Between the shooting inside a Charleston black church, and critics quick to question Pope Francis’ encyclical on the moral dimension of climate change, the last 24 hours have put our faith to the test. In this moment, what should we be paying attention to?
It’s hard to remain rational on a day like today.
When yet another lone Caucasian gunman exerts his vigilante will and decides that he needed to “shoot black people”, or when politicians decide that the Pope can’t weigh in on the climate change debate, my heart breaks. But I also question what we choose to see and why.
Let me explain.
Many media outlets have gotten into the habit of sensationalizing the news, and 24/7 cable news channels don’t always take the time to ask the more searching questions about what’s going on. We sacrifice substance for speed. We’ve become accustomed to the editorial slant that “if it bleeds, it leads”. We’ve bought into the fear-based and fatalistic thinking that these sensationalistic stories perpetuate, and then we wonder why we seem to be getting more anxious and depressed by the day. Unless we take the time to look for more thoughtful and piercing analysis of what’s going on, it’s far too easy to lose our faith in humanity, and in our ability to get to the heart of the matter.
Faith is a tricky thing. There is every possibility that the Charleston gunman will tell you he has a very strong faith, one that is fueled by white supremacist groups who preach the gospel that they are the one true race. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. If we decide, as a society, that his brand of faith is not to be tolerated, then we need to ferret out the sources of his ideology. But we won’t get to that point unless we can agree that it is an issue. Because white supremacist groups seem to have gone underground more than ever, their activities and their converts are harder to detect.
Faith is also a fading thing. Until Pope Francis came to the fore and started to modernize the Catholic church’s stance on various issues affecting humanity, many religious institutions seem to have been fading into obscurity. The separation of church and state is a noble and worthy ideal, but the truth is that we are all guided by our faith (or lack thereof). We are whole human beings who, at a subconscious level, rely on our religious or spiritual upbringing to make decisions every single day. So why should it be a surprise when Pope Francis decides to publish an encyclical about his moral opinion on climate change? When I was studying biology in university, some of my favorite classes were on the ethics of science, and on how to balance the humanitarian view with the technological one.
Politics, faith and science can and must co-exist if we are to solve the most pressing problems of our time. It is what drives the interdisciplinary efforts in forward-thinking institutions like Stanford, and it is where the intersection of different approaches will spark innovative solutions. It is also important to remember that consensus doesn’t mean unanimity – as long as most of us are rowing in the same direction, for the greater good, let’s find a way to be ok when things don’t go our way. None of us has all the answers. Let’s stop pretending that we do.