DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Faith is my Bias

Written by: on February 21, 2020

This week our living room gained a Nutritower. This 5’5 innovation will allow my family to grow our own food year round, using 95% less water and will save 1 million food miles.[1] The added benefit is that my children will learn how to grow and pollinate their own food. It is one minuscule way that we can reduce our contribution to climate change. It is also one way my husband is helping to address my irrational apocalyptic anxieties. When my stress is high, all climate change news triggers anxiety attacks that lead to a struggle to engage in everyday life (which is full of climate change contributing behaviours…let’s just start with heating the house). So the Nutritower’s mood enhancing lights, slow trickle of water and oxygen producing plants will hopefully help to return me to a place of reasoning. Fresh produce is almost the bonus rather than the goal.

 

Given my high concern with the state of the world, Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress was a welcome read. Pinker is a Canadian-American cognitive psychologist who teaches in Harvard’s psychology department. In his book, Pinker offers an optimistic view of the world which comes from looking at years of data that indicate that humanity has been able to persistently improve the overall quality of life. He clarifies that “an optimistic civilization is open and not afraid to innovate, and is based on traditions of criticism. Its institutions keep improving, and the most important knowledge that they embody is knowledge of how to detect and eliminate errors.”[2] He contends that Enlightenment principles are the key to moving forward and finding the necessary solutions to the problems humanity currently faces. “[W]e can see that a concern with the environment, nuclear war, American foreign-policy blunders, and racial and gender equality could not be put off forever. Even if they make us more anxious, we are better for being aware of them.”[3] Pinker suggests that much of the apocalyptic anxiety people are experiencing (he cites that 25% of Australian children and 15% of people worldwide believe the world will end before they get older[4]) is due to a lack of understanding of the progress that humanity has made. This is certainly true in part, however he also points out that “[a]s people become better educated and increasingly skeptical of received authority, they may become unsatisfied with traditional religious verities and feel unmoored in a morally indifferent cosmos.”[5] This removal from a larger meta-narrative can lead to further anxiety that cannot be overcome by mere reason. In fact Alison Gopnik contends that “[t]he Enlightenment emphasis on the autonomous, rational individual can also lead to alienation and isolation, which make tribalism mythology all the more appealing.”[6]

 

Jordan Peterson validates the rational world, but does not see religious myths (foundational stories) in opposition to reason.

 

The world can be validly construed as a forum for action, as well as a place of things. We

describe the world as a place of things, using the formal methods of science. The techniques of narrative, however-myth, literature and drama-portray the world as a forum for action. The two forms of representation have been unnecessarily set at odds, because we have not yet formed a clear picture of their respective domains. The domain of the former is the objective world-what is, from the perspective of intersubjective perception. The domain of the latter is the world of value-what is and what should be, from the perspective of emotion and action.”[7]

 

Tribal faith narratives are passed on through retelling within communities. Such community rituals reduce anxiety by breaking down the isolation nurtured by Enlightenment’s emphasis on the individual. Further, these narratives pass on values that can direct what unknown territory ought to be explored for the benefit of humanity. While research and progress might be beneficial products of science and technology, our beliefs and values will create boundaries that offer security of a different kind. What we believe will, determine how we act, because it shapes both how we understand the present and the ideal future.[8] For example in his work The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Shaped our Values, Nick Spencer traces the development of the concept of personhood through to the establishment of democracy showing how Christian values shaped our current political systems[9] which Pinker confirms is “a major contributor to human flourishing[10].

