A Crisis of Conscience
for Christians in Science

Richard H. Bube

Department of Materials Science & Engineering
Stanford University
Stanford, California 94305

[From Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 41:11-19 (1989)]
©1996 by the American Scientific Affiliation

This paper was originally presented at the ASA 1988 Annual Meeting--"Science,
Weapons, and Hope: Christian Perspectives"--as the opening address of the conference.
Dealing with crises of conscience for Christians in science requires a prophetic approach. Although there are serious crises arising from areas related to the theme of this conference on "Science, Weapons, and Hope: Christian Perspectives," the subject itself has far greater significance and implications. The possibility for crises of conscience implies an authentic responsibility borne by Christians in science based upon a fundamental stewardship that is ours as Christians. Crises arise out of the tension between the realization that in a sinful world any increase in knowledge is potentially dangerous, and the realization that if science did not exist, Christians would have to invent it to fulfill their obligations in the world. Crises of conscience appear when Christians in science see directly the probable harm that will result from their work. We pose the guideline question: "If a scientist would not approve the use of a process or device if developed, shouldn't he refuse to work on its development?" We consider examples of crises of conscience in several different areas of science, with particular attention to weapons research and development as a response to evil in the world. A constant pitfall is "religious pragmatism," which is based on a religious context and admits the direction of the biblical teaching on a particular issue, but concludes that this direction is not practical in the sinful world in which we live.


The opportunity to address the subject, "Crisis of Conscience for Christians in Science," as the opening address of a conference dedicated to the subject of "Science, Weapons, and Hope: Christian Perspectives," is a challenging one indeed. It is challenging because it is particularly in these crises of conscience that the Christian position is most dramatically put to the test. It is in these crises of conscience that we are most strongly challenged to find out whether our proposals for the integration of input from authentic science and authentic Christian theology are really acceptable and supportable.

At the same time, such a discussion of crises of conscience is challenging simply because "crises" are the subject. To admit that crises exist is to admit that Christians have a hard time deciding the appropriate courses of action. To admit that Christians have a hard time deciding is to admit further that in any gathering such as this there will be a wide range of Christian convictions, some of them held with devout dedication. The temptation to lay out final resolutions for all crises, in a take-it-or- leave-it way, is likely to produce only a polarization among Christians. I trust that we will all be very conscious of the unity of all those who truly commit themselves to Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit, and will be able to come from this conference with a renewed dedication to Christ, one another, and the living out of His Way. It is through conferences such as this that the Holy Spirit is pleased to guide His people.

And yet there is a need to speak almost prophetically, being as honest and forthright as possible. Crises of conscience arise very often in connection with "Science, Weapons, and Hope," but they are by no means limited to this area for Christians in science. I would like to share with you, therefore, a general view of crises of conscience, and then to give some examples from particular areas, among which one of the most common is the subject of this conference.[1]

Finally, I would leave you with two major thoughts: For Christians in science to have crises of conscience is a sign of Christian maturity. For Christians in science to act decisively on the basis of such crises of conscience, not succumbing to what I will call "religious pragmatism," is a sign of Christ's power in their lives.

The Issue of Responsibility

To speak of a crisis of conscience as a Christian in science implies that Christians in science have a particular responsibility both because they are Christians and because they are in science. It is this kind of dual or overlapping sense of responsibility that underlies many of the discussions of the members of the American Scientific Affiliation. If we were only Christians, we would perhaps not have the knowledge or the involvement in science to make meaningful decisions. And, of course, if we were only scientists, we would not have the biblical guidelines that characterize lives lived in response to the call of Christ. It is because we are both Christians and scientists that we cannot avoid attempts to clarify the nature and the extent of our responsibility.

Being a Christian in science is a difficult task, perhaps especially today. For a time, we could relax in the assurance of a scientific mythology--of which I say more later--that it is enough for Christians in science simply to investigate the marvels of the natural world, thinking God's thoughts after Him, with scarcely a thought for the results of their investigations. In this somewhat naive approach, Christians in science could trust that somehow knowledge produced goodness, and that the results of their work would be put primarily to a humanitarian and productive use.

