Bringing Faith to Science 

Medical science captured global attention in January 2020 when the world learned of a growing health threat.  Nearly a year has passed and COVID-19 studies flood the World Health Organization's databases. Out of 2,942 reviews underway, or available to the public, only six address any spiritual dimension. ClinicalTrials.gov updates a weekly journal, tracking researchers, and providing rapid public access to information on COVID-19. The publishers distributed these six related studies, titled as follows:

  1.  To study the relationship between spirituality, hope, distress, and ability to bounce back from stress among family members of recovered COVID-19 patients.

  2. Effect of spiritual care based on Ghalbe Salim on anxiety related to COVID-19 (corona phobia) in working women of Larestan offices in 2020

  3. Role, challenges, and opportunities of catholic pastoral care as part of 'spiritual care' in the end-of-life setting and under COVID-19 pandemic conditions.

  4. A randomized trial to evaluate the effect of meditation on Stress and Anxiety due to COVID-19 in a healthy adult population.

  5. Comparison of interactive psycho-educational interventions via social networks with placebo on anxiety and self-efficacy of patients infected with COVID-19 and lived in home quarantine

  6. Investigation on the mental health status and intervention of the medical staff of the national rescue medical team in Hubei province during the pandemic of novel coronavirus pneumonia (COVID-19) 

 

Other publicly available studies highlight mental health, and specifically anxiety, which clearly accompanies these stressful times. Anxiety Canada, for example,  publishes an extensive database to assist people suffering multiple conditions, throughout this health phenomenon. Spiritualists discover that anxiety is not a new diagnoses in the human experience, with plenty episodes reported throughout scripture.

  1. Anxiety represents a normal situational response from healthy people. Everyone experiences anxiety at times. For example, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John, and became very distressed and troubled. Moreover, Jesus said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch."[1]

     2. Anxiety is dynamic and adaptive. God equips the human body to respond to threats of real                                 danger. First Testament prophets repeatedly warned of encroaching calamity, stressing the need to               change trajectory. John the Baptist speaks after a long period of prophetic silence following                                 following Isaiah.[2] The Messiah's precursor arrived from Judean wilderness proclaiming, "Repent for                 the kingdom of heaven is near."[3] Anxiety accompanies body, soul, and mind, like a warning                               signal, necessarily defends against physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual distress.

       3. Anxiety targets human perceptions, which are not of themselves dangerous. Although anxiety                            feels uncomfortable, stress represents sensations people activate to protect from danger. Mental                     anguish signals the body's awareness systems. Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and                 burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and                       humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."[4]

 

        4. Anxiety exists in a temporary domain and eventually passes . People suffering from anxious                                sensations reflexively distort time lines, falsely imagining that their discomfort will last forever [5]                        The present is not the past, nor the future, but time does connect distance, just as the wind does with              space.[6]

 

        5. Anxiety appears generally anonymous. Most people (except those closest to an individual) cannot                  tell when another individual feels anxious. At about the ninth hour, Jesus too cried out in a loud voice,                 "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?"[7]

 

The term "dark night (of the soul)" applies to a spiritual crisis some people face. St. John of the Cross explained the concept with this beautiful poem, translated by W. Barnstone (1972). 

           Thus, at this time, the soul also suffers great darkness in the understanding, many acridities, and                         afflictions in the will, and grievous knowledge of its miseries in the memory, for the eye of its                                 spiritual self-knowledge is very bright. Moreover, in its substance, the soul suffers profoundly                                 from its poverty and abandonment.
 

