by Bill Droel
Pope Francis recently uttered what should be regarded as one more ho-hum statement: “Never before has there been such a clear need for science.” This comment, given to a group of scientists, is notable only because many people (Catholics included) think that Catholicism in general and specifically the papacy oppose science.
The confusion can be attributed in part to a lack of knowledge about the Catholic approach to the Bible, explains Heidi Russell, the author of Quantum Shift (Liturgical Press, 2015).
In the United States the default setting for appropriating the Bible is fundamentalism–strict literal fundamentalism, soft or convenient or situational fundamentalism, or a widespread haziness on the historical background of individual Bible books. Catholics, by the way, are among those who use the default setting on occasion.
Russell told U.S. Catholic magazine (11/16) that once while waiting around in a concert venue she met a consistent fundamentalist. The gentleman was so consistent that he gave up his faith. Why so? He read that on the fourth day God created the sun and light. (Genesis 1: 14f) But he also read that on the third day God created plants and trees. (Genesis 1: 9f) “So how could you have plants before you had sun?” Russell could only reply: Sorry, we’re Catholic; we approach Scripture differently.
It is easy for atheists to think they can rattle Catholicism, continues Russell. Those atheists trumpet a theory (like multi-universes) that seemingly contradicts something the Bible, presuming that Catholics pull isolated pieces out of context and then read those verses literally. And lo and behold, some Catholics (including at times a bishop or two) react to the scattershot salvos from atheists.
“The Blue Cross” by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) is among the best of about 50 mystery stories featuring Fr. Brown as the sleuth. The criminal in this story disguises himself as a priest, but Fr. Brown uncovers the ruse. How did you know, the criminal asks him? Because in a prior conversation, Fr. Brown replies, “you attacked reason… It’s bad theology… I know that people charge the [Catholic] church with lowering reason, but it is just the other way. Alone on earth the church makes reason really supreme.”
Is that true? What could it mean to say that the Catholic church “alone on earth” affirms reason or science? To be continued…
Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.