So, our question for the first Roundtable of 2018 is about science and faith: “can they coexist in religious rhetoric?”
The short answer is “Sure, they can”—and we’ll demonstrate how that works in this very column.
However, we probably ought to begin by defining our terms. For the purposes of this column we will define science as a particular method of approaching reality. This method really started to come into its own about four hundred years ago. The method relies on theories that are tested by experimentation; those experiments are then reproduced in other settings; the results are measured or quantified, and that’s how this method provides us with an objective way of approaching reality.
And, clearly, science has a very impressive track-record: it’s not like everyone who ever lived before us was trapped in misery and ignorance, but the conveniences that we simply take for granted in 21st century America are breath-taking—air travel, automobiles, instantaneous communication, on the spot video, readily available food, access to all sorts of information—and every bit of that has been made possible by the approach to reality that we call science.
However, there is an older way of approaching reality. That older way is called faith, and it has been around since the beginnings of recorded history. Faith, though, is not a method. A method is a procedure that anyone can use, but faith is something that is much more personal. So, as a number of thinkers have pointed out, it’s really more accurate to call faith a skill. And what this skill produces is the direct perception of reality, the ability to experience reality at its very source.
Now what faith doesn’t produce is new technology and cutting-edge innovations. Instead, what faith creates is saints. After all, the source of all reality is the Most Holy Trinity, so folks who can directly experience reality at that level are people who have been united to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other words, these are people who have themselves become holy.
Of course, a self-driving car seems a lot more exciting and a lot more useful than a saint. But think about it like this: One of the main characteristics of a saint is happiness; the Biblical word for that happiness is blessedness. Genuine happiness, true blessedness, comes from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and, since a saint is someone who has been united with the Most Holy Trinity, these holy people are living examples of what happiness actually looks like.
And, as we head into this New Year, we need those examples more than ever. Because despite all of our impressive gadgets and all of our super-cool tech, one thing that is in very short supply in our culture is happiness. In fact, a lot of people are beginning to wonder if real happiness is even possible.
But you can make that call yourself—and you can use the scientific approach, if it will help. For example, that method calls for experiments which can be reproduced, and, if you will check out the history of Holy Orthodoxy, what you will find are lots and lots of different saints. And these are folks who have become holy under all sorts of circumstances: some of these people were rich; some were poor; some of them were very well-educated; others were illiterate; some of the folks were married with children; some of them lived alone. But what each of these ‘experiments’ illustrate is that it is possible to perceive reality at its very source; it is possible to be united to the Most Holy Trinity through the skill that we call faith.
But you can also conduct an experiment of your own. You can develop and acquire that same faith, and you can do that using the same methods that the saints have used down through the ages: worship, prayer, fasting, service, generosity. All of those activities must be done in a parish community, and each of those activities take a significant amount of time. However, if you stick with it, what you will discover is the very same thing that each of the saints have observed: faith is a skill that can be learned, but it is also, at the same time, a gift. It is a gift that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit extend to us, a gift that comes to us from the very source of all reality.
That would make a great project for the New Year. If you’d like some help learning about the saints, or if you would like some help in becoming a saint, just give me a call or send me a note. I’d love to assist you with those projects.