 

Can science and reason be a complement to faith rather than its competition? I believe the answer is yes. If we genuinely believe our prayer that we long for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven” then we will look to Biblical images of heaven to shape our actions now. If the ‘New Jerusalem’ is an invitation toward the future, than we can be sure that innovation and progress are part of God’s plan. Otherwise heaven would look like Eden—undeveloped and with nature intact. James Hunter invites such integrated work by reflecting that “[e]very person is made in God’s image and every person is offered his grace and, in turn, the opportunity to labor together with God in the creation and recreation of the world. It is of a fabric with the ethic of care central to Christian faith, an ethic that enjoins all Christians to serve the needs of the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the weak, and the dispossessed.”[11]The value that the Christian narrative brings to progress is that it will never be enough for the majority of humanity to thrive, producing an overall increase in flourishing, but that the most vulnerable are raised up. It is part of the Christian narrative to be motivated to care for the vulnerable. Just as Spencer traces the influence of Christian values on democracy, I wonder how many scientific breakthroughs are answers to desperate prayers for healing—of smallpox, of polio, of infections. I have prayed over many researchers and their projects that their work would lead to greater healing of the oceans, of our agricultural systems, of our relationships with our indigenous peoples.

 

Out of the Christian narrative we are invited to consider that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”[12] It is an invitation to envision an unreasonably beautiful future and act accordingly. So I will sit next to my Nutritower and absorb it’s mood enhancing light, thankful for the research that has gone into it, hopeful that it is part of an environmentally sustainable future and I will pray ‘thy Kingdom come’, because faith is my bias.

[1] “Best Indoor Gardening Vertical Hydroponics System,” Nutritower, accessed February 20, 2020, https://nutritower.com/)

[2] Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress. ( USA :Penguin Books, 2018) p.7.

[3] Pinker, p.286

[4] Pinker, p.292

[5] Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress. ( USA :Penguin Books, 2018) p.284.

[6]Alison Gopnik, “When Truth and Reason Are No Longer Enough.” The Atlantic. April 2018. Accessed February 20, 2020. Https://www.google.ca/amp/s/amp.theatlantic.com/amp/article/554054

[7] Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: the Architecture of Belief (London: Routledge, 1999), p. xxi.

[8] Jordon B. Peterson, “2016 Lecture 01 Maps of Meaning: Introduction and Overview.” YouTube video, 1:40.54. 2016.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjnvtRgpg6g&feature=share

[9] Nick Spencer, The Evolution of the West: How Christianity has Shaped our Values. (Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018) .

[10] Pinker, 199.

[11] Hunter, p.93.

[12] NIV Hebrews 11:1

About the Author

mm

Jenn Burnett

Jenn is lead pastor at The Well church in Kelowna. She longs to see the body of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit and contending for unity across difference. She also loves rugby, the outdoors, the colour orange and the chaos that goes with raising 4 kids.

7 responses to “Faith is my Bias”

  1. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Great tie in to so many authors Jenn! Enjoy the nutritower!!

  2. Learned something new Jenn. I now have to look into learning more about the nutritower. That’s something I might want to have around the house.

  3. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    Great post, Jenn. Also, that nutritower looks fantastic! Has it been a positive experience so far?

  4. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Excellent summary of the last few week’s reading, Jenn. All of these works together portray a more complete picture of God’s world. I like your bias. 🙂

  5. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Jenn,
    Splendid post, I love your title! “If the ‘New Jerusalem’ is an invitation toward the future, then we can be sure that innovation and progress are part of God’s plan.” There, you captured my eschatology and my living hope. Innovation and progress are part of God’s plan, perhaps a bit like your Nutritower?

  6. mm Mary Mims says:

    Jenn, I love how you pulled together several of our authors and readings. Although I don’t agree with Pinker’s Humanist views, I am glad to understand how the world is answering questions about the meaning of life. You are right to return to the Christian narrative to find value and progress. Now you got everyone wanting a Nutritower!

  7. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Oh boy. I am going to have to get one of these…

    And your post was excellent as usual. I’m pasting one of your sentences here that I loved and wholeheartedly agree with – may it be so in Jesus name!

    The value that the Christian narrative brings to progress is that it will never be enough for the majority of humanity to thrive, producing an overall increase in flourishing, but that the most vulnerable are raised up.

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