Monday, January 07, 2013

January 6, 2013 - Think Again: With Apologies to Mr. Spock

I Corinthians 2:6-16

I am a science fiction fan, but Tanya is not.  Tonight at our house she will be pleased to watch the return of Downton Abby.  I told her I would watch it if it featured a few aliens.

How many of you remember this guy?

Because I am a fan of science fiction, I was a Star Trek fan.  But I was more a fan of Captain Kirk rather than Mr. Spock, because William Shatner’s acting was absolutely some of the finest acting in the history of acting, and because I never really cared much for Spock’s approach of absolute logic.

Interestingly, the character of Spock reflected the views of Gene Rodenberry, who created Star Trek.  Rodenberry’s family was active in church but he abandoned his faith, in large part because, in his opinion, faith wasn’t logical.

His attitude was reflected in this statement he once made – For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for a malfunctioning brain. If people need religion, ignore them and maybe they will ignore you, and you can go on with your life.

As we have studied historical events and how they shape our thinking, this morning we come to a time in history that has influenced us tremendously.  Our culture was profoundly shaped by this event, even Star Trek. 

It began around 1650 and lasted until approximately 1800, but its legacy is still very much with us.  The event is known as The Enlightenment, and we are children of the Enlightenment. 

The Enlightenment is best expressed in the words of the philosopher Immanuel Kant – Aude SapereDare to Think.  It was a time in history when people were told to measure everything by logic and reason.  People were encouraged to cast aside the traditional thinking of the day and to challenge long-held beliefs.  It was a time when science began to make great advances and people were encouraged to question their faith and their beliefs in light of scientific advances.

In this way, the Enlightenment set the stage for the rise of the “new atheist” movement of our time, led most famously by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens.  Logic and reason, in fact, are the primary ways that atheists argue against religious faith.  In their opinion it is neither logical nor reasonable to believe in God, although many of their arguments are neither logical or reasonable.

Our heritage as Disciples was greatly influenced by the Enlightenment.  Alexander Campbell, in particular, was very rational in his approach.  For much of our history, we have sought to appeal primarily to people’s minds.

But are we really rational beings?  Do we make our best decisions when we use only logic and reason?  I would argue that we do not.  I believe we are at our best when we are guided by faith, by love, and by the spirit.  I believe that we are at our best when we recognize there is something deeper and greater in life than just what we can see and touch and measure in a laboratory.

When I was younger, and did something that was not very smart, my mom or dad would often respond with the admonition use the good sense God gave you!  We ought to use the good sense that is given to us by God and we ought to use our minds, but we must also remember that we need much more than logic and reason in life.

Logic and reason can certainly be effective tools as we make decisions, but we must recognize that logic and reason alone are not always the best lens to use as we look at life.

Imagine using logic and reason only when it comes to our relationships.  Imagine telling your spouse that you did not buy them a Christmas or birthday present because it does not make rational sense.  Would they appreciate that you instead took that money and invested it, saying that is the logical thing to do?  Probably not.  In such a case, logic would most likely get you into trouble.  Imagine getting a card from someone you love.  Imagine that card read To my equal in intellect, I am pleased that our minds have brought us together, and also pleased that we took a battery of tests to guarantee we are mutually compatible in the ways we look at the world and in the way we think.  I hope we share many years together of a relationship based on reason and logic.  Wouldn’t you just love a card like that?  When you love someone do you speak to their mind?  No, you speak to their heart.  Love is many things, but logical is not one of them, thankfully, and we accept that about love.  We don’t really want love to be logical.  If love were logical, Tanya probably wouldn’t have married me!

I would concede that faith does not at all seem logical, but that’s not a negative.  In our Scripture passage for today this is the exact point that Paul makes.  He says the things that comes from the Spirit of God…are foolishness.  Put in a laboratory or examined by the scientific method, faith does not make logical sense.

But faith is what inspires us.  Logic doesn’t inspire us.  Reason doesn’t inspire us.  Was it logic that inspired Bach or Beethoven as they wrote their beautiful symphonies?  No.  It was faith.  Was it logic that inspired Michelangelo as he painted his great masterpieces?  No.  It was faith.  Is it logic that inspires people to make great sacrifices on behalf of others?  No.  It is faith.

Can you comfort people with reason and logic?  No.  For all of our logic, where do people turn in times of tragedy?  Most often, they turn to faith.  The New York Times published a fascinating OpEd the other day.  The title is In A Crisis, Humanists Seem Absent, and it notes that every funeral related to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a religious funeral service.  It wasn’t picking at those who are unbelievers, and I’m not picking at them either, but the OpEd simply notes that when people face a crisis they need something much deeper than reason or logic, and faith is where people most often find what they need to get through a crisis.

I saw this at work years ago, when I was a Student Minister, and the mother of one of our youth never attended church or expressed interest in faith.  The idea of faith just didn’t make “sense” to her as a way to use her time.  But things changed when one of her children was involved in a very serious accident.  For a number of days it was questionable whether or not her son would survive his injuries.  Where do you turn in such a time?  She turned to prayer and faith.  Her son did recover, thankfully, and her attitude about faith totally changed and she began to attend worship on a regular basis.  For her, she discovered that life brings experiences that are outside the realm of logic and reason.  Logic and reason would not bring her a sense of comfort or assurance, but faith did.

There are times to use our minds, but live is really directed from the heart.  Allow God to speak to your heart today, and all days.

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