Leaving Salem

Maybe Buddhists and Hindus are just as stubborn as Christians, but I don’t think so. We Christians are about as inflexible as they come. Of course many are all too happy with this assessment, equating rigidity with holiness. I’m just not so sure.

Consider our friend Galileo. Remember him from your middle school science class? This father of modern astronomy proposed the heliocentric or sun-centered galaxy. The earth, he said, revolves around the sun, not the other way around. This got Galileo in gobs of trouble.

The church, you see, took the Bible quite literally back in the 17th century. And the Bible says: “The world cannot be moved” (Psalm 93; 95 and 104). So, pitched against the Bible, the pope, and Christendom, Galileo and his telescope were put on trial for heresy.

After the inquisition, his research was condemned as unorthodox, his books were refused publication, and he was sentenced to prison, though later the punishment was commuted to house arrest. It could have all been much worse, had Galileo, under threat of his life, not recanted.

What do we do when facing truths that do not fit into the framework of our truth, our “biblical worldview,” whatever that is? The short answer is that we typically refuse all things that don’t suit our perspective, labeling it sacrilege.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not one who thinks that one truth is as good as another so long as sincerity is involved. But I am one who is quick to admit that my particular view of truth is inherently flawed, because I am flawed. We all are.

Truth is out there, and it must be pursued. But most of us in the Jesus camp think that truth is locked in a dusty footlocker and stuffed underneath the church altar. It is a fixed, hard as stone list of propositions without adjustment, no matter what Galileo’s telescope or anybody else’s research says.

Do you ever vacuum? If you do, I bet you’ve done this before: You’re gliding along on the living room carpet busting dust mites when your trustedHooverencounters a fuzz ball it just can’t do anything with. What do you do?

You pick it up. You roll it over in your fingers. You inspect it as closely as possible. Then, inconceivably, you do what we all do: You put it back down on the carpet and roll over it again, and again, usually with the same results.

We do the equivalent when encountering truths that do not fit into our view of the world. We stop, pick them up, inspect them, and then failingly persist in making it fit. We never stop to consider that we can’t get the job done with the equipment we have always used.

The problem may not be the novel truth we have encountered. The problem may be our stubborn resistance to reconsider what we believe. The problem might be that the truth to which we have held so tightly, isn’t true after all.

Some of the beliefs we embrace we do so only because it is the official party line. We often believe what we do because it is what we have been told to believe. Or we come to our personal conclusions because that smiling preacher on television or behind a pulpit tells us it is the truth. That’s not enough.

Granted, this can be frightening. Launch into an examination of all that is locked away in that musty locker and you might get accosted by the establishment. Start assailing the flawless truths of your church, and you may find yourself seated next to Galileo at a heresy trial.

But don’t be afraid, because truth can take it; at least those truths worth holding on to. Anything that can’t take it should be discarded any way. And especially don’t be afraid of examining new truth either. These may be the very wind you need to blow the dust off the past.

Oh, and back to our friend Galileo; things worked out for him in the end. The church ultimately recanted itself, and admitted it was – gasp! – wrong.

On All Saints Day, 1992, Pope John Paul II finally gave in, admitting that yes, in spite of everything, the earth does rotate around the sun. It only took a little more than three centuries to get this modest affair neatly squared away.

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