          Now, since this is the remedy and medicine that God gives to the soul for its many infirmities,                              that he may bring it health, the soul must suffer in the purgation and treatment, according to the                      nature of its sickness. For here its heart is laid upon the coals so that every kind of evil spirit is                                driven away from it; here its infirmities are continually brought to light and are laid bare before its                      eyes that it may feel them, and then they are cured. And that which aforetime was hidden and                          set deep within the soul is now seen and felt by it, in the light and heat of the fire, whereas                                      aforetime it saw nothing. Even so, in the water and smoke that the fire drives out of wood are seen                    the humidity and the frigidity that it had aforetime, though none realized this. Now, being brought                      near to this flame, the soul sees and feels its miseries, for - oh, wonderful thing! - there arise within                     it contraries against, some of which, as the philosophers say, bring the others to light; and they                           make war in the soul, striving to expel each other so that they may reign within it.
 

           God, who is all perfection, wars against all the imperfect habits of the soul, and, purifying the soul                       with the heat of his flame, he uproots its patterns from it and prepares it, so that at last he may                           enter it and be united with it by his sweet, peaceful, and glorious love, as is the fire when it has                             entered the wood.[8]

 

St Therese of the Child Jesus, is a 19th-century French nun, and Doctor of the Church, who wrote extensively of her "dark night" experience. The sister’s "dark night" manifested itself in moments of doubt, as she mused over the mystery of eternity. St Therese resisted any inclination towards intellectual or emotional engagement with her anxiety, prevailing over the distress, by deepening her faith. The French saint endured prolonged periods of spiritual darkness, even declaring to her fellow nuns: "If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into!"[9]   Generally, these profound spiritual crises subside over time; however, feelings of despair, convinced of God’s abandonment, can linger for years. St Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists Order of religious priest and brothers in the 18th century, similarly endured a "dark night" experience for 45 years. Mother Theresa's letters released after her death, showed that the Noble Prize winner from Calcutta's slums, suffered relentlessly from about 1948 until her passing.[10] Today’s people suffering with spiritual anxiety can take some amount of solace by counting themselves in company of the church's doctors and canonical saints.

Creating deep meaning with carbon-based faculties has always been a complex and lifelong endeavor. Graduated levels of conscientiousness, along one's approach to eternity, promote an aspect of human incompleteness. Science and theology agree that humankind is incomplete; however, the solutions each promulgate are considerably different. Science imagines that human beings can and must seek improvement, whereas spiritualists reason that human beings long to be loved, forgiven, and healed.[11] Longstanding discrepancies that have embroiled science and theology ultimately converge with the question of mortality. Natural death releases stored intelligence, knowledge, and skills toiled long and hard to accumulate. Can this be all there is to life?

Boundaries that once demarcated science and theology are now a little more porous. In an article entitled, "What Makes Us Human? The Interdisciplinary Challenge to Theological Anthropology and Christology", J. van Huyssteen (2010) of the Toronto School of Theology, acknowledged that humans are a remarkable work of artisanship. The study first explains the uniqueness of being human and secondly defends Nicene Christology.  Van Huyssteen expressed openness to engage in the scientific protocols that religious practitioners sometimes step away from in trepidation. "Public theology" is the term the scholar employed to connote the gathering of multiple disciplines, including psychology, archeology, paleontology, engineering, medicine, and others, for an in-depth conversation over what it means to be human. Professor van Huyssteen succinctly suggested that rituals and religious praxis should be included in that dialog and can be dated with scientific instruments to coincide with the emergence of sacraments. Science and faith have never really been incompatible with each other. Z, Bangir (2015), wrote on this topic in an article entitled, "The Relation" Between Science and Religion in the Pluralistic Landscape of Today's World." Bangir suggested that Western Christian scholars frame and dominate technological discussion, with biases that generate artificial hegemony towards the relationship between religion and science. The scholar suggested that this problematic relationship is primarily a Western construct. Citing philosophers Gregersen, Barbour, and Drees, Bangir posits arguments from the perspective that science and theology address universal core social matters with merely different emphases.

