since Dawkins would probably hate the idea of being cited in any context in a book by a promoter of religious faith. But then again, Michael Dowd's brand of progressive Christianity, which sees science as an ally rather than as an antagonist of faith, probably doesn't fit into the paradigm that Dawkins and the other so-called New Atheists present which sees all religion as the enemy of science and reason.

Flat-Earth Faith versus Evolutionary Faith

A quote from Michael Dowd's book Thank God for Evolution!:

A distinction must be made...between flat-earth faith and evolutionary faith...What I mean by flat-earth faith is not people believing the world is flat. Rather, it refers to any perspective in which the metaphors and theology still in use came into being at a time when peoples really did believe the world was flat--that is, when there was no reliable way for humans to comprehend the world around them by means of science-based public revelation. Religious traditions that are scripturally based, and whose texts have not changed substantially since the time of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Hubble, Crick, Dawkins, and Hawking become, necessarily, flat-earth faiths when interpreted literally....

"Flat-earth" also characterizes literal understandings of commentaries on sacred scriptures that also predate (or ignore) the evolving cosmological perspective that is the fruit of modern science....Perhaps the most prominent flat-earth commentary in the Christian tradition is the Nicene Creed ("We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is , seen and unseen...").

Because the Nicene Creed is an interpretation of the core message of the early Christian scriptures, its flat-earth metaphors require modern Christians to speak as if they accept a literal translation of the Bible, although in their minds they may be making the requisite translations. Some liberal Christians bristle at the prospect of having to recite "We believe" for something that they do not in fact believe. Thus in many ways, today's continuing use of flat-earth commentaries to interpret flat-earth scriptures is the most problematic of all. Other Christian commentaries that often contain flat-earth components include papal encyclicals and thousands of sermons delivered every Sunday from pulpits throughout the world. (pp. 64-65)
Flat-earth faith makes the mistake of viewing past revelation as a fixed, immutable, and absolutely true and irrevocable message from God that is good for all time. Nothing could be farther from my understanding of what takes place. Past revelation reflects the Weltenschauung of the times. People with a three-tier cosmology invent mythologies to match that cosmology--such as in having Jesus ascend to heaven, whereas, as John Spong points out, with our modern cosmology we know that even at the speed of light Jesus would still be speeding through space 2000 years later and he would not even have left our Galaxy.

Flat-earth theology is stuck in a rut. It does not accommodate itself to continuing developments in the understanding of the world and the universe. Religious faith cannot help but be informed by the culture and world-view that produces it. That cannot help but be the case. 2000-year-old writings reflect the cosmology of 2000 years ago. But time marches on.

The Easter moment without an asterisk

Marcus Borg often speaks of the pre-Easter and the post-Easter Jesus. The pre-Easter Jesus was the Jesus who walked on the earth, preached, was crucified. The post-Easter Jesus was the Jesus as experienced by his apostles after his death.

"Experienced" is a broad, all-encompassing term, because it includes both those who believe that Jesus was physically resurrected (and walked among his disciples) after his death, and those who believe that the mythological accounts of his physical resurrection in the Gospels cannot be taken literally. There are many ways that the post-Easter Jesus could have been experienced. It is Marcus Borg's contention that it doesn't matter whether you take those mythological stories literally or not. Either way, you can be a Christian.

In a sense, I agree with Borg--indeed, it isn't necessary to take the Gospel resurrection accounts literally to be a Christian. But for me personally, and my religious life, this question does matter a great deal. Not only do I not take those mythological accounts literally, but the integration of rationality into my faith is too important to say that it doesn't matter to me. I admit that this is a personal reaction to my fundamentalist upbringing; there is little I can do about that. So while I think that Christians can legitimately fall on either side of the divide on that question, I find that my own faith expression needs to leave the literalism behind. And that is one reason why I find myself wishing to avoid church at Easter time. I am not interested in seeing these mythological accounts taken literally as part of my worship experience.

When talking about the resurrection, one can describe its participation by the disciples as the Easter moment--the moment when Jesus was experienced after his death by those who had followed him in life. The nature of this experience isn't clear, but I do believe that Jesus was clearly such a charismatic figure in his lifetime that his followers could not believe that death was the final word as far as Jesus was concerned. Thus they believed that Jesus was taken up in God's presence, and this was the something they felt deeply and personally. It was only much later, a half-century of so, after his death, that stories of a resurrected Jesus walking around on the earth started to crop up in Christian writings.

