Q: I'm reading and studying the necessity of rising above dualistic thought, which separates, and embracing a much more holistic approach, which seeks reconciliation and unification. After all, who gave us all the scientific knowledge we now possess? I believe we need a new paradigm if we are to help move civilization toward true peace for all of humanity.
Eben Alexander's book, "Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife," for example, is a stunning validation from a scientific perspective of all we Christians believe and hope for in life after life. Why not embrace the scientific contributions that so strongly support Biblical and Christian theology? Is it not possible that science and religion co-substantiate each other? I also offer Francis Collins' book "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief," to support this view. — S., via email@example.com
A: I think it comes down to this: Bad science and bad religion always conflict, but good science and good religion do not conflict. The key, as I've stated before when considering this question, is to understand Stephen Jay Gould's concept of NOMA.
Gould believed that science and religion are "non-overlapping magesteria." They are sovereign in their own realms. Science is the realm of what is and religion is the realm of what ought to be. Science describes how the strong prey upon the weak, but religion teaches that in the human sphere, the strong ought not to prey upon the weak.
In general, we're all best served when we honor the wall of separation between science and religion. As Robert Frost wrote in his magisterial poem "Mending Wall": "Good fences make good neighbors."
I would add to your book list philosopher Thomas Nagel's wonderful and controversial "Mind and Cosmos" as another example of brilliant speculation about the point of contact and possible reconciliations between our two great magesteria.
Q: I'm confused trying to reconcile God from both the New and Old Testaments. God in the Old Testament expresses anger, judgment and a desire for vengeance, while Jesus seems to delineate love, warmth and acceptance. Why the difference? What gives? — M., via firstname.lastname@example.org
A: Hmmm, let me see...
"You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).
"You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 19:34).
"Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor" (Proverbs 14:21).
"Do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart" (Zechariah 7:10).
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want" (Psalm 23:1).
"'For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,' says the Lord, who has compassion on you" (Isaiah 54:10).
So you see, love and justice are rooted equally in all the words of God.
Tying up some loose ends
I've received lots of letters about my column on consulting mediums, some praising me for exposing fakes and frauds who prey upon grieving mourners, and others urging me to fall on my face and crawl over broken glass while begging forgiveness and apologizing for doubting that mediums are real. Thank you all, but I respectfully do not agree with either extreme.
I obviously know that it is possible to speak to dead people. I don't know if it's possible for dead people to speak to us or to an appointed interlocutor. I admire both the letter writers' cynicism and certainty. My point is that anything that gives you comfort is fine with me, as long as it doesn't block your grief work and eventual return to a spiritually fulfilling and functioning life.
However, what must be understood is that consulting mediums is not part of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim story. It has been prohibited for thousands of years and is prohibited by our religious laws and traditions for good reasons, chief among which is the understanding that God wants us to focus on our life here and now and allow our lives after death to be the focus of our soul's journey only after death. I hope this helps those who have not had the pleasure of understanding me.
A thank-you note
I want to say thanks to my New Haven, Conn., readers, who like readers some time ago in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., convinced their local newspaper to reinstate my column after initially considering dropping it. I'm not sure if the fact that one of the editors turned into a frog after deciding to drop the column had any bearing on his decision to continue it. He's doing well after his transmogrification, though I'm told he still has a fondness for flies.
(Send QUESTIONS ONLY to The God Squad via email at email@example.com.)