Sunday, September 22, 2013
Science, Morality and Christian Evangelism; Pt. 2

Science, Morality and Christian Evangelism; Pt. 2

NOTE: This is the second of a two part series. Part one can be read here.

Contrary to what many on the secular Left would have the world believe, there is abundant proof of the wisdom - and science – behind moral precepts derived from Judeo-Christian principles. Contrast that with the damage that has been wrought by abandonment of those principles.

Contemporary society tells us that human beings are disposable. Abortion is just one consequence of this worldview. Judeo-Christian morality tells us that every human being is distinct, invaluable, made in the image and likeness of God. It drives the pro-life moment. Scientific study and technological advances have reinforced, not contradicted, our perspective.

Our culture shrugs its shoulders at easy divorce. The Judeo-Christian attitude toward marriage is that it is for life. Jesus Christ said, "The two shall become one flesh" and "What God has joined, let no man put asunder." What is the physical manifestation of the "one flesh" that Christ described? Children. Who is hurt worst by divorce? Children.

And nothing seems as unquestionable in America today as a casual attitude about sexuality generally. Christ was quite clear about the damage done by adultery and fornication. We have seen this borne out.

In fact, Jesus Christ's words were filled with scientific truths that we have only just begun to understand scientifically. Take, for example, his admonition that we should forgive our brother "70 times 7 times." Historically viewed as merely a divine command - (translation: Your brother doesn't deserve it, but God demands it, so you must do it) – studies in sociology and psychology now demonstrate not only that forgiveness can resolve interpersonal conflict, but that there is a direct and observable physiological response to forgiveness. It is healthier for the forgiver to forgive.

Christians should not be surprised by any of this. God advises the things He does because He KNOWS us. He knows us as a father knows His children. He knows us as the Creator knows the created. Or, put somewhat differently, He knows us as the perfect scientist knows the subject of His study.

What God advises us to do, and to avoid – those things which we have tended to call "morality" – He has done because He LOVES us, and because He knows what will bring creativity, happiness, and human flourishing -- and that which will produce misery and suffering, illness and death, personal devastation and even societal collapse.

So what are Christians and others who would like to see a change, to do?

None of this is a call for more laws. The law is a blunt instrument not suited for the guidance of the most personal and intimate aspects of people's lives. And a people who "do the right thing" only through fear of legal sanction have no real ethos save self-preservation.

Instead, we need to strengthen and listen to - not undermine or mock - institutions that instill the values that promote healthy individuals, healthy families, and thus a healthy society. These must include the religious institutions that have demonstrated their ability to co-exist with and promote civilized individual behavior and the development of civilized society and human flourishing. Confining discussion of "morality" to the realm of denominational dogma removes the Judeo-Christian perspective on human interaction from the most important social conversations at a time when that perspective is desperately needed.

Christians – and those with whom we find common ground on these issues – must have the courage to point to the proof of the need for the morality we espouse. It needs to be clearer that there is a universal rightness and goodness to the principles outlined in Christian morality; that these are NOT just peculiarities of a particular religious dogma (like wearing particularly clothing, attending church on this day or that) that members of other faiths or no faith can disregard as meaningless to them.

Christians have a responsibility to convey the message that healthy sexuality is like any other human good, such as food, drink, work, or recreation: excellent in the proper places and times, but potentially deeply destructive if misused or abused. One way this can be done is by tying Christian morality to scientifically provable facts about human health and human flourishing. Christians have no reason to fear the inclusion of science in the conversation. Profound moral truths should be scientifically demonstrable if they are to be considered universally applicable.

We must also gently remind ourselves and our fellow citizens that individual decisions have a collective impact. The consequences of individual decisions, multiplied by tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people – affect us all. We acknowledge the environmental impact of our individual "carbon footprint"; why can we not admit the societal impact of our other personal decisions?

This also means that we must find a sensible middle ground between libertine public promiscuity and hypocritical puritanical judgmentalism. Perhaps a good comparison is the public's attitude towards smoking or alcohol. We don't feel bad about encouraging people not to smoke, even if they enjoy smoking. We recognize the damage that excessive consumption of alcohol can do to a person's health and that of their family, and so we advise drinking in moderation. We have other reasonable social limits and constraints, such as a legal age to purchase, or laws forbidding operating a motor vehicle after drinking. We encourage people to keep trying, even when they fall off the wagon, or start smoking again. We don't tell people, "You're smoking, so you're going to hell," or "You're no longer a tobacco virgin." Nor is it said, "Well, you were an alcoholic, so you've got no business telling other people to stop drinking." (And Prohibition is the best evidence of the law's ineffectiveness here.)

Finally, along with embracing science in these evangelizing conversations, we should welcome debates with skeptics. Such confrontations test our mettle. They weed out charlatans. And where science prevails, religious precepts can withdraw – not where a tenet of faith cannot be proven true (as with, for example, the existence of God), but certainly where it can be proven false (e.g., no, the sun does not revolve around the earth).

In the spirit of reciprocity, our atheistic and agnostic brethren must relinquish their visceral rejection of anything that is traceable to a religious tradition. Just because "Thou shalt not kill" derives from ancient Judaism does not mean that we should toss out the societal prohibition against murder as a superstitious anachronism. There is a reason this has endured.

I do not mean to suggest that Judaism and Christianity are the only religious traditions that provide insight into humanity or bases for enlightened human interaction. To the contrary, I am suggesting that any religious tradition that can survive contact with scientific inquiry – and that describes a significant number of them – should continue to guide our decisions and influence our societies. Those which depend for their survival upon ignorance or threat of physical force should wither away.

Jesus Christ said, "Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free." This does not sound like someone who was afraid of science. We should not be afraid to use science to evangelize for Him.

Laura Hollis is an Associate Professional Specialist and Concurrent Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches entrepreneurship and business law. She is the author of the forthcoming publication, "Start Up, Screw Up, Scale Up: What Government Can Learn From the Best Entrepreneurs," © 2014. Her opinions are her own, and do not reflect the position of the university. Follow her on Twitter: @LauraHollis61.


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