Saturday, October 31, 2009


Since reading a few tentative reports a while back, I've been intrigued by the possibility that our faith response and our degree of liberal or conservative persuasion may be at least in part directed by our genes. (The links in the sentence above are representative articles; there are more scholarly publications available, but these summarize the ideas.) As I interpret it, the research on political tendencies does not suggest the existence of a "republican gene" and a "democratic gene," but rather points to genetically-influenced differences in how we think about problems, approach difficulties, etc., leading to life-long patterns that tend toward conservatism or liberalism.

The faith research is grounded in part on twins studies that demonstrate -- among other things -- that identical twins maintain similar approaches to faith into and throughout adulthood, while fraternal twins are less likely to do so. Both sides of the "is there a God" debate use this research to support their cause: It's all just biology, so there goes God; or, this genetic pointer reveals the divine because there is a divine to be revealed -- it is a way to draw us into relationship with God.

Those arguments aside, I find that the genetic theory offers some creative hope in dealing with human differences. It could have the effect of changing the tenor of our political conversations from, "How can you be so stupid?" to "Vive la difference!" Some politicians are fond of saying that we need a strong opposition in order to keep the debate vigorous and honest. If the genetic construct is demonstrated to be true, that idea will prove to be an organic inevitability.

This is not an exercise in celebrating science as savior. It would not eliminate cynicism or even meanness from politics. (He can't help himself -- he's a conservative -- nyah nyah nya nyaah nyahh...!") And one could imagine "Brave New World" sci-fi scenarios in which one side gets the upper hand and labels the other persuasion as a "genetic deficiency," imprisoning their opponents in political reservations, or forcing "corrective" genetic surgery on them. (Hey... I might be on to something here!) It seems that human history, including the history of the application of science, leaves as an open question the postulation of whether a confirmed genetics of politics would produce more positive than negative consequences. Reader?

Regarding faith, the notion that some may be genetically incapable of it would lend credence to that strong scriptural theme that God wills and works for the salvation of all as an act of pure grace. (And that those who are genetically "blessed" are here to serve the rest?)

Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. ~ A desperate man, to Jesus, in Mark 9:24

Monday, October 26, 2009


I've always appreciated a good academic or theological lecture. (If a speaker interrupts his discourse by saying, "Now, please turn to your neighbor and discuss for ten minutes...," that's a good time for a coffee break; I've come to hear the professor -- what can Mrs. McGillicuddey possibly add?) I have recently discovered that a number of my favorite books have their origins as lecture series. The most recent is Terry Eagleton's "Reason, Faith, and Revolution" (the 2008 Yale Terry Lectures -- nothing to do with the author's first name, a coincidence he has some fun with in his introductory remarks). Others are P.T. Forsyth's "The Work of Christ" (Norfolk Lectures, 1909), Alfred North Whitehead's, "Science and the Modern World" (The Lowell Lectures, Harvard, 1925), and "Process and Reality" (The Gifford Lectures, Edinburgh, 1927), and Charles Taylor's "A Secular Age" (Gifford Lectures, 1999).

The Terry Lectures (which happen to be concluding this very week) are open to the public, as I would suppose many such presentations are. Yale makes some of the lectures available as internet video, and it looks as though this will be the case for their current series. The Yale Terry Lectures site is here.

It occurred to me a while back that a pleasant pursuit in one's (that is, my) leisure years would be to attend various books and arts festivals around the globe. To this I will now add a peripatetic following of lecture series.

("Peripatetic," of course, is the word, because sometimes one must walk... out. Like the lecture I stumbled into while visiting Oxford a few years ago: "Science and Post-Modernity." Dr. Throgbottom spent the first twenty-five minutes discussing the difference between "post-modernity" and "post-modernism." Feet, don't fail me now....)