Stewardship is the Marriage of Science and Religion
Copyright 2010, John Manimas Medeiros
In 1958, when I was fourteen years old, I had trudged laboriously through the Old Testament, deeming it my duty to know the Bible from direct contact. I read the New Testament more carefully. After all, I was a Christian, more precisely a Roman Catholic, and the teachings of Jesus were supposed to be the original source of my religion. Although religion was a serious matter for me, science was also. My mathematics and biology classes were a source of joy to me. I liked school, I liked learning about how the real physical world works. My mind did not tolerate the conflict between science and religion. For me, these two ways of searching for truth had to be friends.
Even while reading the New Testament I remember the observer's voice in my brain speaking to me: "This guy knew too much." I was convinced then, from the very start, that Jesus was talking about the real world, science as well as religion. His words told me that the "kingdom of heaven" was the kingdom of life in the universe. Another message I saw in the teachings of Jesus is that it was not necessary, not even recommended, that one needed to retreat behind a monastic fortress of stone walls in order to be a Christian and practice good stewardship. Back then, I did not know that the Buddha taught much that Jesus taught. When asked what one does after achieving "enlightenment" the Buddhist responds "Return to the marketplace." Although I had not yet met my Buddha on the road, I heard Jesus saying that the challenge to live a Christian life is to live that lifetime in the marketplace, on a violent street, in a troubled family, within an arena of dirty politics and corporate crime.
I decided to try living my Christian beliefs in the marketplace. One episode led to another, and served as the setting in which I would test my perceptions of religion as science for the next fifty years of my life. Buddhism tells us that an enlightened one is not necessarily readily distinguishable from one who is not enlightened, until one observes each person's decisions and the signs of attachments, attachments to things, attachments to doctrines, attachments to memories. The enlightened one is free and is a good caretaker of people and the natural world. Jesus and the Buddha would have been the best of friends. They are so much alike. Each is a king who chose the goals of wisdom and justice over easy wealth and the comfort of kingship. Neither wanted to wield political power as a warrior employing violent force. Both sought instead to empower ordinary people to find the health, peace and happiness that ordinary people crave. These two friends would have been happy with Thomas Jefferson, who said that people have a right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." One could very well interpret the "pursuit of happiness" as "the pursuit of enlightenment," except that one has to be at least somewhat enlightened in order to know that enlightenment is the highest form of happiness.
Jesus taught the primacy of stewardship. Being a good shepherd, taking care of the people and property within one's reach is the primary theme and lesson. The reason good stewardship is more important than anything else is not only because it is a moral choice, or a sign of good citizenship, but because it is a law of the real, physical universe. Good stewardship is the character trait of a technological animal (humankind) that enables Nature to select that animal for perpetuation and transition to an intelligent being. An intelligent being continues to use technology to take care of the life supporting planet, but does so with a level of competence that approaches perfection. An intelligent species does not produce any "unintended consequences." An intelligent species is a good steward that accomplishes technological goals without any collateral damage, without any unwanted effects. Such a species observes religiously a fundamental natural law: "There is no cause that has only one effect."
The good steward understands that evolution is the most intelligent design, and that the interconnectedness of life is the result of a common origin of life. No species was created as an entirely new invention. Every living thing is made from the same box of parts. The real difference between intelligent "designists" and "evolutionists" is the concept of "intelligent." Life scientists and naturalists see intelligence everywhere in Nature, a logic that is visible and originated at the moment life appeared. The intelligent design advocates are anthropomorphic; they insist that wherever there is a sign of intelligence, there must be an anthropomorphic person at work behind the scenes.
Jesus' teaching on stewardship is relentless and repetitive, including more than a dozen parables in Matthew Chapters 8 and 13, and Chapters 17 through 25. The kingdom of heaven is repeatedly compared to a servant or householder, a woman kneading dough, a farmer, a fisherman, young girls going to a wedding, a king who rents out a vineyard, a king who plans a wedding feast. All are involved with an important invitation, the invitation to take care of the people and useful property within one's reach. All who fail do so because they do not understand the importance of the invitation. They do not understand the opportunity that is being offered to them, to join with those who take care of the kingdom of life in the universe. Social justice and environmental protection, responsibility for planet Earth, the pearl of great price, a planet that supports life in abundance because of its special qualities and liquid water, is the Gospel. The New Testament is the marriage of science and religion, if one has ears to hear and eyes to see. No one needs to chose between science and religion. Chose both, marry them, give birth to the perennial promise of a New Age.
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