Saturday, October 01, 2005

Great Moments in Religious Thought and Practice

All Christians should shun science...Or burn in hell.
God and Smallpox By Herb Silverman "If God had decreed from all eternity that a certain person should die of smallpox, it would be a frightful sin to avoid and annul that decree by the trick of vaccination." So said Timothy Dwight, President of Yale University. He was President of Yale from 1795 to 1817, and spoke passionately against the new medical invention developed by Edward Jenner called vaccination.

At the time, this was not considered a particularly extremist view. Vaccination and inoculation, though highly successful, were condemned by Protestant and Catholic leaders alike. Edward Massey, an English theologian, published a thesis in 1772 entitled "The Dangerous and Sinful Practice of Inoculation." In Boston, clergymen and devout physicians formed an Anti-vaccination Society, declaring that "the law of God prohibits the practice." Some even proposed that those who gave inoculations should be tried for attempted murder.

In this age of Bioterrorism, we can no longer feel safe from smallpox, a disfiguring and deadly disease that we thought had been eradicated. Yet we can still reflect on the humanistic strides we have made. Even fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson do not speak against thwarting God's will through the sin of inoculation. Science and humanism are winning, though not as rapidly as we would like to see.

I don't know if fundamentalism will be around 200 years from now. But if it is, I expect the never-changing word of God will continue to undergo significant changes. Scientific discoveries and humanistic practices will be incorporated (kicking and screaming, perhaps) into a theological worldview. Fundamentalists today do not say that God changed His mind and no longer supports slavery or condemns medical interventions that can save lives. They simply find interpretations of their holy book that are the opposite of those accepted by previous generations. It isn't hard to do. One need only focus on a particular verse and ignore a contradictory verse elsewhere.


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