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In the countries around us the results of the Synod of Bishops questionnaire have been published and they show a worrying image. While the data differs slightly per country, the general trend seems to be that Catholic faithful in general do not agree with Catholic teaching about sexuality and gender. In Germany the bishops have said that the faithful considering same-sex marriage a matter of justice and equality. Celibacy for priests is equally considered outdated and should be abolished.
This points to a serious problem: the Church in these countries has not succeeded in communicating her teachings very well, and where it has, it has done so according to the stereotype of the Church who forbids everything. Catholic teaching about sexuality is rooted in a profound understanding of human nature, according to his being created by God who has created man with a purpose.
This teaching, founded in that of Jesus Christ and unchanged (if developed) since then, is one that often exists at direct angles with society. Society in the west teaches something radically different than the Church: sexuality is a commodity, gender is self made, free choice trumps all. In essence, it says that the human being is the sole interpreter of who he or she is or can be. The Church, on the other hand, teaches that the human being is called to something greater in all aspects of his being. God calls him to Himself and shows us the way in His Son. That means that we are not limited by what we think, feel or know ourselves, but also that we should take our nature seriously. And that latter part is where we struggle. With those around us who tell us something different, but also with ourselves.
It is certainly easy to go along with what society tells us about sexuality. It is easy, comforting, uplifting even to fight for the happiness of others in love and marriage. It is a measure of control and seeming self-knowledge to decide on our own sexuality and practices. But God tells us something different. He says that we are called to look beyond ourselves, to listen to what He tells us and how He created us.
And that is something that must be communicated well. Until now, it hasn’t. The keyword in this communication is love. We must communicate, teach, inform with love. The love of the Father for us, but also our love for our neighbours and for ourselves. That love can’t be withdrawn when we or others stumble or decide to go another path. We are, after all, people with free will. That is how God created us and that is what we must respect.
What sort of love must we show to others and ourselves? In essence it is the love of the Father, and the best analogy I can think of is the love of parents for their children. Parents want what is best for their children, even when the children disagree. The children know that their parents love them, even when they sometimes forbid them things or correct them. We must emulate that love when we share the teachings of the Church on these very personal and sensitive matters.
Don’t turn anyone away.
Be honest and open. People deserve no less.
Love the person, not their actions.
Condemn actions, not persons.
Lead by example.
People will still disagree when we do, of course. But we are called to share and spread the faith, and to do so fully. Faith without love is nothing.
Yesterday I was able to attend the showing of a movie about the story of the creation as we find in it in chapter 1 of Genesis. With a voice over reading the various verses from that story, we were treated to all kinds of footage illustrating what we heard. Some lovely scenes of nature and the world wrapped in about an hour. Perhaps it dragged a bit here and there, but in the end there was little to complain about. But there was also nothing remarkable either – we see much the same footage daily on Discovery Channel, for example, albeit without the Biblical narration.
Before the showing of the movie, titled ‘De Schepping – de aarde is getuige’ (Creation – the world is a witness), we were treated to a taped presentation in German by South African Professor Walter Veith. Professor Veith – a highly dubious person, as a quick Google search reveals – spoke about how faith and evolution were in conflict, how anyone who professed faith in God had no business taking the theory of evolution seriously. His was a rather rambling talk without much focus, and therefore hard to follow, but the gist of it was what I outlined above. Professor Veith showed a rather dubious grasp of such sciences as genetics and biology (something my girlfriend, who happens to be a biologist, confirmed) and most significantly failed to communicate what the theory of evolution is actually about. For someone who claims to be a scientist, these are serious mistakes. His unspoken but very clear argument that all evolutionist are basically clones of Richard Dawkins didn’t help either.
Sadly, his words were lapped up by the 1,400 spectators. Not barred by much scientific knowledge, as some overheard conversations revealed, many happily denounced anything approaching science in favour of a faith in something that I would like to call a magician God.
The creationist agenda, which was obviously heavily pushed last night, creates, if you’ll pardon a pun, a conflict where none exists. It treats science as the great enemy, which is out to establish a world without God or any religious faith. The theory of evolution, which obviously plays a major part in this argument, is presented as a life philosophy, a faith if you will. Evolution, creationists say, is out to destroy the world that God created, since it has no focus on an ultimate destination. This, Professor Veith says, is because Charles Darwin had an unhealthy focus on death. That is obviously hogwash as any reading of Darwin’s letters and books will show. The fact that he struggled to understand the existence of the death and decay he saw on his travels in the light of loving and benevolent God is not the same as being obsessed with death. Darwin’s writings instead show a man with a keen interest in the natural world and a desire of understanding it, coupled with a great admiration of its workings.
Like other scientific theories, whether they be well-established or only recently formulated, the theory of evolution describes processes and visible phenomena. Over the course of more than 150 years, it has come up with a very good description of how and why organisms develop the way they do. The survival of the fittest and adaptation to the environment are key elements in that, and later the science of genetics played a major part in that. The fact that creatures change and different genes work at different times in an organism’s life is obviously not in conflict with those organisms being the result of a creative action by God.
The Bible tells us two different creation stories, but none of these are to be taken as literal accounts.We can’t take both literally, not least because they contradict each other. What we can take from the stories in Genesis is the knowledge that God created this earth and all the organisms in it, that each being has its place in it, that man has a special role of responsibility for creation, and that we are created in God’s likeness. Genesis does not tell us exactly how God did all this and how much time He took. The seven days mentioned must be read within the strong numerological tradition of the Jewish author(s), where the number seven indicates the special truth and completeness of the statements made.
Faith and science are not in conflict as truth and truth are not in conflict. Science lets us understand the world that we live in and, through the theory of evolution and the sciences of geology and paleontology we can find out much about the processes of the past, in organisms and the planet, that led to the world we see around us today. This, for me at least, is not in conflict with a Creator God who has a purpose with this world. To pretend otherwise is irresponsible.