Friday, January 07, 2011

Aflockalypse Now

You may have heard the news, a lot of birds died in Arkansas this past week. This news was followed by reports of bird and fish deaths around the world. For those who bothered to do a modicum of research, these recent bird deaths are just not that uncommon. On average there are 163 incidents like this every year.

What most of us probably won't hear about is the final assessment of the causes of these incidents . Our 24/7 news cycle and our short attention spans will have moved on to newer stories.

If you spent some time with the story, you may also have hear some of the, shall we say, interesting speculation about what caused these deaths, even from “responsible” news media. This ABC news report talks about the birds committing suicide.

But what brings this story to our attention here is the not unexpected theological explanations for these events. Science and theology meet in silly ways once again.

Here is Kirk Cameron's view on the bird deaths and end times as aired on CNN. You might wonder why an actor with a movie to plug is asked about this,were there no theologians available for comment?

All this talk about the apocalypse (or aflockalypse in this context- sorry I just can't help it) reminded me of a Bible study on Revelation I was part of, just a couple of years ago. This was in a Presbyterian church, so the study was full of well educated, thoughtful, faithful people. Yet for many of them there was real anxiety about studying Revelation. There were worried about what might be in the text.

I have conservative Christians friends who have definite ideas about “the end times”. They have a coherent biblically based theology of Christ's return. I think they are mistaken in their conclusions and reading of Scripture but they have put considerable effort into thinking about this. I have progressive Christian friends who have no sense of what it means to believe that Christ will come again, other than a sense of unease. They suspect something is not quite right with the rapture/left behind theologies, but they have no idea what that might be or what an appropriate alternate theology might be.

This poor theology about Christ's return- both the end times/left behind crowd and the clueless progressives- coupled with shallow science backgrounds, causes us to deal poorly with the ecological events we encounter.

Because our biology and ecology knowledge is weak, many of us cannot conceive of a natural accounting of these bird deaths. We don't know where to look to find a scientifically based discussion and we don't understand what it means when we receive scientifically based explanation.

Because our theological understanding is weak, we fall prey to odd theologies based on a false understanding of what biblical prophecy is and a misunderstanding of how God works in the world. (Did anyone else wince when Kirk Cameron spoke his death as God ending his life?).

The church can't do much directly about poor science education. But the theological shortcomings are our responsibility. The coverage of these recent bird deaths is just the latest example and a fairly innocuous one, of the way that poor theology impacts our engagement of science and vice versa. Much more serious is the theology that is being brought into the climate change debate as outlined in this New York Times blog.

My question today is why are Presbyterians (and other mainline denominations) so reluctant to offer an alternative view of the second coming of Christ? What we think about the reign of God and how God accomplished God's intentions for the world shapes our world view. And that affects how we think about environmental issues. What we think about climate change, energy use, air quality, toxins in the environment and other issues is influenced by our reading of scripture and our beliefs about the kingdom of God. Are we just along for the ride- God's in control and we have little impact, or do we bear significant responsibility for our actions?

It seems to me the "conflict" between science and religion isn't only about beginnings, what we think about the end matters too.

1 comment:

Sarahlynn said...

I like the questions that you raise and the connections that you make. Plus I learned something! Bird deaths are basically The Summer of the Shark.