Reflection, however, indicates to us immediately that every advance with the potentiality for good has a potentiality for evil that is probably proportional to the good. It is also clear that while people of good will are attempting to develop the potentiality for good, others are as busily engaged in developing the potentiality for evil. Every increase in knowledge is inherently dangerous. The only way to be sure of not contributing to the use of new knowledge for evil is to avoid all efforts to obtain new knowledge in the first place.

Although there are certainly areas of human investigation where a simple cessation of activity is the informed response of Christians in science, it is clear that the general responsibility of Christians and the Christian community to meet the needs of the people in the world cannot be met by advocating a simple end to all science. If, in fact, science did not exist, Christians would have to invent it in order to be faithful to their call to be stewards of the earth for God and their fellow human beings. Excellent cases have been made for the historical premise that one of the main contributors to modern science was the Judaeo-Christian world view.[2,3] Here is a tension that cannot be resolved by some simple choice of one extreme or the other, but must be recognized and lived out constantly by a walk in faith down a middle path.

Once we recognize that the responsibility of Christians in science rests upon their unique role as stewards of God's creation, we must conclude that this responsibility imposes certain concerns and actions upon Christians. Scientists, the producers of the potentiality for good or evil, cannot sit back and let non-scientists make all the decisions about the uses of it. Scientists resist becoming politicians and activists, but for some there may be no other choice. Some may indeed be driven even to giving up science at some place and at some time, if their own circumstances totally prevent an honest expression of conscience and commitment to Christ.

The responsibility of Christians in science must be construed in terms of their respond-ability. Since scientists are the producers of the potentiality for good or evil, their responsibility does not begin only when the potentiality has been brought into existence, but it begins back when the potentiality is still only an unrealized speculation.

Scientists must feel immediate responsibility for the direction and goals of their work. They cannot abdicate and place this responsibility on the shoulders of others in authority over them, such as their supervisors, their company board of directors, or their government. Any time that scientists devote their talents in a direction that violates their basic moral conscience, they have given up their choice position as responsible professionals in society and have become technical prostitutes instead. In the final crisis, for the Christian it must always be a choice of God's law over human law, and the claim that it is moral, or required, or even allowed, because it is legal according to human law is a deceptive claim indeed.

Facing Crises

Crises of conscience arise when scientists directly see the probable harm that will result from success in their research and development work. Should they refuse to work on the project? Should they continue to work, but plan actively to influence the use of the results?

Every advance with the potentiality for
good has a potentiality for evil that is
probably proportional to the good.

I suggest the following question as a way of summarizing these ideas: "If a scientist would not approve the use of a process or device if it were developed, shouldn't he refuse to work on its development?"

Crisis for the Ideals and Identity of Science

In any discussion of crises of conscience for Christians in science, we must step back far enough to recognize that there is a fundamental crisis in both the ideals and the identity of science today. Since this basic crisis has so many implications for specific problem areas, we need to consider it first of all.

In the final crisis, for the Christian it
must always be a choice of God's law
over human law.

In the past few decades, science has changed from being a quasi-neutral pursuit of understanding of the universe to the situation where today's scientists and engineers--the largest number ever living at one time since the beginning of the world--are controlled either by the economic concerns of big business or the military concerns of big government. This situation has profound effects on both what science is and what scientists do. Christians must consider whether the actual opportunities available in a scientific career merit--or perhaps even allow--their participation. In view of the ambiguity of science and its ability to provide the means for evil as well as good in the world, it is inevitable that Christians should repeatedly ask "Is this a worthy life's activity for me?" Young Christians particularly need to be aware of these issues as they consider what vocation is most consistent with their Christian commitments.

I cite just two examples from my own recent experience at Stanford University. All the members of the graduating class this year were invited to consider making a voluntary pledge that when they considered their future employment, they would take account of the ecological impact of that employment.

