Sunday 24 November 2019

Justice, Rare Earths and Mammatus Clouds

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.  For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col 1:15-20) 
I mean, Husborne Crawley is lovely. The countryside, the babbling brook, the soothing rumble of the M1.  But sometimes you've just got to get up and go somewhere else. And sometimes that somewhere else - contrary to all that is good and natural and apparently obvious - isn't London. And so I found myself walking through Northampton. And, with Paul in Athens, I had to  reflect that the people of Northampton are a very religious lot.

St Peters Northampton
In an odd way. Northampton has its lovely All Saints Church, from whose roof Charles II gazes down on the town that did so much on the other side in the Civil War. And then it has Holy Sepulchre, that wondrously historical and yet oddly ignored church to the north side of the town centre. But where St Katharine's Church was - and St Katharine is the patron of that traditional Northampton trade, lace-making - there is just a quiet patch of park frequented by drug users and the drinkers of oddly-named lagers. While out towards the Railway Station, the gorgeous St Peter's is redundant.

Yet religion teems from the side-streets. There are churches in alley ways and lock-up garages and even the wondrously named "Holy Ghost Zone" - which does sound like the most inspiring part of the Crystal Maze - just along from the cinema that was owned by the now-dismembered Jesus Army. And although they have a statue to Charles Bradlaugh - humanist, atheist, reformer and MP - they figured the best place for him is a roundabout near a Free Church Chapel that has been converted into a strip club. I'm not sure he would totally have approved.
"Holy Ghost Zone" (from Google Maps)

And so it was that, walking past the rows of boarded up shops between All Saints and the Holy Ghost Zone, I was accosted by an elderly man who gave me a leaflet about God's wonderful creation. And people who have followed this blog will be well aware that I do indeed believe in the terrifying wonders of God's creation - of the blue skies, green fields and hideously dismembered swans when the feral killer -wallaby of Aspley Guise has been on the prowl. That Mammatus clouds are both beautiful and yet reminders of the terrible powers of electricity. And also have the sort of name that makes schoolchildren snigger.

And I'm sure the chap was hoping that I would either ignore him - like everyone else - or take the leaflet, go away and be quietly converted without causing too much trouble.

Mammatus Clouds

So I stood there and read the leaflet. And swiftly found its appallingly-constructed attempt to dismiss the Theory of Evolution (which I shall not bother you with now, dear readers. But you will guess that it probably was appalling) and I explained why its argument made no sense. And said there were good evidential reasons for believing in the Theory of Evolution. And he told me he didn't know about that but he had Jesus in his heart. To which I responded that I, too, knew the indwelling reality of our incarnate redeemer - that my heart is indeed, I hope, a Holy Ghost Zone - but I also had respect for the works of science.  To which he replied "ah, scientists" . And I, a Master of Arts in Chemistry from The King's Hall and College of Brazen -Nose, in the University of Oxford - decided it were best it were left there.

But it matters. Because the man who can raise his eyebrows and say "ah, scientists" about the Theory of Evolution no doubt wakes up in the morning and tells the time using a device that depends upon an understanding of science. If he switches on the lights in his church, he depends upon sub-atomic level physics. He stood there on the pavement, confident in the knowledge that, due to the Laws of Gravity, he would not suddenly float off from Abington Square into the sky. Not, that is, unless the Rapture came.

Quite a nice evening for a rapture

Why is it that religious believers who so ardently believe in nuclear power, the internal combustion engine and even smartphones, yet refuse to believe in the Theory of Evolution? It's down to a foolish division among the idle pondering classes of the 19th Century, I believe. Professional scientists rebelled against the idea that the fruits of their trade was something a part-timer like Lemaître, Mendel or Newton could just knock up in their garage in between considering the eternal verities. You needed proper, paid, scientists. Not these amateurs.

And this artificial war between science and religion - whose dubious cassus belli was swallowed like a particularly juicy worm by those extreme believers who wanted to prove they were more believing than the rest of us - has done terrible things.  If it were not for this phoney war, Richard Dawkins would be a retired zoology don doing a bit of gardening after a mediocre career, and Ricky Gervais would be on the 81st series of The Office. And in my opinion, a world without Derek would be worth paying a lot for.