But the idea that Jesus walked around on the earth after his death, which some Christians claim is an "essential" tenet of the faith, was so unimportant in the earliest Christian writings that no one bothered to mention it. How odd. In fact, what we know from the earliest Christian writer, Paul, who experienced the risen Christ in a mystical or visionary way, is that he didn't think that any of the other apostles experienced Jesus in a way any different from how he did. Consider this quote from 1 Corinthians 15:

he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Here we see that, for Paul, the experience of the risen Jesus involved not some mythological tales of Jesus walking around with his pals, but rather it was an experience of a wholly different order, of the risen Jesus who was taken up in God's presence, whom, according to Paul, "was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:4)" This resurrection was experienced in this way, starting with Cephas (Peter), and continuing with others, including himself.

Even when the first Gospel, Mark, was written, some forty years after Jesus died, it included no stories of a resurrected Jesus walking around with his disciples. Those myths were yet to be formulated. Instead, the women at the tomb were told to go to Galilee, where they would find the risen Jesus. Peter was specifically mentioned in that passage--interestingly, since it was Peter (Cephas) in the passage by Paul above who was cited as the first to have experienced the risen Christ. Thus, in my mind anyway, it seems likely that it was Peter, in Galilee, who was the one to first experience and proclaim his experience of the risen Christ. This, in other words, was the Easter moment--the understanding, perhaps based on a mystical experience, that Jesus was to be found present with God.

When the later Gospels began to include fanciful stories about Jesus coming back physically on the earth--appearing through walls, showing his crucifixion scars, and, as the icing on the cake, literally "rising" up to heaven, the latter reflecting what seems to us now a rather primitive three-tiered cosmology--the locus of events began to move from Galilee to Jerusalem. Matthew had Jesus appearing on a mountain in Galilee, but Luke changed the story dramatically and instead had Jesus and his disciples hanging around in Jerusalem--in fact, Jesus specifically tells them to stay in Jerusalem, which is, of course, the direct opposite of what was the women in Mark were told.

For some people, it is easily possible to dismiss the contradictions in the mythological resurrection accounts, and instead cling to the belief that they are literally true. But for me, this is simply not possible. I do not believe that religion is about believing the unbelievable, and, more importantly, I do not appreciate it when people insist that adhering to incredible beliefs is a necessary tenet of faith. This is what drives many rational people away from religion.

I think that Marcus Borg's perspective, of tolerance and mutual respect, among those who both take these stories literally and those who do not, is great in theory. In an ideal world, I would gladly partake of such a community of mutual respect. But the problem is that this is not an ideal world, and most religious conservatives are not interested in such mutual respect; they continue to insist that those who do not accept the literal resurrection are not Christians, and that such a belief is an "essential" of the faith. When you are excluded and marginalized, called a heretic, or (in some ways this is the most insulting) proselytized, you get fed up pretty quickly. I think it is great when progressives who have not been wounded by fundamentalism are able to try to carry out Marcus Borg's desire for tolerance and respect; but, in reality, I think that it is mostly a one-way street, since a great number of religious conservatives couldn't care less themselves about this mutual tolerance and respect.

It seems to me that we are a long way from the kind of Christianity that Marcus Borg would like to see. My experience has been that most of the self-described progressive Christian churches still preach about the resurrection as if it the events depicted in Matthew, Luke, and John were literal history. I could probably take that a little better if these stories were presented with at least some sort of asterisk. But that rarely seems to be the case. Even if the pastor privately holds a different set of views, I find little in the liturgy or music of church services that is not a full celebration of these mythological events as literal events, sans asterisk.

So there you have it. The Easter moment was literalized, and I who don't accept that literalization feel instead marginalized.

When the curious stumble into a church

I ran across a recent review of a San Francisco church at that included this anecdote:

One Sunday morning, after the service, I approached Pastor Terry and introduced myself. I told him how moved and inspired I was by his summer lecture series. I then posed the question: I asked him, as a gay man, how am my viewed by his church and is there a place for me in his congregation. His mouth dropped. His body language contracted and he replied, "We adhere to STRICT biblical teachings and condemn homosexuality." For the the next several seconds he tried to maintain a constrained, polite, demeanor, but I got the picture loud and clear.

I stumbled home in a daze back to my Mission apartment feeling as though I had just been whacked across the head by a psychic two by four. It was traumatic to say the least. In a nut shell, this is a traditional evangelical Christian church that tries to pass itself off as a "progressive" church and is NOT inclusive.
This is the sort of story that I am sure gets repeated all the time--a gay or lesbian seeker is attracted to a church, only to find that he or she is excluded because of his or her sexuality.

