The words had a frustrated edge, a certain conviction born of observation and experience. “Religion,” he said, “makes good people do bad things.” That rejection allowed him a freedom to navigate his culture, this world that humans have made, with a sense of purpose and a confidence in the availability of ethical choice and the responsibility of doing the right thing. He is a person who eschews the use of the words “sacred” and “spirituality” for the diversity of interpretations and the possibilities of offending others. The conversation was brief, and his articulation crisp and clear.
Hours later, I stumbled upon an OnBeing podcast by Krista Tipett featuring two Jesuit astronomers. Juxtaposing science and religion, they suggest that science and religion are each somehow incomplete. And the gift of faith, like the gift of science, is to know incompleteness, to know the ambigiuity of speculation. And all that brings me to this moment, the Sunday before Lent begins, with 1 Corinthians an echoing thought, “the Spirit of God dwells in you” (1 Cor 3). And too, Mt. 5, “love your enemies and pray for your persecutors”.
To be a believer, to have faith, does not mean to possess all the answers or to think that life’s answers are somehow to be found in the folds of the Bible or of ritual. Instead, like the science that broadens and deepens our understandings, there is a sense that faith deepens understanding of life and dares to open new questions. In either case, there is incompleteness. And it is an incompleteness that does not diminish either faith or science. Instead, incompleteness enhances the value of both in the way that each step opens to the next; both science and faith open the posssibility of understanding life in new dimensions. The disciplines are neither mutually exclusive nor symbiotic. And yet, one can animate the other if allowed.
That sense of incompleteness in faith is about discovering the sense that God is Other, simulataneously known and being discovered. And so it is with science: that we know and we are discovering all at the same time, continually altering and evolving our understandings. Neither science nor faith are fully known or understood. To postulate one without the other is to diminish both the Jesuits argue.
Religion, on the other hand, is often understood as institutional structures flawed and broken, havens for hypocrisy, fraud, corruption. Somewhere buried in all that are seeds of faith that did not reach fruition. And sometimes, there are moments within that that actually celebrate the ideals of the Spirit of God dwelling in us and the love of God generating the strength to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors.
To resist the science behind climate change or brain development is perceived as ignorance beyong measure. To reject religion, its journeys and its insights, may be equally ignorant. In spite of the repeated failures of science over centuries, it has earned a place in the lexicon of human understanding. Religion, too, has known dismal failure. Perhaps it is time to trust the incompleteness of both.