Defining personhood remains a hotly contested and complex debate. How should personhood be recognized in the context of COVID-19 vaccines that utilize unborn human elements? Machines communicating logically with devices also raises serious concerns that bypassing consciousness could soon be possible. At first glance, augmenting biology appears aligned with the Sacraments of Healing. Improving and caring for the lives of those afflicted with any physical, mental, and spiritual disjuncture seems fundamentally human. If crutches became unnecessary, hearing enhanced, and sight restored, would not these innovations give evidence to the unfolding of Jesus' kingdom? Bio-medics engendered by science and technology appear once again on the cusp of challenging ethics. What would St. Luke a physician who healed, blessed, and reconnected broken people have to say?

Spiritual awareness anchored in the resolve to engender life-meaning is attached to humankind’s destiny. Knowledge-keeping serves the mind  but its insights affects both secular and spiritual students alike. In his book, The Soul of Cyberspace, J. Zaleski (1997) warned that humankind’s problem might not be with technology, but rather a disproportional reliance on devices. According to Cisco Corporation, there are nine billion devices connected to the Internet. Evans (2011) predicted, The Internet of Things, How the Next Evolution of the Internet Is Changing Everything, that in 2020, the number of Internet users could expect to reach 50 billion subscribers or even higher [12](p.3). However, the Internet of Things (I of T) describes phenomena not merely about devices equipped with computing intelligence. Gregory and Glance (2013), citing Schumpeter, asserted, "We are rapidly proceeding to a point where the range of data collected can be used to reconstruct a person's life. Privacy issues introduced by an Internet of Things will make concerns about our interactions on social media giants such as Facebook seem trivial by comparison" (p.218).

 

Intrusive sensing and personal identifiers, such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), gather personal information raising an array of ethical questions. In 2015, The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) initiated a pilot project in which cattle were implanted with RFID tags in response to a global bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) outbreak.[13] Tracking and educating emerging “coronials” could become as simple as a software upgrade.[14] C.S. Lewis summarized the relationship between science and faith, saying, "Men became scientific because they expect Law in nature, and they expected Law in nature because they believed in a Legislator."[15]

 

 

[1] See Mark 14:33-34. Jesus experiences anxiety emphasizing the entire conditional immersion that God enters.

[2] See Isaiah 29:10.  “For the LORD has poured over you a spirit of deep sleep, He has shut your eyes, the prophets; And He has covered your heads, the seers.”

[3] See Mathew, 3:2. John senses a spiritual anxiety and waits for Jesus like people today anxiously anticipate a vaccination.

[4] See Mathew, 11:28-30. The Divine Physician becomes available through Holy Eucharist to ease the burdens and suffering imposed by world’s temporal scramble to sooth anxiety.

[5] See Job 7:3, "So I have been allotted months of futility, and wearisome nights have been appointed to me.” Scriptures do not disclose the exact duration of Job’s anxiety but reasoning imagines that Job experienced severe depression.

[6] See Rev 22:13. Jesus says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Employing the metaphor intends to demonstrate that Jesus transcends physical time and space.

[7] See Mathew, 27:46, Jesus feels the intense pain brought about through anxiety in anticipation of an imminent event, namely his death. Loneliness and disconnection emerge from escalating anxiety leading to dark nights of the soul.

[8] See 2847 Christianity, Catholicism Saint John of the Cross: Poems translated by W. Barnstone, 1972. (New York: New Directions)  

[9] See more from M. James (2007) “A Saint’s Dark Night” New York Times.

[10] See D. van Biema "Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith". Time Magazine. Retrieved November 21, 2020.

[11] Recreating humankind turns attention to the nature of God which the Catechism of the Catholic Church adopting Thomasist theology, posits five transcendentals: res, unum, aliquid, bonum, verum; or "thing", "one", "something", "good", and "true" adding that where truth reside so too does beauty and goodness.

[12] From Cisco Corporation The Internet of Things How the Next Evolution of the Internet Is Changing Everything

[13] Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is a neurodegenerative disease believed caused by a misfolded protein called a prion. (Mad cow disease).

[14] “Coronial” a term referring to children born during these pandemic days.

[15] From C.S. Lewis, (1996) Miracles, Simon and Shuster, p. 140.