I was catching up with an old family friend -- one of my mom's high school classmates, actually -- who told me that her younger son was an atheist. "Ethan," we'll call him, has worked in the aerospace industry for many years. I'm not surprised that a person with his talents at scientific thinking would find it hard to fit his logic-driven personality into what the Church has to offer.
But what, frankly, have we got to offer to those who (like me, to a great extent) buy into the scientific worldview?
Frankly, little, And of that, much that is debatable.
Take the Bible. To believers, it is the literal word of God, correct in all aspects. But to those taking an outsider's perspective, it is (at best) a record of what certain people in a certain place at a certain time thought about God and the Universe. Unfortunately, that "certain people" was a small group of disorganized and unruly nomads, kicked around by the world's larger and more advanced powers. The "certain place" was Israel and Judea -- not the great centers of learning and commerce like Rome, Alexandria and Athens. And the "certain time" was the Bronze and Iron Ages -- long before the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution. As our own age speeds past the Industrial Revolution, the Space Age and the Digital Age -- and our heroes are scientific and technical geniuses like Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Watson, Crick, Gates and Jobs-- it's not surprising that the older heroes -- Jesus, Moses and David -- seem inconsequential and ineffective by comparison.
And take our theology -- sprung from the values and worldview of the blood-soaked, demon-haunted world. If Christ were to become incarnate today, would we be obsessed by the spilling of his blood as were the early Christians? To us, blood is a mess to clean; not a relic to fetishize.
So I get how moderns would find it hard to find meaning in the old stories.
But I fear that my fiend Ethan, like many of his contemporaries, has cut himself off from the human story, which contains many of the same hardships and questions as it did in previous Ages. And it does so with beings whose world is still grasped with the feeble power of the 3-pounds of wetware between our ears. Scientifically and technologically, we are light years ahead of our Bronze Age counterparts. But emotionally (and dare I say spiritually) we are just about as advanced (or retarded) as they were. Our wars are no less brutal, and our grasp of our own motivations no more clear than they have ever been. We can simplify our view by excluding God, but that makes it no less painful to experience the death of a loved one, nor any more clear to guide a child through the hazards of young adulthood.
Neither a fundamentalist approach to the Bible nor a commitment to the Bronze Age ethics that undergird Church teaching will speak to those who worldview is so different from those who came before us. But by rejecting all that the Church teaches, including its Creator and Author, folks like Ethan are losing a chance to reinvent the great story of humanity. They may leave little behind for the soul-seeking children than a world full of technical gadgets and marvels without meaning.