Yesterday I wrote that, apart from the Judeo-Christian heritage, religion has largely been about bringing life into conformity with the cycles of nature. Ordering of lives is achieved through adherence to a set of stories and rituals that reflect these patterns. The stories and rituals give order to existence.
With Judaism the idea of processing from a beginning toward an end emerges. Revelation and law were given at a point in the past and we “look back” to the codes written long ago to determine appropriate action today as we proceed through time, waiting for God’s final act. Islam has had this as a central element as well.
Jesus was completely disorienting. He reoriented our vision from compliance with the past to compliance with the future. Jesus gave a vision of the future and called his followers to live according that vision. Yes, he gave some prescriptive guidance but the organizing principle is a vision of a future reality, namely the Kingdom of God and the new creation.
Not only did Jesus orient us toward the future, but by the very means through which he passed down his vision ensured that we would have to be active participants in the creation and realization of the vision. Despite the endless attempts by some fundamentalist influences in Christianity to use scripture as a codified instruction manual for human behavior, the scripture resiliently resists being boxed in this way. Scripture is an unfolding story with a beginning and end. The author invites humanity to enter the story and participate in its completion. One must interact with the story and understand each portion of scripture in terms of its own context and the context of the larger biblical narrative. It requires wrestling with a general ordering of the world in a future age. One has to deduce and infer appropriate action. In other words, instead of executing directives we must actively reason our way to good decisions, based on a story revealed by a reasonable God.
The necessity of reason in discerning God’s will has had ramifications beyond theology. The discipline of reason eventually turned to the investigation of the material world. If God is a reasonable God, then the world God created must be organized according to orderly principles. Genesis 1 tells us that God is behind and before all the created order. Passages like Psalm 104 teach us that the natural order is not run by capricious gods or powers beyond God’s control. God superintends the workings of the natural order. Scripture also makes clear that God is not part of the natural order and material objects are not to be worshiped.
Therefore, because there is a God given order to nature, we can systematically study and test ideas against observations until we determine the actual order of things. This belief that the world could be systematically studied and that natural objects are not possessed of wills and volition is what gave rise to science. Without the discipline of reasoning our way to God’s vision, one has to question whether scientific rationality would ever have emerged.
This emergence of reason also led to the modern notion of risk. In ancient times, people would embark on a journey and not be heard from again. What happened to them? The gods or the fates did them in. Maybe locals in a distant place invoked magic against them. Whatever the case, people were simply helpless in the face of such events. However, with the emergence of the Judeo-Christian ethos, it became assumed that options could be studied, risks quantified, and decisions could made that improved success in complex endeavors. The first widespread applications of this began in the 1400s as sea trade began to expand and investors sought to maximize and protect their investments through insurance mechanisms. This was crucial to emergence of capitalism in the modern world which at its core is about assessing the financial risks competing decisions.