Yet, on the other hand, to be honest, I was at first a little surprised that the reviewer had this experience, since a quick visit to the church's web site shows all the code words and phrases that pretty much make it pretty darned clear that this is a conservative evangelical church. For example, the very first sentence in the "What We Believe" page says, "We believe that the Bible is the Word of God. As such, it is fully trustworthy in all it teaches and affirms", citing 1 Timothy 3:16. It goes on to say that "we believe that all people are born with a fallen and broken nature and cannot be saved except through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. We believe Jesus is the way, the truth and the life." And so forth. Very traditional conservative Protestant theology. The odds would not have been very high that such a church would have been inclusive or progressive at any level--certainly not inclusive unless it proclaimed its inclusiveness somewhere, which it did not.

But the Yelp reviewer of this church mentioned something at the beginning of his review that gives a hint as to how this happened. He was invited to go there by a friend, and he mentions, "although I did not have a traditional Christian upbringing, I was moved by the music and full band at the beginning of each Sunday service." In other words, without a traditional Christian upbringing, he probably just didn't have the experience with Christianity that would have allowed him to identify who the intolerant conservatives were. Maybe because this particular church seemed hip or cool at some superficial level in terms of its presentation, he just assumed that it was theologically progressive.

Those of us with experience with Christianity know that there is a great deal of variety within the faith. Although conservative Christians do like to proclaim that they, and they alone, are legitimately "Christian", the reality is, of course, something else entirely. But for a person without the necessary background, they just wouldn't be able to discern all the differences within the broad stream of Christian traditions, or pick out the code words, or figure out what they were getting themselves into when they stumbled into a church--especially one that tries hard to exude a coolness factor. Those with the requisite experience are inoculated against the preachers of intolerance and know when to be wary or stay away; those without the experience aren't.

First things first

A quote from the "Progression of Faith" blog:

Christianity cannot become post-modern until it first becomes modern.

The art of snubbing heretics

Ms. Kitty, a UU minister, writes in her blog about the subject of "reaching out to conservative pastors". She relates an anecdote that says so much in a nutshell:

One of the pastors, a volunteer chaplain at the hospital, was asked (when I was getting ready to start volunteering myself) by the coordinator to show me around and teach me the ropes of informal chaplaincy. He turned down the request because I'm not the right kind of Christian, i.e., someone who believes that Jesus was God.

The coordinator was a little abashed at telling me the news but I read his mind, when he said that he'd been turned down. "Is it because of our different theology?" I asked. He said yes and I theorized that it was because of our differing Christology (though I didn't use that word). He acknowledged that was the case.

I was frustrated but not surprised. The implication seemed to be that somehow meeting with me would be a betrayal of his belief system, that he would endanger his soul by helping me learn the hospital's chaplaincy procedures, that his congregation would disapprove.

The point of progressive faith

I recently ran across a comment in John Shuck's blog that objected to any form of progressive Christianity that did not take literally some of the traditional mythologies about Jesus. The commenter wrote, "If being involved in church is just to bring happiness and social change there are simpler ways of doing so." In other words, the claim was that if the church doesn't promote a certain set of theological dogmas then there just isn't any point to attending such a church.

I run across this same objection from time to time. First and foremost, it misses the point. Progressive faith isn't just about happiness and social change, and it is a mischaracterization to suggest that it is. It is, like all religions, about meaning, transcendence, and purpose; goals like happiness and social change are secondarily derived from the ways that progressive faith offers insights into these matters. Orthodox Christianity approaches meaning, transcendence, and purpose by identifying what it sees are a set of problems that revolve around questions of sin, grace, and eternal life. When some conservative Christians look at other forms of Christianity that don't look at sin, grace, and eternal life the same way that they do--perhaps not even identifying them as "problems" to be solved by their respective theologies--they seem befuddled by the situation, and suggest that there isn't any real point to such faiths, since they don't seek to solve the same theological "problems". The fallacy here is an inability to look outside the box for a moment and consider that others may see value in religion because they look to the deeper issues that all religions seek to address, even if the specific paradigm of that faith is different. It is just as wrong for conservative Christians to say that there is no point to progressive Christianity as it is to say that there is no point to Judaism, Buddhism, or Hinduism--all of which are faiths which also address meaning, transcendence, and purpose, but which do so by attempting to solve different sorts of theological "problems" than what orthodox Christianity tries to solve.

