In a talk titled ‘Your Religion is not Important’, the Dalai Lama once said:
I am not interested, my friend, about your religion or if you are religious or not. What really is important to me is your behavior in front of your peers, family, work, community, and in front of the world.
That quote reminded me of one of the most difficult questions in the Bible–whether people achieve salvation by living a good life or by faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible isn’t entirely clear on this point, and much ink has been spilled on the faith vs. works debate. All of my Christian friends have wrestled with it at some point. I remember a Bible study I attended where many people, shockingly to me, agreed with a variation of what the Dalai Lama said.
Most agreed you don’t need faith to be compassionate or care about the poor. There are, after all, many non-Christians who do just that. Religious leaders and politicians may affirm otherwise in public. But among individual Christians, I haven’t seen anyone assert that only Christians live good lives. And yet, despite acknowledging this point, all serious Christians I know still insist that faith is important. Good works are not enough. We still need faith.
I’m struck at how similarly scientists respond to creationists. As with faith and works, leaders offer a sharply different message from individual scientists. I don’t know any scientists who think creationists cannot solve differential equations or become a doctor. If they did, it would be straightforward to prove them wrong. All you need is a few seconds and an Internet connection. But also like the faith and works debate, scientists still think that it’s important to believe in evolution. The truth matters and you must believe it even if you can live a perfectly good life without it.
As America secularizes and the power of institutional Christianity wanes, the Dalai Lama view of religion will probably become more prevalent. That’s an outcome we should celebrate. We should judge others by their works alone. In fact, we should take this approach one step further. We should consider peoples’ intellectual lives as we increasingly do their spiritual. In both cases we should judge by works and nothing else. Just as you can live a good life without Christ, you can live a rational life without evolution.
I am not interested, my friend, about your science or if you are scientific or not. I do not care whether you believe in creationism or astrology. What really is important to me is your behavior in front of your classmates, colleagues and community. What really is important is if you can program a computer, diagnose a disease, or design a building. Your science is not important.