I’m a microbiology major. My classes concern religious usage of the scientific method: proposing hypotheses, outlining and performing procedures, and drawing conclusions. To the greatest extent, science is founded in objectivity and fact. During the school year, my brain is in full gear, traveling at 1,000 miles/minute or, equivalently, 26,822.4 meters/second. My days are largely compartmentalized, neatly scheduled in my planner: class is at 11:30AM, I go to the grocery store after lecture, and I try to get to bed before 10:30PM.
However, with my new-found winter break free-time, my days were consumed with the more-than-occasional nap and some much-needed reflection on my faith and spirituality. At one point, I even considered picking up the Bible, although I abruptly put it down.
Over break, I dusted off a decrepit box and opened it up, that of my Catholicism. As opposed to microbiology, religion concerns the super-natural, extending beyond the realm of scientific explanation. Instead of describing the world through enzymatic activity, religion makes sense of our world through beliefs and traditions.
Seeing the difference between my personality both on and off school duty, I realized that I live and assume a multitude of lives and personalities. I hold a commitment to science, yet also a passion for religion, for example. These different facets of myself inevitably contradict, which is why I keep them separate, avoiding internal strife. Though science and religion are not mutually exclusive, if I am to de-compartmentalize these two entities, and thus de-compartmentalize myself, there will surely be conflict.
How can I simultaneously believe Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and Creationism? If I am justified in refuting a biblical teaching in response to overwhelming scientific evidence (and in this case, I am), then what stops me from doing the same with any other component of Christianity? To make my religious upbringing more compatible with my education, it seems to me like I must selectively decide which components I believe in and which ones I do not.
Theologians from St. Augustine and Martin Luther to those in the present have weighed in on these questions—reflecting on what it means to be a believer in relationship to the knowledge of their day. Although I do not pretend to understand all of their arguments, I find it reassuring that, despite their differences, these great intellects shared certain fundamental beliefs that form the basis of modern Christianity: that God exists and is all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), and wholly good. This is what I believe.
Beyond these fundamentals, though, I find a bit more flexibility. Church teachings regarding morality follow from the Divine, yet humans are flawed. Because of this, attempts to transfer the perfect essence of God into a codified morality (on subjects such as abortion and capital punishment), which we might refer to as the “teachings of the church,” are not necessarily infallible.
The Church offers a framework for what it is to be a Christian; yet it is ultimately a human institution, and subject to change as humans, society, and science evolve. Some of their views will change over time, and so I find it alright for me to disagree with them on certain things. In this way, simplified though it may be, I am able to identify as a Christian with a clear conscience, while simultaneously embracing science and logic. This is how I justify my seemingly disparate belief system.
What does it mean to be a true believer? Which pillars of your faith do you refuse to compromise on, and which others do you believe should be subject to change?