Pastor’ Friday Comments (05.15.20)

 

In 1610 Galileo Galilei published a book, Siderius Nuncius (Starry Messenger), in which he reported his scientific discoveries through his observation of the universe. In addition to his many groundbreaking conclusions, he affirmed the belief that Nicolaus Copernicus was correct in his theory that the earth revolves around the sun, and not the other way around.

Copernicus had published his findings shortly before his death, so they drew little attention while he lived. Unfortunately for Galileo, however, his support of a belief in a heliocentric (sun centered) universe ran counter to the contemporary understanding of the Bible, which was that the earth was the center of the universe, and he was tried by the Roman Catholic Inquisition in 1633. His views were declared to be “formally heretical” and he was sentenced to indefinite imprisonment. Galileo was kept under house arrest until his death in 1642.

In the seventeenth century, if science contradicted the official interpretation of Scripture, the science had to be suppressed and anyone who advocated for it was punished.

Although modern biblical scholarship has taught us that the truths of Scripture as they relate to God and humanity can be taken with the utmost seriousness without accepting the literal validity of its scientific view of the world, there remains among many Christians a basic distrust of the scientific method. There is an underlying fear that to reject a biblical worldview would be to reject the Bible.

During our current challenging days, that attitude is dangerous and possibly fatal. To reject the recommendations of experts out of a well-intentioned but naive belief that “God will protect us no matter what” or because of a stubborn insistence that “the state can’t keep me from practicing my religion,” some Christian leaders can be putting lives in danger. Even more importantly, if Christians assemble and infect one another, they can then place the lives of others in jeopardy as well.

Throughout my ministerial career I have often failed at my job of speaking the truth, not by lying but by failing to confront irrational beliefs. Too often, when someone put forth a crackpot theory or endorsed some biblical interpretation that was inconsistent with reality, I just smiled benevolently, much like I would at a child who thought there really was a man in the moon. Now is not the time for benign neglect of the truth.

Christians should be leading the way in guiding people to accept the best scientific, medical advice related to our behavior during the ongoing pandemic. It is time to accept that everyone is not an expert and not every opinion is equally valid. Some very bright people have worked hard and studied diligently to present us with the best advice as to how to mitigate the damage of Covid-19 and how to minimize the number of deaths. They are not “going with their gut”. They are presenting us with the facts.

I and most of the people I know personally are enduring this time with minor inconveniences, so I am in no position to judge those who, through necessity, are risking their lives in an effort to return to a more normal existence. But I can advocate for trusting the best advice of experts. And, as a leader of a congregation, I can make recommendations about how we conduct ourselves and when and how we resume assembling together. I have found throughout my life that it is possible to hold a high and reverent view of Scripture while placing some faith in science too.

Right now that’s going to mean refraining from congregational worship and, when we return, putting in place some rather radical protocols for ensuring the safety of everyone. Let’s all pray for wise behavior by everyone, and that Christians will lead the way in protecting all people as much as possible.