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The Church as Witness to the Limits of Bio-Determinism – A Rant

What is “bio-determinism”? The term “bio-determinism” has been used in various ways. For the purposes of this post, “bio-determinism” refers to the assumption that biology (and the various sciences derived there from) speaks a value neutral and thereby factual description of the world. The reports of such sciences are assumed true in our culture. What “is” therefore … “is.” And there is nothing left to think about except how we must morally accommodate and live with such realities.

Such bio-determinism is insidious because it reifies the worst of our moral ills. It says the body is mere biology and therefore medicine becomes mere technology on our bodies. We are left with no room for the power of God to heal miraculously in our midst and change our very souls. It says character cannot change so we must best manage our character deficiencies through various medical and/or technique driven means. It says most of our moral maladies are the result of genetic disposition. Bio-determinism says causality always moves from physical to spiritual or from physical to social. It never considers that God may work in reverse of those terms. Stunningly, this bio-determinism may lie at the very foundation of racism, reifying in our consciousness that racial physical differences are a biological fact and that is just the way it is. Witness what Cornel West said in his “Genealogy of Racism”

“The initial basis of white supremacy is to be found in the classificatory categories and the descriptive, representational, order imposing aims of natural history (the beginnings of western science). The captivity of natural history to what I have called the normative gaze signifies the first stage of the emergence of the idea of white supremacy as an object of modern discourse.” (p.55)

It seems for West, modern science and its determinism lie at the very root of racism in the West reifying social and physical differences into “facts” that separate us. Bio-determinism is the normative gaze of excessive capitalism, the muti-national corporation and it is rarely questioned by the evangelical church, which seems to be as enamored as ever with modern science.

This “normative gaze” however strips us of the reality of the life changing gospel, the power of the Holy Spirit to heal, change lives, and bring love, forgiveness and reconciliation and justice wherever we move as representatives of the living resurrected Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ, the extension of His living resurrection presence, challenges everything that is … and subverts the forces of bio determinism.

This is why I believe church communities must become places of witness to the limits of bio-determinism, modern science and even modern medicine. Don’t get me wrong. Science has its place. The medical doctor has a role to play under the Lordship of Christ in the healing of our bodies. But left alone, under the efficiencies of modern bureaucracy, the determinism of the bio-sciences become deadly. More and more I see society rebelling against the commodifying of medical care and the segregating of medical care from things religious. More and more I see society questioning the subtle segregating of the elderly into retirement communes, and the geneticizing/determining of character issues. More and more I see society raising an eye brow against the hegemony the drug companies are wielding over us as they try to train us that all things are solved through drug medication through their advertising and payola to doctors. Herein lies some of the value of the postmodern discourses (i.e. Foucault on “bio-power”). And I believe the churches emerging might be able to tap into this and become communities of resistance to the bio-determinism that is driving the post Christian cultures of N America. The emerging churches might be the kind of communities capable of witnessing by our way of life to the limits that there are to all things bio-science.

What would this look like? Healing services would be a regular occurance at these churches. These services would regularly call together those who have faith to pray & lay hands on the sick one anointed with oil. I believe such community rituals are paradygmatic of the postmodern defying hyper modernity’s tendency to strip us of the supernatural. I am not one who believes that divine healing excludes all medical care. But we should become communities that minister prayer, submission and discernment at the time of medical need. Here we display the limits of modern medicine. Likewise we would instill places of monastic practice in our communities to give us ways towards orienting our souls towards God and His life, so as to defeat the ways our culture trains us to be blind to God’s work. These communties would take renewed care of our elderly blessing them and nurturing them so that we might receive wisdom and love from them, which we so sorely need. We would have places of worship that in symbol, word and art point to and lead us to the transcendent mysterious all mighty God who rules over all other causality. We might gather in co-op’s to participate and support organic farming. And last but not the least, we would gather together, as a diverse people, with many cultures. We would come together in our allegiance to Christ and His work and learn how to live and love together. This last one especially requires an all out assault on those who say … “but this is the way we are,” another sign of bio determinism. I admit, we’ve got a long way to go in our church. And I am already exhausted. Nonetheless, a healing service is coming this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. around the altar. Praise God…

And oh yeah, to add more fuel on the fire, … we might rethink the way we name the subject that has become so hot in evangelical circles, “bio-ethics.” Let us avoid the suggestion that we can base ethics in biology. And we also might rethink whether “intelligent design” is worth spending so much time on. I am sure there is a place for engaging the issues of defending the nature of our faith in relation to science. But we must be careful not to join up in the same game. Let us become communities of resistance to bio determinism. Let us become living witnesses to the limits of modern science, modern medicine and all things bio-deterministic.

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I’m in Stratford Ontario with Rae Ann and Max. Doing a little R&R and loving it. (I needed it). Tomorrow I am at Resonate Echo in Hamilton Ontario to talk and discuss a few things emerging, the challenges of pastoring in the hyper-modern post Christian cultures we find ourselves in. Hope to see some of you there.

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