Saturday, April 25, 2009
"We must not abandon faith! Faith is the most important thing"
KBYU, of all television stations, is showing Inherit the Wind late tonight. I saw this movie for the first time when I was a high school sophomore. I went on that same year to perform this scene as a dramatic reading at a high school speech competition. Frankly, it was liberating.
I do not agree that we must abandon faith in Genesis, though, not being a person of "the book", at least not in any strict sense, the Bible is not the object of my faith, but God and His Christ, who is Risen and accompanies us even now. We certainly must give up believing that Genesis tells us how things came to be, instead of, not only why things came to be, but why we came to be. It is amazing how many church fathers addressed issues that we see as exclusively issues of our own age. For example, we have St. Augustine's De Genesi ad litteram (i.e., On the literal meaning of Genesis). In this work, he wrote: "Often a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances,... and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do all that we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, lest the unbeliever see only ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn." As believers, we, too, must hold knowledge certainly from reason and experience, especially when we understand faith as a form of knowledge, in which revelation, properly apprehended and comprehended, plays an indispensible role.
All of this reminded me of something I posted on our parish blog more than two years ago: Doing "all that we can to avoid such an embarrassing situtation". This is a response to the so-called new atheists, whose writings only serve to demonstrate that "[w]hat has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun" (Eccl. 1:9 ).
I also think Drummond's speech in this scene is fraught with false dilemmas. After all, are not architectural, engineering, and construction techniques necessary to erect a cathedral? In fact, it is often man's desire to erect cathedrals that leads to technical and artistic advancement. Creating beauty is essential to culture and beauty cannot be separated from our desire for what is transcendent. In other words, ideas that lead to authentic human advancement do not arise in the solitary vacuum of an individual human mind, including the mind of Charles Darwin. As Dr. McNamara reminds us, posting a quote from the late Fr. Vincent McNabb, OP: "Art is beauty made a sacrament. Art is finite human expression made infinite by love."
The extreme represented in Drummond's speech, apart from being a reaction to Brady's thoughtless biblical literalism, is a good indication of what occurs when we turn to ideology, putting it before a sincere desire for truth: polarization. Once we find ourselves at polar extremes, we can only shout at each other across the distance that separates us. Besides, faith cannot be reduced to mere belief, to giving assent to a set of propositions. By its very nature, conceiving of faith in this way is static and defensive. To reduce faith to belief is to render faith uncompelling, not fascinating, unattractive. I keep coming back to our National Diaconia's judgment on the Notre Dame commencement controversy, A New Commencement, particularly to: "For us faith is not an ethical code nor an ideology but an experience: an encounter with Christ present here and now in the Christian community. Christian faith gives us a freedom and a passion for living that express themselves above all in the form of questions as we face reality, and an inexhaustible openness to everything human."
Of course, as a sophomore, my favorite line from the movie was when Henry Drummond, played by Spencer Tracy, who is a fictionalized version of Clarence Darrow, is reprimanded by his opponent, Matthew Brady, for swearing, quipped: "I don't swear just for the hell of it. Language is a poor enough means of communication. I think we should use all the words we've got. Besides, there are damn few words that anybody understands." Needless to say, my parents were neither impressed nor amused.
"Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise of heart" (Pro. 11:29).