Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Age-Old (Illusory) Debate

Before I get to the age-old debate, I promised I would say something about my first Sunday at Grace Lutheran. If I could describe it in two words, those words would be "great" and "exhausting". Steve and I were there for six hours, not counting our 45 minute drive each way. It didn't help that we had stayed up late the night before. Now we really know what we're in for as regular worship leaders... long, long Sundays.

Grace is also exhausting simply because they have so much going on. Four services every weekend (of which we only went to two), education hour (Sunday school and adult ed), feeding the homeless, confirmation, choir and band, a preschool with over a hundred students, and so on and so forth. It's a large church, at least by Lutheran (i.e. not megachurch) standards. The largest worship service is contemporary; the other three are smaller, traditional services. After going to worship and the education hour and then worship again, and having our picture taken by the self-proclaimed "unofficial" church photographer, and getting the tour of the labyrinthine facilities ("And down these stairs are more classrooms! And up here are more offices! Oh, and this is the other worship space! This is where the choir practices!"), we went out to lunch with Pastor Kevin and Pastor Martha to look at the shape of the semester and get oriented. That meeting sums up the two most exciting things about Teaching Parish right now: working with Pastor Kevin and Pastor Martha, and getting free lunch every Sunday. (I'm being facetious about one of these. Guess which one.) All in all, it should be a great experience, although next week we're going to bed early.

Now for that debate I mentioned: science and religion (cue dramatic music). Now, I realize that my perspective on this one is a little screwed, having one grandfather an engineer and the other grandfather a physicist, my parents a physicist and a mathematician, and growing up in the town that built the atomic bomb—while simultaneously being raised in a very active church life with excellent preaching, thoughtful study, and serious consideration of ministry. But really, why does everyone seem to think that science and religion are so opposed? I'm not talking here about arguments over whether the Earth revolves around the Sun or vice versa, I'm talking about the fundamental schism everyone seems to identify between the scientific way of viewing the world and the Christian one.

This issue is on my mind because of the book I'm reading for Church's Worship at the moment, titled Inside Out: Worship in an Age of Mission. Let me just say to begin with that I like the book a lot; it has a very interesting perspective about how worship and mission are connected. But in both of the essays I've read so far, the authors take pot shots (it seems to me) at science. In the first essay, Thomas Schattauer says of the thanksgiving (eucharistic) nature of worship, "It orients us to the source of all things, to the almighty and everlasting God, who has created and continually sustains the world and everything in it. [So far, so good, right?] Such a recognition is diminished, if not altogether eliminated, in the scientific rationality that permeates the daily existence of most people." To which I eloquently responded in the margin, "Nuh uh!" Again, in the second essay, Jann Fullenwieder says, "Do we really expect to see God? Because we are versed in scientific and psychological explanations for many of life's questions, many North Americans do not think God is acting in the world."

Now, I don't pretend to understand what these writers meant by "science" in this context. And I certainly appreciate the problem in the attitude held by some (though perhaps we only assume that it is held by some) that science has all the answers, and that having science removes the need for Christianity. Still, I think the language these authors are using goes beyond that radical "scientific" attitude—which, again, I don't think is really a mark of good science at all—to say that any kind of rationality or understanding of science is detrimental to religion. I have found that studying science is almost a kind of worship, that the more I learn about the world (or at least our theories about the world) the more amazed I am. Why should I not say, "Praise God that we could discover from tiny drops of oil that electrical charge has a discrete unit" instead of "Praise God for bunnies"? Why shouldn't our growing knowledge of God's creation make us ever more aware of his role as creator and sustainer of the world? What is the conflict between science and religion that everyone is so worried about? I posit that science and Christianity, when both are understood not as blind following of a principle but as eager and vital exploration, are highly complimentary; they are not opposed at all.

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