From Galileo to the Elections in Two Easy Steps

It might seem a bit of stretch to jump from Galileo to the current year’s presidential runoff, but it can be done, so bear with me.

Back in the early 1600s, Galileo ran afoul of his own Catholic Church. He believed that the Earth went around the Sun. The Vatican’s official position held the opposite: the Earth stood perfectly still at the center of the Universe while the Sun and everything else moved around it. Galileo was right, but for the wrong reasons. He didn’t have the slam dunk case he claimed to have. Galileo’s arrogance was matched only by the Church’s stubbornness. Papal authorities stood by two thousand years of received wisdom going back to the ancient Greeks. Besides, an overly literal reading of certain Bible passages seemed right in line with the best science of the day (e.g., Psa. 19:6). The Church was not about to change its views until someone could offer more convincing arguments.

In the battle that ensued, Galileo parroted the words of one Cardinal Baronius: “The intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes.” This catchy phrase has become a rallying cry in the supposed turf war between science and faith. Theologians have authority over spiritual matters, we are told, but scientists have authority over natural matters. In practice, however, Galileo took Baronius’ principle to an extreme. Even if students of the Bible had reason to believe that nature should be a certain way (based on their understanding of its Creator), it is the scientists who must always have the final word. Not only that, but Galileo reserved for himself the right to tell theologians how they ought to interpret the Bible.

Now let’s take a step forward in time to yet another famous Catholic who’s in trouble with his own Church. Back in February of this year, Archbishop Raymond Burke warned John Kerry not to present himself for communion when he came to visit St. Louis. The Catholic Church is well-known for its stand against abortion, and Kerry, a Catholic, endorses his party’s “pro-choice” position. The Vatican has become increasingly impatient with politicians who present themselves as faithful members of the Church but who refuse to take a stand against abortion or, worse, openly support a pro-choice political agenda. In a Doctrinal Note issued in 2002, the Vatican took pains to emphasize that politics cannot be separated from morality. If Kerry wishes to count himself as a Catholic in good standing, then he must bring his public life in line with his personal faith. He has refused to do so. Hence the snub by Archbishop Burke.

On this issue, at least, Papal authorities surely are on the side of the angels: they are exactly right in insisting that the intentional killing of pre-born humans is utterly contemptible. But this is more than just a squabble between the Vatican and one of its erring members. In an interview with Time magazine (April 5, 2004), John Kerry said the following: “I don’t tell church officials what to do, and church officials shouldn’t tell American politicians what to do in the context of our public life.” Notice the inherent contradiction in that statement. While claiming not to interfere in the Church’s business, Kerry reserves to himself the right to do exactly that: to tell the Church what it should and should not say. Kerry is trying to do for politics what Galileo was trying to do for science.

That’s the first step. So maybe it wasn’t that easy, but here’s the next step. Just as Bible believers have every right to question dogmatic science, we have every right to make our voice heard in the public sphere. The “right” I am talking about here is not a constitutional right (although surely we have that as well), but a biblical right. Space does not permit me to address the way in which liberal elites have distorted the doctrine of the separation of church and state. My interest in this article is to point out that, despite Kerry’s attempts to muzzle the voice of religious dissent, God’s people are not expected to remain mute in the face of injustice. The old prophets spoke out on numerous occasions against oppression of the politically weak (e.g., Zech. 7:10). John the Baptizer spoke out against Herod’s sin (Luke 3:19). Paul defended himself by asserting Roman citizenship and appealing to Caesar (Acts 22:25; 25:11).

We may find all sorts of injustices in our own back yard: education, employment, taxes, health care. These are important, and we can bring our Christian sensibilities to bear on these issues. But surely none is more important than the sanctity of life. Since fighting began in Iraq in March of 2003, there have been almost eleven hundred U.S. military casualties; in the same period there have been well over a million abortions. I do not wish to diminish the terrible loss of our brave troops, but we continue to face a moral crisis of staggering proportions. No other social or political issue comes close to the injustice perpetrated by an abortion industry propped up by immoral politicians and their court appointees.

When we go to the polls on November 2, we not only have the right, we have the obligation, to bring our votes in line with our biblical morality.

© 2004 – 2010, Trevor Major. All rights reserved.

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