My other example is the comment of a Christian graduate student in my department, whom I invited to list several of his personal "cries of conscience."[3] His first entry was as follows: "As a graduate student investing large amounts of time and money to specialize in high technology, I feel that time and money are being diverted from the solution of major human problems, such as hunger and inadequate housing and sanitation. In addition, the discoveries I make and the work I do may actually make the above problems worse rather than better."

At least over the first fifty years of this century, a definite concept of what it meant to "do science" developed and was taught in our schools, colleges, and universities. It is still probably the dominant meaning being taught today, on the basis of which career choices men and women are making. People are led to believe that there are many opportunities to make a career out of increasing our understanding of the natural world. They are led to believe that such a career is accepted as being beneficial to society, both for the general contribution to human understanding and also to providing a fund of knowledge upon which those involved in more applied pursuits can draw. The implication is that the support of such scientific research is a priority of the collective society, expressed through government grants and contracts, and also of the various technologically oriented industries, which recognize the importance of building a basis of understanding for future developments.

This view of science may well be much too self-serving and idealistic to represent the actual state of affairs in the real world over any appreciable length of time. It may, in fact, simply be a kind of "scientific mythology," which may continue to be perpetuated by word of mouth even though actual societal practice denies it.

Today's scientists and
engineers ... are controlled either by
the economic concerns of big business
or the military concerns of big

But two major developments of the past few decades, the industrialization and the militarization of science, have so changed the general perspectives of a scientific career, that crises of conscience among those involved in such careers are not uncommon. We find that much of scientific research today is motivated by one of two simple questions: (1) does the research promise financial profit in the near future (the industrialization of science) or (2) does the research promise contributions to the military program (the militarization of science)?

After the second World War, many of the major industries in the United States entered into a program of setting up and encouraging major research laboratories with the goal of developing applied science. A student graduating with an advanced degree in science in the late 1940's and 1950's could consider employment by a variety of industrial laboratories such as Bell Labs, General Electric, RCA, Sylvania, GTE, US Steel, Eastman Kodak, Rockwell, Xerox, Texas Instruments, and may more, all which had basic and applied research groups of a major size. University research laboratories were dedicated to the pursuit of basic science as a contribution to society and as an educational medium for students.

Where are those industrial science laboratories today? In thirty years drastic changes have taken place in every one of the major industrial laboratories, so that today fundamental and applied science occupies only the smallest part--if any--of the laboratories' programs.

Today we are seeing a parallel process taking place in our major research universities. With growing needs because of the increased tempo of commercial competition, not only do American industries not have the time and resources to develop new understanding, they do not have the time and resources to handle their own manufacturing problems. As a consequence, they are turning more and more to the universities as a resource that can be put into the service of solving manufacturing dilemmas. However beneficial such relationships between industry and university may be in particular cases, the net effort of a major industrialization of our universities will drastically change the meaning of "doing science."

Coupled with an industrialization of science is a militarization of science. The expectation that the doing of science leads to positive contributions for society as a whole is seriously called into question with the increasing support of scientific and engineering research for purely military purposes. For many years, a large fraction of scientific research has been supported under the aegis of a contribution to the national defense. This means that the choice of research topics and the direction of research efforts tends to be more or less directly influenced by military needs in a proportion out of balance with overall human needs. This emphasis increases in impact with every succeeding year.

There are many other characteristics of the way that science is developing in our day that call into question the ideals and the identity which people have commonly ascribed to science and a career in science.

The realization of the loss of the "myth" of science leads to disillusionment and frustration for people who entered the field with certain expectations and now cannot find them.

The influence of utilitarianism, material success, and practical goals in scientific work leads people to wonder whether it is sufficient for them to be involved only in helping business success and increased profits, regardless of the intrinsic value or necessity of the products.

We find that much of scientific
research today is motivated by one of
two simple questions (1) does the
research promise financial profit in
the near future or (2) does the
research promise contributions to the
military program?

The growing importance of big machines and big costs as essential for doing meaningful science has drastically changed its character. Louis W. Alvarez, Nobel prize winner in physics in 1968, confesses in his autobiography that if he were starting life over, he would no longer be able to become a particle physicist.[4]

More and more scientific research and development involves toxic chemicals, poisonous gases, and possibly dangerous new life forms, all of which threaten the environment even when involved only in experimental work, but especially if the experiments are put into practice with widescale production.

