Fast Thinking, Slow Thinking, and the Omnipotence of the Spirit

Let’s start with a quiz: The total cost of a baseball bat and ball is $1.10. The cost of the bat is $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

If you answered quickly, you probably thought the ball cost ten cents, but that’s incorrect. If you go back and think more carefully, you’ll realize that the correct answer is five cents (and $1.05 for the bat).

Our quiz illustrates the difference between fast and slow thinking. A psychologist explains that the first “operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.” However, the second “allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations.”

We obviously need fast thinking in emergency situations or even while making routine decisions. If we’re going to make an important decision, however, we should switch to slow thinking.

The upcoming story illustrates why.

When the news is not what we think it is

The New York Times announced yesterday: “Supreme Court Backs Catholic Agency in Case on Gay Rights and Foster Care.” Fox News published a similar headline: “Supreme Court sides with Catholic foster agency that excludes same-sex couples in 9–0 ruling.”

At issue was whether the city of Philadelphia could ban Catholic Social Services (CSS) from participating in its foster program because the agency excludes same-sex couples. CSS claimed that the city’s attempts to exclude them violated the First Amendment. Lawyers for the city said the agency does not have the right to demand a contract omitting the nondiscrimination requirements that all other agencies must follow to perform services for the city.

The Fox article states that “the case will be considered a massive victory for social conservatives, who say that it protects religious freedom.” The Times article subheads: “The unanimous ruling was further evidence that claims of religious liberty almost always prevail in the current court.”

Not so fast.

Writing for a six-justice majority, Chief Justice John Roberts narrowly interpreted Philadelphia’s anti-discrimination ordinance regarding “public accommodation” that cannot discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation. In his view, CSS’s work certifying foster parents is not “public accommodation,” since such “certification as a foster parent ... is not readily accessible to the public. It involves a customized and selective assessment that bears little resemblance to staying in a hotel, eating at a restaurant, or riding a bus.”

In other words, the city’s fault was not in excluding a ministry that follows biblical morality but in improperly considering its work to be “public accommodation” governed by nondiscrimination policies. Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Thomas strongly criticized the narrowness of this finding since it does not resolve the larger question of religious liberty protections for biblical ministries. Justice Alito’s statement was scathing: “The Court has emitted a wisp of a decision that leaves religious liberty in a confused and vulnerable state.”

Colorado baker loses another case

In other news, the Education Department announced that it is extending Title IX protections to transgender students. This decision could expose schools to litigation if they follow biblical morality regarding sex-segregated spaces and could challenge efforts underway to preserve female-only sports, though the Education Secretary was vague about how aggressively his department would pursue such issues.

And Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who has been in litigation for years over his unwillingness to make cakes whose messages violate his religious beliefs, lost his latest case and has been fined.

These stories illustrate the fact that, despite what the Supreme Court’s ruling might first appear to mean, religious liberty is still under attack in many ways in our culture. We need “slow thinking” to assess these issues and respond effectively.

In fact, we need thinking that is entirely beyond human capacity.

"My hope for the church"

Tish Harrison Warren is an Anglican priest and a wonderful writer and thinker. Her latest article in Christianity Today headlines, “The American Church Is a Mess. But I’m Still Hopeful.”

She surveys the bad news of our day: declining membership, young adults who are dropping out of church, and so on. But then she states, “Increasingly, my hope for the church is found in words that I recite each Sunday in the Nicene Creed: We believe in the Holy Spirit.”

Warren notes that “ground zero for the Spirit’s work is often in the very places where our resources fall short, where problems seem intractable and unsolvable.” She adds, “I believe that God is far more invested in purifying and strengthening his church than I am. I therefore live in the full knowledge that I cannot predict the future—I cannot even take a guess.”

We have a role to play: “Amid broken institutions, we attempt to become truth tellers and work for reform in the imperfect and incomplete ways we can.” But all the while, we can be confident that “the Holy Spirit is redeeming the church in ways we deeply need and cannot yet imagine.”

Here’s the bottom line: Our ultimate trust is not in the Supreme Court, the government, or our capacities to bring about the changes our broken culture needs so deeply. Our ultimate trust is in the Holy Spirit: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

"The power at work within us"

As we work, the Spirit works. If we will love our Lord passionately and our neighbor sacrificially (Matthew 22:37-39), doing all we can with all we have to meet the needs we can in the name of our Lord (1 Peter 4:10), God will work in us and through us in ways we may not understand on this side of eternity.

So, here’s the source of our hope: “To him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Publication date: June 18, 2021

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Brian PIrwin

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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