I am not surprised, or disgusted, or hurt.
Nor am I dismayed, angry or sad.
I am not offended.
This week we have read the comments of our Governor General who is reported to have railed in a speech to fellow scientists,
Can you believe that still today in learned society, in houses of government, unfortunately, we’re still debating and still questioning whether humans have a role in the Earth warming up or whether even the Earth is warming up, period.
And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.
And so many people — I’m sure you know many of them — still believe, want to believe, that maybe taking a sugar pill will cure cancer, if you will it!
And every single one of the people here’s personalities can be determined by looking at planets coming in front of invented constellations.
Our Governor General has expressed a view in the midst of views that are little different from those of many Canadians I have encountered, and reflects a frustration that so many people are content to wallow in ignorance. While she is wrong not to temper her reflections with historical humility, she is right to be frustrated when people surrender willingly to blatant untruth. And we have seen much ignorance on flagrant public display this past year. It frustrates me too. I understand her testiness. There are Christians in all of our churches who are unamenable to change, for example, because their view of God is small and tiny and they have made him in their image. Just as she has. The difference is that she dismisses the image while we blow it up and worship it as an idol.
Although she is a public figure, Payette has the right to say whatever she wants, even though the Queen herself has espoused much faith that would cause the Governor General to blush. The Queen probably knows little of the woman who represents her in this outpost of a former colony, though they met at Balmoral earlier in the year. This is, for all practical intents and purposes, a government and not a crown appointment.
As a Christian response then, we can point out the ignorance inherent in her statements. (Some have done this well). We can even make statements of our own (some have done this well and less well). We can be offended. At the end of the day a couple of things have been revealed in this episode that deserve future reflection.
The variety of responses to the GGs comments reveal a Christianity that often doesn’t know what it believes about the origins of the universe, or our own faith. Embarrassingly for some of us, we are confronted afresh with the reality that broad swathes of our family still reject basic premises of science that reflect commitments of the faithful in times past, who believed that science was only possible because we studied a world of order, created and held in place by a God of order. We turn the Bible into a science textbook and rail against physical evidence like crazed banshees screaming, rather than whispering, in the dark. We know so little of our own faith, and its essentials, and we are even worse at communicating it in a rapidly changing context. She’s calling it as she sees it. And I can’t say I blame her. I’d also rather know what she really thinks rather than have her slink around in a haze of spin.
Could it be that the GG is responding to Christians she has encountered who believe things that are blatantly wrong and more than slightly batty? I fear she is simply more courageous than I am. Who amongst the believers hasn’t wished to distance ourselves from some of the Christian rhetoric we encounter day by day? I hope that this affords her an opportunity to meet believing scientists, to understand better how the two are reconcilable. It could be a chance for her own ignorance to be challenged.
This episode has shown little that is new in our wider culture and revealed less than we already knew of its attitudes. That belief in an interventionist God is lumped in with climate-change deniers, and horoscope readers should hardly surprise us. However, what has become clear is that it’s time for Christians to understand afresh that our scriptures explain the why of the universe and not the how. On this point, we do not contradict science, we unpack it. The literary forms of scripture require historicity at certain points, such as the gospels, for example. But we should only push for historicity when the genre of the text itself demands it. It is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ that offence should come, not in our origin stories. Christians are in the business of causing offence through the cross, not receiving it.
The resurrection is the one event where those who dismiss the miraculous a priori are left with the impossibility of life from death, as David Hume was, generations ago. The resurrection from the dead was the point where St. Paul found himself at odds with the political powers of his day, and so it has been ever since.
So I choose not to be offended by the comments of a public figure who clearly doesn’t grasp the wideness of Christianity, nor the compatibility – dare I say preferability – of the concept of creation held by those who accept evolutionary process as part of that concept. She speaks of what she doesn’t understand, as do we, day after day. And yet I defend her right to say it. If we cannot say what we think out of fear of offending another, then Christians are amongst the first to be silenced.
I will always go to the wall for my right to assert that Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, died on a cross in history one day many years ago. And rose again to life on the third day. Foolishness to some, and a stone to trip over for others. But it is the power of life for those of us who grasp that what we see with our eyes doesn’t exhaust reality of its meaning. It may seem crazy. It may seem offensive. But I demand my right as a Canadian to say it. That means I have to put up with a lot from others too.
I hope that sometime the GG has an opportunity to meet again with the Queen, though I doubt it. However, we can imagine some of the things that could be said between them. In the face of the world’s problems which Payette rightly longs to find solutions for, the Queen would remind her that some problems need more than human effort to address them fully. Although science will provide much hope, it will also inevitably bring despair. (How does she think global warming happened in the first place, except that humans have developed technology and industry to exploit the planet to superhuman levels?)
The Queen would explain to her that science is one thing, and hope is another. As advent approaches, I am reminded of the Queen’s 2011 Christmas message:
Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas. Jesus was born into a world full of fear. The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: ‘Fear not’, they urged, ‘we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
‘For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.’
Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed.
God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.
Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.
In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, there’s a prayer:
O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin
And enter in.
Be born in us today.
As Christians, may we learn afresh what it means for the crucified and risen Christ to be born in us, within our culture today. Perhaps then we will approach the GG not with anger or offence, but with understanding, sympathy, an excellent philosophical argument…and a Saviour.
Banner Image courtesy of Fred Chartrand / Canadian Press