Certainly it is right and proper for Christians so gifted by God to take part in the pursuit of scientific understanding and in the application of science to meet authentic human desires and needs. But it is also essential for Christians to be aware of the changing character of a career in science and engineering, and to take seriously the relationship of the real situation with the commitment they have made to live as disciples of Jesus Christ. It is out of this interaction that crises of conscience arise.

In order to be more specific, I would like to consider four areas only as examples of the intricacy of the crises of conscience experienced by Christians in science.

Beginning of Life

Christians working on scientific techniques and processes involved in various procedures to bring about or sustain new beginnings of life are involved in crises of conscience. To what extent are we justified in using new methods to allow pregnancies to occur under conditions in which they would not do so "naturally"?

Even the fairly simple procedure of in vitro fertilization using the husband's sperm and the wife's ovum moves the beginning of life from the home to the laboratory. This procedure can readily be expanded to include donor's sperm and donor's ovum. Is it fundamentally a Christian response to a legitimate desire to have children, or is it a step toward ultimate dehumanization? Kass points out that our view of life and the world is reflected in the terms used to describe the generation of life: for the Hebrews, "begetting" or "siring"; for the Greeks, "genesis"; for the pre-modern English-speaking Christian, "procreation"; for the modern, entranced with mechanization, "reproduction"; in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, it becomes "decantation."[5]

If, in the process of in vitro fertilization, only some of the fertilized eggs are actually implanted, how do scientists respond to the remainder? Can they do experiments with them to help treat organic diseases in order to live out their commitment to help human beings in need? And what would be the larger societal effects of such decisions?

Can a Christian work at a sperm bank or an ovum bank? Can a Christian work at a support facility for surrogate mothers? Can a Christian do research on cloning human beings? Can a Christian engage in research directed toward genetic manipulation in order to find cures or treatments for the various diseases associated with genetic defects, knowing that success will certainly lead to many other applications?

Ending of Life

Can Christians devote themselves to the development of sophisticated techniques to maintain human biological life even beyond the apparent termination of self-conscious personal life? Can they justify the time and money spent in the development of ever more powerful technological approaches and machines in order to maintain human biological life, knowing that only the wealthy have access to them and that the money invested in maintaining for a brief time the biological life of a few could be spent to help and improve the personal life of many?

It appears to be within the scope of technological ability to maintain biologically alive the cadavers of individuals for years after personal death has occurred.[6] These could be considered banks, or farms, of cadavers requiring feeding and maintaining, awaiting the time of harvest. They could be used for training medical students, for testing of drugs and surgical procedures, various medical experiments, as organ and blood banks, and as manufacturing units for antibodies, all in a cost- effective way. Can a Christian be involved in research and development of this type?

Are many of these examples actually situations where one might not ascribe some particular evil to a well-defined act, but where one might still argue against the widespread application of such acts because of their almost inevitable deleterious effect on social awareness? This idea is expressed well by Gaylin: "Sustaining life is an urgent argument for any measure, but not if that measure destroys those very qualities that make life worth sustaining."[6]

Ecological Concerns

Advanced technology drives us relentlessly to processes and approaches that threaten the environment around us. We all know of acid rain, toxic wastes, the carbon dioxide layer, and the hole in the ozone layer. This was certainly the motivating force for the pledge of ecological concern suggested for Stanford's graduates this year. We are living on a finite earth with finite resources and finite capabilities for being changed from its natural state. Can Christians continue to develop new technologies or exploit present ones without an ongoing concern for these issues? Can we continue to act as if tomorrow's technological solution was the preferred solution for every problem induced by yesterday's technology?

When we know that there is an approaching ultimate limit to energy production on earth before the temperature of the earth is radically increased, can we as Christians continue in scientific and engineering development without regard for alternative, renewable energy sources, conservation of energy, and altered lifestyles?

The choice of research topics and the
direction of research efforts tend to
be more or less directly influenced by
military needs in a proportion out of
balance with overall human needs.

