What is spiritual responsibility? That is not an easy question because the two words are almost mutually exclusive. Can one exist in the presence of the other. They can – but a casual observer of Islamic, Hindu, or Christian spirituality might fail to see the connection. (I include the Hindu’s because of the atrocities they committed with the Muslins in the new independent State of India in the 1940’s). Do I need to explain why I included Christians or Muslims?
Way back in the early 1980’s I was an early morning runner with the Get Us Together (GUT) running club at the St. Joseph, Missouri, YMCA. We had mapped a three mile outdoor course and a five mile course. The indoor track is 22 laps to a mile. New runners were encouraged to use the indoor track until they built some stamina – then they were invited to run outside with others. Some of us were committed to building the GUT Club – so we would run the three mile course with newcomers. One morning a young, educated, liberal, portly Christian Minister ventured out on the three mile trek. He had great courage. He huffed and puffed and struggled – but he ran the distance. Later I was returning from the steam room to the locker room by way of the gang showers. The portly Minister was leaning forward, arms outstretched against the wall, with his head directly under the shower head, eyes closed – he was trying to cool off. As I walked by I reached around him and turned off the hot water. I stepped to the doorway of the shower room and watched. The cold water blasted his sensibilities – he tensed – but did not move. Later in the locker room he told me about his spiritual experience. He was hot and could not seem to cool off. He was standing under the shower praying to God to help him. All of a sudden the water turned ice cold. God had again intervened with a miracle.
I could readily see that he was already practicing his sermon for Sunday. What I know for sure is that most miracles are much like this one – easily explained by simple observation. I asked myself – should I tell him the truth or let him have his affirmation of faith. I decided that this was no affirmation of a rational faith – so I told him what happened. He really did not want to hear it – he was so happy to have his own personal miracle. The act of turning off the hot water was funny – irresponsible – but funny. It would have been more irresponsible to allow this man to continue believing in the miracle. It would have been irresponsible for him to stand in front of his congregation on Sunday and preach about a false miracle – testifying from his position of church authority to the personal truth of God’s intervention in our lives.
My young mind was quicker than it was smart. I said, “If this whole Jesus thing is true, if there really is bodily resurrection and eternal life, then it seems like there could be nothing more important.”
I made a big mistake. I failed to realize that she was standing on the edge of the cliff, ready to jump for faith. She and my brother jumped and I have not had an intelligent conversation with them since. I tried to use the minister-in-the-locker-room story to make a point and my sister-in-law interpreted the story differently – she said Gos used me to help cool the Minister. God works in strange ways – that is the way it is.
This insistence on spiritual intervention is all matters human is maddening. It is maddening because I recognize the magnificence of nature, of humanity, of natural laws, of physics – the sciences which do not discredit spiritual ides – but rather systematically and rationally explain magnificent events. And even better, we humans are the only life form that can make the connection between rational thought and an ordered Universe.
Spirituality is not about discarding rational thought. Spirituality does not override rational thought. Indeed, rational thought is spiritual in itself. Rational thought is the one attribute which separates humans from all other life forms. Is it rational to think that by flying airplanes into another county’s buildings we can somehow build a better world? Is it rational to blame a hurricane in the gulf on lifestyles of people different than us? If it is rational to believe that God is on the side of our country – then wouldn’t it be equally rational for Iranians to think that G0d is on the side of their country? Is it rational to believe in God?
The last question depends on how one defines God. There are some things we can know for a fact. Things like the physical attributes of our solar system, and even of our galaxy. We can understand the qualities of other life forms on Earth. We can appreciate the stunning qualities of the human mind. I have to ask myself – what are the chances that natural selection led to the eventual creation of the modern human? We humans find questions like this to be entertaining but they are not necessary to make the point.
Everything that happens in this Universe happens for a reason – no, I don’t mean that God has a purpose for each of us. I mean that everything follows the natural order as defined by certain physical laws. My question, and the question of other rational people, is simple: Where did these laws come from. How was gravity decided? Did it just happen? Well, my sister-in-law would say, we just have to take some things as they are based on faith alone. I think that is irresponsible – it says we do not need to learn anything more than we already know – and that is wrong. It is wrong because the very essence of our spiritual being is the ability to think.
Does this mean that I discount spirituality? No, it does not. Spirituality consists of several component parts. Honesty, integrity, courage, humbleness, and willingness come to mind as fundamental ingredients. To deny science and learning is irresponsible – it is dishonest to discount known empirical observations. It is cowardly to turn away from truth. Believing that humans are the center of God’s Universe is astounding arrogance – the total discounting of humbleness. To think that any particular faith, such as Christian or Muslim, is more favorable to God than another is an astoundingly arrogant notion – and it is irresponsible.
Being spiritually responsible means accepting truths that we humans have the unique ability to understand. To deny our God given ability to think and reason is irresponsible. To dismiss an observation as simply another miracle of God is to dismiss God. And that is irresponsible.
The images presented on this post came from the spiritual Art of Doug Hamm.