There is another problem with the above statement. It makes a problematic leap from "such a church would not work for me" to "such a church is useless for anyone and everyone else." This generalization from personal experience is an unfortunate mistake, and it also shows an unwillingness to really apply the spirit of inquiry. Instead of saying, "I don't get what value you see in church given that you don't accept tenets A, B, and C. Can you explain that to me?" we instead hear, "I don't get what you see in in this kind of church, so therefore you are all wrong to want be a part of it."

If you are already convinced that your religion is the only true one, then of course, you aren't really interested in inquiring of others what value they find in their own faiths. You can simply dismiss their experiences as invalid and assert that they belong to the wrong religions. Such an approach makes for an easy, comfortable religion, secure in its own dogmas and untroubled by anything that doesn't fit into its own paradigm. But ultimately, it is an expression of arrogant tribalism, one that asserts the superiority of one's own tribe (religion) over all others.


John Shuck tells us how to send a prayer that works.

Religion and violence

I have not read Mark Lilla's book The Stillborn God, but a few months ago I critiqued his New York Times article, which was adapted from the book.

I have found a critique of his book that offered this quote:

A first core problem of the book is the very beginning of the story: it buys into the simplistic myth of religious violence and secular peace, resting on the unsubstantiated empirical claim that “religion” (whatever that is) breeds violence whereas institutions of liberal democracy foster peace (current world conflicts in the name of “democracy” not withstanding). Thus Lilla repeats the liberal alarm about religion’s “passion” and “fervor” as the incubator of violence—passions to be curbed by the machinations of Leviathan and, later, the liberal democratic state. But this is a distinction that is untenable for anyone who has ever attended a professional sports event in the United States. It sounds as if Lilla has never witnessed the fervor and passion incited at the opening of a NASCAR race when the dancing colors of the flag are mingled with the iconography of a military fly-over. The opening prayer certainly doesn’t excite the same passions!
It never ceases to amaze me when non-religious people assert that religion is an inherent fomenter of violence. Apparently these people have never heard of religious pacifists like the Berrigan brothers, Martin Luther King, or large number of the world's Quakers, Bretheren, and Mennonites. By the same token, it is equally absurd for religious people to accuse atheism of having an inherent relationship with violence or injustice, as the Pope did in a recent encyclical.

Okay, so I found this funny

Jesus's secretary answers your prayers.

The sequel

I stayed away from church during the season of Advent. This was part of a broader strategy of avoiding the season of Christmas as much as possible. For example: had managed to mostly avoid hearing Christmas songs on the radio, by quickly changing stations if necessary. And: I did not exchange Christmas gifts with anyone.

Christmas was over. The coast was clear, I thought, to pay another visit to church now. But wait--it was Epiphany! I chose the wrong day to come back.

What was I thinking?

Going to church on Epiphany after avoiding it during Advent is like seeing a movie sequel after having consciously decided to avoid the original film. They should just call this part of the church calendar Christmas II.

They actually sang some Christmas songs during the church service. I had thought I was done with hearing that music for another 11 months!

Because in many ways I do feel like I'm on the same theological page as the pastor, I stayed for the sermon; then I walked out when she finished, with about 20 minutes or so left in the service. I just wasn't in the mood for any more.

Appreciating the scriptures

Here is a quote from John Shuck's blog about how one can find value in the five books of the Pentateuch even though they are the produce of "editing and stitching" by editors who joined together various source stories that don't always fit together seamlessly:

It is important to appreciate this editing and stitching so we don’t get too literal-minded and misread this saga of the Hebrew Scriptures as a straightforward history. Scholars are increasingly discovering that the Hebrew Scriptures are far more story than history. While some may feel that this discovery is a loss or even a threat, I find it as a gain. The scriptures are far more interesting to me when I see them as the struggle through story and saga of what it means to be human.

What matters

Lately I've spent a fair amount of time contemplating the ways in which religion serves as a sort of meta-narrative for the universe, a framework for interpretation that gives the world an overall meaning and context. But a potential problem with a perspective like that is that it is possible to give short shrift to the small and everyday things that seemingly pale in significance to the Big Picture. My personal struggles may not amount to much in the overall, sweeping, 14 billion year history of the Cosmos.

One of the things I like about process theology is that it provides a Big Picture without dismissing the mundane. On the contrary, it is a premise of process thought that God actively participates creatively in each and every little event, because the outcome of each such event matters to God. Further, process thought imbues God with a perfect empathy with every subjective experience, such that even the petty issues of my everyday existence, in all their sorrows and joys, are shared by God.

The grand sweep of cosmic history would not matter all that much if our individual experiences were not important. Part of what makes religion important to me is that it rejects the notion of a cold, indifferent universe, in favor of a cosmos that has meaning and purpose.