Can Christians in science and engineering continue to develop processes involving more and more toxic materials, so that our environment and our communities are endangered by chemical wastes that do not decay with time? Can Christians devote all of their skills and abilities to increasing the high technology of affluent Western society, using up fossil fuels and scarce elements, while effectively ignoring the very simple human requirements of the Third World? How seriously should more Christians consider the possibility of "tent-making" ministries to other countries of the world traditionally closed to missionaries and other presentations of the Gospel?

One of the difficulties in assessing the responsible Christian answers to the above questions, is the fact that they are not questions to which the Bible writers address any simple and direct treatment. They involve problems, options, and situations that were totally foreign to the society of Jesus' day. Resolutions of these crises of conscience must therefore be based on conclusions derived from general biblical guidelines, often without common agreement among Christians as to how to proceed to actual practical directions for living today.

Weapons Research

The fourth and final area we consider for crises of conscience is the area of immediate concern to this conference. It is somewhat different from the previous three. The biblical situation did not contain any direct references to in vitro fertilization, genetic engineering, maintaining of cadaver banks, or development of techniques and processes with careful regard for environmental problems in an industrial age. But the biblical situation was fully cognizant of issues of war and peace, friend and enemy, and of the procedures involved between antagonistic human beings. To be sure, the biblical situation did not proceed beyond bows and arrows, swords, spears, or horses, but it would seem a curious inference to suppose that the increased ability of today's weapons to kill people, and the fact that many of them have no use whatsoever except to kill people, should in any way make their use more favored.

Because of the fact that the Bible does have much to say about issues directly relevant to the use of weapons, it is essential for us to take a look at them. We do that, of course, fully aware that they have been endlessly debated in the past, and will continue to be debated at this meeting. Even as a prophet, I will not presume to make a decision for any other Christian concerning his or her participation in research and development of military weapons, but I will try to state clearly the teaching of the Bible on the issues that must be used in order to arrive at a decision concerning involvement in such research and development.

Here we face a question that is perhaps the greatest, the most common, the most certainly to be encountered in a key role in the future of the human race: the fundamental questions, "How should we respond to evil in this world?" In some of the other considerations we have mentioned as crises of conscience for Christians in science, many others who are not Christians may also have agreed. But when it comes to the question, "How should we respond to evil in the world?" the Christian response is almost unique. If our response to this question as Christians is not different from the common response of those who are not Christians, then we are in danger of losing the very essence of Christianity itself.

Resolutions of these crises of
conscience must be based on
conclusions derived from general
biblical guidelines, often without
common agreement among
Christians as to how to proceed to
actual practical directions for living
Christians themselves are widely split on the answer to this question. Our attitude toward science and the applications of science depend crucially on its answer. It goes to the very heart of the Christian Gospel and to the meaning of that Gospel in the Christian life. It probes the authenticity of the Christian message and demands that we put even our lives on the line.

Why does it pose a crisis of conscience? It is simply this. On the one hand, we have the clear New Testament teaching that the role of the disciple of Christ is to be the role of love; embracing not only friend and family, but extending even to the enemy. The reason for this is fundamental: love is the only authentic and practical way to overcome evil in this world. Such love may require personal sacrifice, even the laying down of our lives. Jesus faced the evil of the world in exactly this way as our example: the only way in which He could break the power of evil, and lay open the road to forgiveness and restoration of fellowship with God, was to lay down His life out of love. If he had done anything other than that, God's plan of salvation would not have been achieved.

On the other hand, we have clear biblical teaching that the role of the disciple of Christ is to be the protector of the helpless, the defender of the oppressed: the one who in the presence of the evil of the world demonstrates the love of God by being willing to defend the defenseless against the evil of other people. Christians may be willing to sacrifice themselves rather than respond violently to the perpetration of evil, but do they have the right (the duty?) to sacrifice the lives of others as well, even those who do not share in the Christian commitment?

