Wisdom and (or is it ‘vs’?) Religion

Sunday May 26, 2013 Community Christian Church Roger Ray, pastor

 

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?

2On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;

3beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:

4“To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.

22The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.

23Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.

24When there were no depths I was brought forth,

when there were no springs abounding with water.

25Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth—

26when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.

27When he established the heavens, I was there,

when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,

28when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,

29when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command,

when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31rejoicing in his inhabited world

and delighting in the human race.

 

It never got much traction but last year there was a fairly feeble attempt at getting people all worked up about the Mayan calendar foretelling the end of the world sometime in December. Somehow, people just couldn’t get all that worked up about it since a civilization that had not managed to forestall their own demise five hundred years ago didn’t have much credibility in our day.

Mayans are not much interesting to me as prophets of the distant future but I have found historical musings about their demise to be very interesting. The current speculation is that there was a theocratic government in which priests were the educated class who kept records of agricultural sciences and they told the rest of the population what to do.

At some point, there appears to have been a peasant uprising in which the laborers killed off the priestly class and with them went their ability to organize, plant, tend and harvest crops.

The Mayans didn’t entirely cease to exist but their civilization broke down and their numbers dramatically decreased as the survivors returned to a more primitive hunter-gatherer society.

Ancient religions were all mixed up in agricultural cycles and practical wisdom. In fact, Islam is arguably the first world religion that is not tied to agricultural seasons. Most of our Old Testament is full of what was, at the time of its writing, wisdom teachings about agriculture, economics, government and family life. As such, scripture was a source, not so much of mythology, but of helpful information.

In our lifetimes there has been a lot of conversation about the conflict between science and religion and though there have certainly been some high profile and laughable historical examples of this conflict, it wasn’t until the modern era that the two universes of knowledge appeared to draw a line in the sand to fight one another.

Michael Dowd, the noted author of “Thank God for Evolution” has argued that the new scripture for our generation should be scientific evidence. He says that we need to give up our obsession with ancient texts and to focus on what can be rationally known through empirical science.

By the way, Michael and his wife are planning to come here and live in the lower floor of our Annex next spring for four months while Michael and I see if we can co-author an alternative lectionary for progressive churches so you will be hearing more about his work in the next few months.

As you see in this reading from Proverbs this morning, the ancient Jews revered wisdom but in our age, religion often seems to revere ignorance. This is one of the most crucial aspects of progressive Christianity, this is what made me come back to parish life after giving up on the church entirely….. we have rejected all forms of magic and superstition in favor of a fact based approach to spirituality.

We are unwilling to make grand truth claims about things that cannot be known….. there are, undoubtedly, a lot of things that are true that we know nothing about, but just because a religious claim cannot be shown to be either true or false doesn’t mean that we have to act like we believe the wild assertions people make about things that have never been seen and cannot be seen….. like heaven and hell, angels and demons, souls, spirits, incarnation, the Trinity or even a really good haggis.

Many in our era have abandoned the church and given up on religion because it seems to confuse facts with imaginary beliefs but I’m telling you that I have come back to church, come back to religion, because, in my observations, our culture is combining facts with imagination.

The major western religions were all, in one way or another, something akin to the Mayan revolt against the ruling class. Judaism began among escaped slaves from Egypt. Zoroastrianism was a challenge to the inequality between the peasants and the ruling class of Persians. Christianity took root among an occupied and oppressed peoples who were impoverished by a ruthless empire. Even Islam began as a reform movement that sought to elevate the poor and the oppressed, ironically, even challenging the traditional Jewish and Christian oppression of women.

The church of the future must once again fall in love with wisdom.

We must be the protectors and proponents of what is true. I don’t want to sound paranoid to you but I have to tell you, while people have good reason to look askance at the reliability of religion as a source of true information, you should not rationally assume that either your government, or corporations or the media are going to be devoted to the truth if we don’t maintain a church that is devoted to reality.

