Friday, July 14, 2006

Change the Names to Protect the Innocent

A while back, I googled my own name. Because my first name is not a particularly common one in the United States, I was actually surprised at the number of notable people, real and fictional, who share my first and last name. I learned the following people have (or had) the same first and last name that I do:
  • The director of the Pacific Garden Rescue Mission in Chicago who was responsible for the conversion of a baseball player named Billy Sunday, who became the Billy Graham of his day.
  • The character portrayed by Richard Pryor in the movie Stir Crazy.
  • An on air personality who works for Voice of America.
And then there is one more. I am glad that I knew a little bit about it from Google, as it prepared me somewhat for a visit I received last night.

A person who has the same first and last name as I do is a former Catholic priest who has been accused of molesting young boys in Indiana between 1979 and 1984. 11 lawsuits have been filed against him to date.

Last night, around 6:30 p.m., my phone rang. After asking for me, the caller identified himself as a reporter for the Indianapolis Star. He wanted to ask me some questions. I was confused at first as to why he would want to talk to me, but I remembered my Google finding about the same time that he realized that this was going much too easily and that I might be the wrong guy. He apologized for bothering me, and explained that no one was sure where the child molester lived, but that it was commonly believed that he lived somewhere in Nashville. Because he has never been convicted of a crime, he doesn't have to register as a sex offender.

Oh, great. I had previously had some fear about name association when I read about him in another state. Here in the same city as me? I groaned.

The reporter then had a request. He now explained that he was at the entrance of the apartment complex I had just moved into. He had driven all of the way from Indianapolis based on finding my newly listed address and phone number. Would I mind if he just came by to look at me to confirm I am not the perpetrator?

I figured my choices were to meet him or to have someone waiting outside my door to see me, so I said I would do so. I told him that I would be standing outside the apartment when he drove up. He asked what I looked like. I'm in my 40's, have brown hair....

He interrupted, telling me if I had hair I wasn't the guy he was looking for.

The reporter and I talked briefly. He looked close to my age -- a little younger perhaps-- and he actually seemed like a nice guy, though he was obviously disappointed. He was going to be headed back to Indianapolis, but he had one more request:

Would I let him see my driver's license? He needed to make sure I wasn't someone that was sent out to cover for the real one.

I shook my head in disbelief and pulled out my wallet. He looked at my license, half chuckled, and, realizing that his whole day had been a wasted effort, said, "Well, there you have it."

In some ways, the incident was amusing at first, but the more I think about it, the more I am frightened by the whole thing. I was still in high school when that man began abusing boys as a priest, so clearly there is no way that a rational person could confuse me with him. But what about an irrational one? Could the association of name and place impact my professional life if people I am working with from a distance hear a story and draw a wrong conclusion? Will someone else find my address the same way that the reporter did and assume that I am the perpetrator? Is it possible that I will open my door some morning and see a shotgun pointed at my face? Will they take time to look? If I protest, will they believe me?

I don't blame the reporter for raising these concerns. He's doing his job. I suspect that in preparing his series of stories that he has heard heart wrenching stories of the aftermath of abuse. But, this has scared me. It has scared me a lot.

Monday, July 03, 2006

"Maker of Heaven and Earth"

When reading this portion of the Creed, one immediately thinks of the first verse in the Bible, which declares, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." The remainder of chapter one and the first half of chapter two proceed to discuss God's creative acts.

Much discussion of God as Creator nowadays revolves around debates about the age of the earth, whether the concepts of divine creation and Darwinian evolution can be reconciled, and the relationship between science and religion. I have opinions on those issues, about which both many Christians and many scientists sometimes are guilty of making statements that go beyond their areas of expertise, but for this discussion I want to focus on a couple of different questions -- one that should be thought about before discussions of science begin, and the other a consideration of the implications of divine creation.

There are some Christians who both believe that Scripture is divine revelation from God and accurate in all that it teaches who also believe that the Bible is not inconsistent with Darwinian evolution. Again, I am not going to debate that point today. What I will say is that, regardless of the relationship between faith and current scientific viewpoints, philosophical naturalism is not consistent with Christian belief. Naturalism, simply put, is the belief that nature is all there is. Thus, there is no God and no soul. There is only nature.

Of course, nature is the subject matter of science. Nature is what scientists study. However, some scientists are guilty of folding the philosophical definition of naturalism into the meaning of the scientific method and, by extension, the definition of science itself. That confluence should not be allowed to stand without debate. It is one thing to say that nature is what scientists study. It is something quite different to say that what scientists study is all there is. That supposition is both unproven and unprovable empirically, as it outside the realm of what scientists study.

Just as some Christians may be guilty of arrogance in making statements about scientific matters about which they have no knowledge, some scientists may be guilty of an intellectual and philosophical arrogance that claims that nothing is beyond their realm. As to whether God, either by a sudden act of creation or by a guiding hand on what we would otherwise regard as natural processes, created all that there is, the scientist really has no ultimate answers. That is not to say that there are no answers; they just cannot be found conclusively by means of the scientific method.

Christians have faith that God created all that exists, and we find ample evidence in the order, complexity, and beauty of the universe in support of that faith. The question of creation, however, is not merely an intellectual one. Along with the notion that God created comes the thought that God created for a purpose, and that ultimately what God knows about both our lives and his purposes creates accountability for us, as well as the realization that the One who made us best understands how we should live. That accountability and submission to God's wisdom and purposes, which are ultimately sources of joy for those who accept them, are also the ultimate reasons for much -- some would say all -- unbelief. The first sins in the garden were committed in response to a claim that Adam and Eve could be like God, and ever since humanity has desired to have things our own way.

God, as our Creator, has the ultimate say about what our lives should be. To live in the light of his purposes brings freedom and joy. Resisting Him is both temporally and eternally destructive.

This is the latest in my series of posts on the Apostle's Creed. For my previous post, which includes links to all of the others, see here.