But I want to say that in this world where we have experts in small fields - and I'm not just talking about Weird Alan's nocturnal habits down in Middle Acre - we need people who know in great detail the workings of the chemistry of the rare earth metals that mean the smartphone or tablet you are reading this on functions. We need environmentalists to tell us that mining all those rare earth metals is not necessarily a great idea. We want people who can understand the way that genes work, or don't. The way that fossil strata can tell us of the unimaginable wonders of evolution - the brutality of life's struggles and the remarkable flexibility of life itself. That is good. And we also need dreamers and poets and philosophers and - I believe - theologians. And I know the chap who sneered at my use of the word "scientists" would likely do so about the word "theologian". Even though his poorly -argued leaflet was an exercise in (poor-quality) theology. And his belief in the Rapture is down to the theology of Dispensationalism evolved by John Nelson Darby. And he'd be unimpressed by my firm belief that I'd rather spend an evening down the pub with Georges LeMâitre than John Nelson Darby. But you just get the feeling that Darby wouldn't buy a round.

But we need some people who can stand back and take a wider view. And maybe that's the job sometimes of we non-experts. I'm not much of a scientist or a theologian. But when I read Paul, trying to drag the Colossians onside by telling them the uniqueness of Jesus, I reckon I can see him on both sides of the War Between Science and Religion - or possibly in No Person's Land in the middle - waving a white flag and getting shot at by both sides.

He tells us about the human Jesus who is also the eternally-firstborn of God - through whom all things were created, by whom all things were made, and the one who holds them all together.

In Romans he tells us that God is the one in whom we live, and move, and have our being. John 1 tells us that Jesus is the Logos - the Word - the one who gives existence and meaning and logic to the universe. And Genesis 1 doesn't tell us that God literally spent 6 terrestrial days making everything. It ain't like God had a week off, and was trying to get a patio laid in the garden by Friday so as to have a barbecue on it at the weekend. Genesis tells us that this world is trustworthy, ordered and predictable - qualities without which Science is nothing.  It also tells us that the Universe's ordered and yet awesome nature means it has meaning - about which good Science has no opinion.

So I believe that the Jesus whom I try to follow is also the eternal Word that defines the curvature of space, the speed of light and the gravitational constant. I believe that Word sees the germ spring to life in a seed, defines the explosion of a supernova in far-off place, planned the relentless beating of pulsars and the first beats of an infant's heart - and yet also keeps an eye on the traffic on the Westway.

And I also believe that the Word that gave every being its being - angels, humans, earthworms and devils - also defines the meaning and moral laws of the universe. I won't claim I could derive moral laws from scientific laws. But I think of that quote of Martin Luther King, quoting Theodore Parker - about the arc of the universe bending towards justice. I don't think of this as a fixed law about how history will work. Because I can see how often history does not go forward as if predetermined to get better. But I do believe that this reasonable, predictable universe gives us the structure in which we can do good, and can work for good. If we want to be in line with the one who made the universe, we need to be working for justice.

And the Colossians are told - how does this God of the laws of physics and of justice behave with respect to God's creation? Is it a matter of "job well done", and a beer and burger on that heavenly, metaphysical patio? Standing back, admiring the way the 1/r2 law keeps everything going round in circles? Smirking about the way all those fine-tuned constants just keep the place going? Spotting the justice and injustice and marking them in a book, like God's got VAR and is checking what we do in case - unknown to the observers on the pitch - we were actually offside when we scored our goals?

No, because this Christ was sent into the world. Took all God's fullness and planted them in the body of a young woman. Was pushed out into the world kicking and screaming. And who would have more right to kick and scream, knowing how things could be and how they would be? Spent thirty-three years facing the same happinesses, hardships, uncertainties, pains, griefs, love and rejections that we all do. Spent those years subject to the same physical laws that we do - made from the same stuff as stars and earthworms.

And then showed up all of the earth's empires for what they really are. Because if the empire famous for its laws murdered the creator of the universe - just what do human ambition, the lust for power, the desire to rule over others, the need to have someone to blame - just what do they achieve? The emptiness of all the world's empires and oppressors is shown up, as the one in whom all the fullness of God is emptied of lifeblood on a a cross.

And so the moral law of this universe is that all the weakness of a murdered carpenter is all the power of the ever-living One who keeps the planets in their orbit. That God dies, deserted by his friends and surrounded by those that nobody would believe - if they said he rose to life again.

That if you want to see God, you look up at the stars, but bow down with the poor and refugees and victims of violence and unjustly accused.That empires will pass away. And that this whole world is the throne where the king is seen in glory. God came to earth to draw all people up. Look up and see that bloodied face on the cross - because there is the true ruler of the world.

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1 comment :

  1. Those who argue that Science is contrary to Religion should remember that Georges Lemaitre was a Catholic Priest and Mendel was a monk etc


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