Allow me to illustrate:

When BP tells you that they are cleaning up an oil spill in the gulf, that “clean up” involves spraying oil with a chemical dispersant that does not either “clean up” or “disperse” oil. It just makes it clump together and sink so that you cannot see it on the surface of the water but it really is adding one dangerous chemical to another dangerous substance and sinking it to the ocean floor where it continues to poison marine life.

Over 40 years ago, it was Republican President, Richard Nixon, who set up the Environmental Protection Agency after a huge oil spill off the coast of California. But since this agency was set up to protect our environment, Congress has passed legislation to exclude 70,000 different chemicals from regulation….. not because those chemicals are not dangerous but because some lobbyist got an exclusion for a chemical that they make a profit on so the agency that is supposed to protect you from pollution cannot even investigate the damage done by more than 70,000 chemicals in use in our nation.

We set up the Center for Disease Control at the end of WWII, largely to investigate ways to fight malaria but also to keep a watch on communicable diseases, poisons and injury causing devices.

However, the gun lobby has gotten legislation passed that makes it illegal to investigate injuries from guns. So, in the gun control debate, you will hear people saying, “We have no evidence that gun control legislation is effective,” and they are telling the truth…… because they have made it illegal to keep records!

Teddy Roosevelt set up the Food and Drug Agency to protect the public from foods or medications that had been, in his words, “adulterated.” But now, our current president has appointed a Vice President of the world’s leading food adulterator, Monsanto, to be the advisor to the FDA. Many nations are now banning all Genetically Modified Organisms from their food supply, others make food labeling mandatory….. shoot, even China mandates labeling of GMO’s on all food products and these are the people who paint children’s’ toys with lead and use anti-freeze to sweeten toothpaste.

Our FDA does not allow us to label foods as being GMO-free…..this from the agency that spent two generations saying that the facts were insufficient to conclude that tobacco poses a health risk….. you can’t make this stuff up.

And it is not always just covering up truthful information, sometimes it is intentional misinformation. In our neighboring state, Kansas, their legislature is currently considering a bill to mandate that teachers misinform students regarding global climate change, intentionally teaching children to reject climate science.

Though, some of the crazy thinking in government is still traceable to the remaining vestiges of religious views that should have been set aside since the enlightenment. Recent polls indicate that 76% of Republicans believe that Jesus will return and bring about the final judgment which accounts for their indifference to pollution and climate change.

Illinois congressman, John Schimkus, who is the chair of the committee on the environment and the economy, said: “The earth will end only when God declares it to be over.” A guy who couldn’t pass a sixth grade earth science test is in charge of the subcommittee on the environment. I don’t want to say that his religion is ridiculous but I do wish that he could be reassigned to the committee on leprechauns and tree fairies.

This past month, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million which is a level our planet has not seen in 3 million years. We are at a tipping point and yet you don’t hear anything about this in the corporate media because the truth could harm business and in our civilization, profit is the real religion and no one can question it without being labeled a heretic.

The ancient Hebrews portrayed wisdom as a woman who stood in the marketplace calling out to those who would listen to turn away from foolishness and to embrace the gift of wisdom, truth, understanding….. shoot, just accurate information. That is the call we must answer. We can no longer be held hostage to ancient superstitions that make us deny reality. Our greatest sacrament is the truth and facts are our scriptures.

We will teach our children to think critically with real analytical skills and we will not bow before a majority, no matter how large, that insist that we pretend to believe either what cannot be known or that is clearly false.

I am convinced that if you can get people to pretend to believe enough preposterous things that you can get them to do almost any preposterous thing…. like invade a country for no good reason, poison your own land, water and air or even eat some kind of toxic frankenfood. But, if you can eschew lies, magic and superstition then….. well, let it be said clearly: One person armed with the truth becomes a majority.

We may not have access to all of the information, we don’t have the truth about everything, but in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king and it is our goal in this church to head into the future with both of our eyes open.

 

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