To find the Christian response to these questions, we ask only a single question: What is the significance of the teaching and life of Jesus Christ for these issues? It may seem at first that this approach is inadequate. We may prefer to ask other questions instead. Does this make sense? Will it work? Will it achieve the goals that we desire? Will it prevent suffering? Is it a practical approach? If we follow it, will we probably lose our desires, our freedom, and perhaps even our lives?

If we are to be faithful to our goal, however, we must ask none of these questions--at least, not in such a way that they dictate the answers that we give. We may insist that the teaching and life of Jesus Christ is not enough for us to consider; we must also consider the Old Testament, or we must reckon with a systematic analysis to synthesize a theology following some tradition. We may indeed obtain other helpful insights and guidelines from such procedures, but at the very least they must not contradict the teaching and life of Jesus. As Christians, we are called to follow in the steps of Christ here and now. If we conclude, even for a moment, that this life is not going to work, what are we saying about the authenticity of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God? If we say that this life is foolish and incapable of being responsibly followed, what are we saying about the trustworthiness of the One whom we proclaim to accept as Lord and Savior?

We have the clear New Testament
teaching that the role of the disciple
of Christ is to be the role of love;
embracing not only friend and
family, but extending even to the

If we look carefully at the teaching of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels and John,[7] and with the inspired reflection on this teaching in Romans, I Corinthians, and I Peter in particular,[8] we may derive certain basic guidelines for the Christian, which may be divided into actions that Christians are required to take and actions that Christians are forbidden to take.

In brief summary, Christians are required to love their enemies, pray for those who persecute them, bless those who persecute them, do good to those who hate them, bless those who curse them, be merciful, obey the commandments of Christ, feed their enemies if hungry, give their enemies something to drink if thirsty, overcome evil with good, and rejoice insofar as they share Christ's sufferings. In the same way, Christians are forbidden to do anything that results from the desire for retaliation, put the safety of their lives above that of service to Christ, fight (in physical violence) for the cause of Christ, return evil to someone else for evil inflicted on them, avenge themselves for wrong inflicted on them, allow themselves to be overcome by evil, or incur suffering because of doing wrong.

Christians may be willing to sacrifice
themselves rather than respond
violently to the perpetration of evil,
but do they have the right (duty?) to
sacrifice the lives of others as well?

If we put all of this biblical teaching together, we have one of the most incredible claims ever made: ultimate victory over evil even in this most sinful world can be achieved only through self-giving and active love. It is not that we should love only those who are part of our family, community or nation--we should, of course--but our enemies as well. It is not that we should exercise love as long as we can without suffering as a consequence--but without end. It is not that love will carry us only so far in a sinful world and that after that we must resort to force and violence, but that if we seek genuine victory in Christ we must persevere in love far beyond the boundaries of human reason and "common sense" that has not come into fellowship with Christ.

Of course this is incredible to the earthly mind. Who would dare to be a peacemaker in the midst of a warring world that looks at peacemakers with contempt? Who would willingly suffer abuse and persecution for the sake of Christ when it could be avoided by violent resistance? Who would presume to attempt to love one's enemies without making some kind of semantic switch so that "love" really means "destroy"? Who would be so bold as to live in this world while holding fast to citizenship in another? Who can bring oneself to bless one's persecutors? To bring food to one who desires your destruction, or to offer drink to one who works for you abuse? Who could be so naive as to attempt to offer good in response to the evil poured upon him? Who would willingly forego his "rights" and suffer for someone unjustly?

Do we not find in Christ Himself the answer to all these questions?

If these guidelines do not seem very practical, perhaps it is because we don't really understand what God is doing in this world. There is nothing passive toward evil in these guidelines. We do not ignore evil as Christians; we are called to overcome evil with good. This requires all the sanctified creativity that we can bring to bear. Still, how alien these guidelines sound in our world. Retaliation is the thing in today's world. Is it possible to pass a day without newspaper, radio or TV speaking of efforts to retaliate somewhere in the world--and then to retaliate for retaliation?

