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Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience (1 Peter 3:15b-16a ESV)

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5/04/2004

Spirituality and Real Life 

One thing that The Jesus Factor has done is prompt a discussion about spirituality, and how much impact it has, and should have, on daily life. Over at The Corpus Callosum, there's been an ongoing discussion of the show -- I linked to one post there before.
Today's post, a response in part to mine, gave me a lot of food for thought, and I think that the main point of the discussion, or what the main point should be, was summed up in this quote:

Let's get back to the main point, that of the question: should spirituality strictly determine any aspect of a person's life? An important variant of this is the question: If the fundamental source of knowledge in a spiritual system is incomplete, or at least cannot be proven to be complete; if the translations are debatable; and if the ethical question at hand did not even exist when the source material was written, is it valid for a person to direct or judge the actions of another person, relying only on those ancient writings?

I'm not sure how debatable the translations of the Bible are -- we have existant texts that extend back into the third century AD, and external references to most of the Bible from patristic writings as well. Textual criticism, however, is an ongoing process (at least until we find those original autographs that everyone is dying to see), so I'm willing to concede part of the point. Most Christians believe that the Bible is reliable, and have really been given little reason to believe otherwise.

I do think, though, that even if the ethical question in particular was not in existance at the time of the text in question (whether the Bible or any other writing), there are guidelines that indicate "ethical behavior" contained in the text. To continue the stem cell illustration -- the Bible teaches that life has value. If someone believes that life begins at conception, they must logically believe that it is wrong to take that life. For them not to take this into account in a debate about harvesting stem cells would be inconsistant to their beliefs. The issue at hand in this case is when, exactly, does life begin. Here is where there is debate begins, and there are good Christians on both sides of the debate.


I would argue that it is not proper to do so. I would say that people are free to consider those writings, and perhaps even consider them to be the best source of inspiration on the subject at hand. But part of morality involves a careful consideration of all sources of information, prior to making an important decision. Different source of information can be given different relative weights, depending on the authority of the source. Taking only one source, such as one's spiritual belief, is to discard relevant information. That is not what morality is about. No matter what the book says, no matter what your spiritual leader says, if you have an important decision to make, it is up to you to gather the necessary information, process it thoughtfully, consult with others if you can, and make your own decision.


I agree with just about all of this. I always try to take all available resources into consideration when making a decision -- I'm especially careful about this when studying history, since all history is written from a biased perspective. And I wish more Christians were willing to study the issues and make therir own decisions, rather than parrot what is said to them on Sunday mornings. The bottom line has to be, though, that you accept the authority of the most reliable resource. In questions of ethics and morality, Christians will always turn to the Bible for this authority -- sometimes unconsciously.

Many times, I find myself wishing that President Bush would pay more attention to what the Bible actually teaches about some things. I grow tired of him justifying actions that are politically expedient by appealing to his faith. I sometimes wonder how convenient his faith was -- whether he is sincere, or simply using the Religious Right to gain and stay in office. I, and many other Christians, are uncomfortable with some of his expressions of faith -- many times, they seem out of place. As far as the "God wants me to be president" quote, I'd remind my fellow Christians on both sides of the political spectrum that the Bible teaches that all of our leaders are ordained by God. So it's true -- if God didn't want him in office, he wouldn't be there.

Just remember, Bill Clinton was in office for 8 years. God put him there, too.


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