Another way to think about this dichotomy is to consider whether truths are immutable across time forever or whether they evolve as human wisdom does. For example, the Roman Catholic Church believes in the concept of “papal infallibility”, meaning that the Pope cannot be wrong on matters of faith and theology. So while if you asked the Pope who holds the Major League Baseball record for RBI’s in a single season - Hack Wilson for the Chicago Cubs with a remarkable 191 in 1930 – if he guessed Lou Gehrig or Babe Ruth, the history books would not have to be rewritten, a la George Orwell’s 1984. On matters of religion, however, the Pope’s answer is not only final but true beyond doubt. Unless, that is, you don’t believe in this notion in the first place.
For example, the Catholic Church burned witches and heretics at the stake during the Middle Ages. Did God require such actions half a millennium ago and then subsequently change his mind? And when did he send the memo letting us know about the new policy?
Of course, I don’t mean to imply Catholics are the only religious group facing this dilemma. The Mormon Church excluded blacks from the priesthood until 1978, when they received a “revelation” that God had changed his mind. Interesting how the Good Lord waited until after the Civil Rights movement in the US and the expansion of the Mormon Church to African nations. The alternative would have been a Mormon community in Africa where the locals would be allowed to sit in the pews but not lead from the pulpit.
Lately, all religions have struggled with what to do about the fact that humanity, which the Bible tells us God created in his own image, currently includes somewhere around half a billion gays. Clearly, this can’t be an accident, plus he’s God, of if he didn’t want the world teeming with sexual diversity, then what was he thinking in the first place?
Condemning gays, like burning witches, used to seem like a good idea to religious leaders, including my own community, Jews. Then, gradually, the world changed. Mainstream preaching from a generation ago now sounds like hate speech. Even the Pope Francis appears to be nudging the Catholic Church in a new direction, saying in 2014, “"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"
Which forces one to wonder about this new Pope: is he a cafeteria Catholic?