Was Jesus wrong? The issue is a fundamental and serious one. Every aspect of the central Christian message testifies to the fact that a violent response to evil can only compound evil in the world, and not overcome it. Jesus died defenseless and alone on the cross in order that the good news of His Gospel might be preached and lived. When His disciples sought to fight to defend Him, He forbade them. The victory of the Resurrection was the open proclamation that self-giving love had triumphed over evil. To deny this central core of the Gospel is to run the danger of calling into question the very integrity of Jesus Christ and of the whole set of relationships and truths that Christians treasure in Him. To affirm it is to open the way for God to guide and rule our future.

We do not ignore evil as Christians; we
are called to overcome evil with good.

And this, of course, is why there is a crisis of conscience for Christians in science when they contemplate the issues involved in their participation in the development of weapons intended for destruction. Whether such participation in a particular instance can in good conscience be defended is a matter for Christians in science to answer for themselves. Whatever the answer, however, it cannot be given with integrity unless the requirements for a Christian and the actions forbidden to a Christian are understood and followed as part of the decision.

The test question raised earlier may be repeated: "If a scientist would not approve the use of a process or device if developed, shouldn't he refuse to work on its development?"

Religious Pragmatism

In all of these issues, no attitude is more common or more destructive than "religious pragmatism." We must be careful not to confuse "religious pragmatism" with "Christian realism." Let no one misunderstand this.

Christians must always be realistic in assessing the character of the world and the types of problems that they must face. Christians are not called to be visionaries, living in an otherworldly way that is inconsistent with the real nature of the world around them, but to be salt and light in this very real, sinful world. But what constitutes our understanding of reality must come to us from the biblical revelation, from the teaching and life of Jesus Christ.

"Religious pragmatism," effectively
denies any real significance for the
teaching and life of Christ in many of
the situations of life.

"Religious pragmatism," on the other hand, effectively denies any real significace for the teaching and life of Christ in many of the situations of life. It is a view held by religious people, people who may indeed have made a commitment of one type or another to Jesus Christ, people who regard themselves and who are regarded as Christians. Such people say, "We know and understand the teaching of Christ. We value it as a noble ideal that we should all strive toward."

But...they then add, "Of course in this real, sinful world it simply won't work. Maybe in the millennium, but not now. Maybe in heaven, but not now. Now we have to do the practical thing--we have to lie to survive; we can't ask too many questions about the work we're employed to do; we have to be concerned about tomorrow and not about thirty years from now, about ourselves and not about others; we have to respond to violence with violence; we have to kill to maintain life; and we have to retaliate to be sure that we are respected." While claiming to be followers of Christ, they effectively deny everything for which He lived, died, and rose again. If "religious pragmatism" is right, then there is nothing of value left to Christianity. It becomes only a psychological comfort or an illusory ideal.

That is the reason that I close this discussion with an impassioned plea against "religious pragmatism." Let's not perpetuate the denial of Christ, which says: "I know what Christ teaches and I respect it, but I can find reasons--using anything from practical politics to interpretations of other portions of the Bible--not to do it."

Let's be honest with ourselves and with each other. Let's seek to know and understand the full message of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. And then let's get busy to see how best we can put it into practice in the world in which we live. Crises of conscience can be opportunities for service and witness.


[1] Portions of this paper are based on material included in a manuscript, Shaping the Future: Modern Science and Christian Choices by R.H. Bube, still in process.

[2] R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science, Eerdmans (1972); E.M. Klaaren, Religious Origins of Modern Science, Eerdmans (1977).

[3] Paul Meissner, personal communication.

[4] J. Trefil, review of Alvarez: Adventures of a Physicist by L.W. Alvarez. New York Times, June 7, 1987, p. 14.

[5] L.R. Kass, "New Beginnings of Life," inThe New Genetics and the Future of Man, by M. Hamilton (ed.), Eerdmans (1972), p. 61.

[6] W. Gaylin, "Harvesting the Dead," in Bioethics (3rd edition), T.A. Shannon (ed.), Paulist Press (1987), p. 553.

[7] Matthew 5-7; 16:24-26; John 14:15,21,23; 15:10,12-14; 18:36.

[8] Romans 12; I Corinthians 6:1-8; 13:4-7; I Peter 3:9-17; 4:12-19.