Adolfo Lopez-Otero was born in Spain and received his M.S. in physics at the University of Madrid. After obtaining a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Syracuse University, Adolfo returned to Europe where he was a professor of physics at the University of Linz in Austria for 11 years. He left tenure at Linz to become a Stanford Associate in the solar cell group in the department of Materials Science and Engineering at Stanford University.
Dr. Adolfo Lopez-Otero, a self-described secular humanist has, through a 15-year relationship with Christian professor Dr. Dick Bube at Stanford, moderated many of his viewpoints and seriously considered the tenets of Christianity. Here, Adolfo offers a perspective from the receiving end of Christian outreach.
RI: What sort of relationship do you have with Dr. Bube?
A: Dr. Dick Bube and I are good friends. At the risk of appearing pretentious, I would dare say our friendship offers evidence that a close relationship between Christian and non-Christian academics is possible, one where there is no fear of dealing with controversial subjects or being "politically incorrect."
I recognize and accept our different faiths and allegiances in the same way that I do our different ethnic backgrounds. I don't want to change Dick into a Latin-European any more than I wish to be transformed by him into an Anglo-American, and I realize Dick does not desire this either. As an evangelical Christian, he is concerned about my soul and wishes, metaphysically speaking, I were more like him.
I believe the non-Christian, who possesses a metaphysics which does not include original sin and damnation, is in a position to show tolerance and understanding toward the Christian attitude on salvation. After all, I would be offended if my best friend, believing that my house was about to be engulfed in fire, did not try to warn me about this mortal threat. It is my obligation to be thankful for his concern but also to reassure him that, in my opinion, his fear that I am about to be consumed by burning flames is only a false alarm.
RI: How has your perspective changed through your association with Dr. Bube?
A: The first few times I met with Dick I came charging in like a bull, loaded with "truths" and an attitude. He stopped me in my tracks, however, and eventually "deconstructed" my position.
At this point I would like to make a parenthetical remark. I believe that the "deconstruction movement," which is becoming so popular in these "postmodern times," is the best thing, since the implementation of freedom of religion, that has happened to those who espouse religious beliefs. I consider it the great "equalizer." Religion, Christianity included, has now an effective tool to defend itself against those academicians who pretend to have surpassed the supernatural by appealing to the Enlightenment, rationalism, science, and the fact that most farmers in this country are Christians while most Nobel prize winners are not.
Dick showed me there was as much "faith and subjectivity" in my position as I was accusing him of in his; that all is commitment; and that behind every commitment there is an act of faith. And yes, that includes science . . . and the rationalism we so much revere. This brought me to the middle but, to his regret, no further ("I'm not going to substitute one faith for another," I probably said to myself.)
RI: Has your relationship with Dick Bube been a good thing for you?
A: Definitely yes. Let me count the ways. It made me more humble. It contributed to a better understanding of "the other side." It made me realize, as I said before, that all our respective positions are based on faith commitments and not on a system of "proofs." And, very important, it helped me to resume in my mind the unfinished "conversation" with all the ecclesiastic teachers of my youth and the plethora of questions that had remained unanswered. Perhaps, without quite realizing it, Dick was using a variation of the "Socratic method" which forced some kind of order into my confusion.
This journey to a more clear understanding was possible through a series of weekly meetings with Dick that lasted for more than 15 years. Those meetings helped me to reflect and to become better acquainted with the words of Christ, the best source of humility for those who are ready to listen.
RI: What can a Christian professor expect to face when he/she approaches colleagues about their faith, especially those who appear to be hostile?
A: When a Christian professor approaches a non-believing faculty member, and especially one who is hostile, they can expect to face a polite but condescending person [with a belief that they possess] superior metaphysics who can't understand how such an intelligent being [as yourself] still believes in things which have been discredited eons ago. He understands well why an uneducated person (his grandmother, for instance) can still have religious beliefs, but a rational and discerning professor occupying the highest level on the totem pole of Western Civilization . . . why, there must be something wrong with such a person. He becomes, then, distrustful.
Those in academia as a group have changed their minds so many times that they have learned to respect the meaning of the word "doubt." It was inevitable. We have been wrong so often in the past that it is reasonable to expect that this will also continue in the future. This is why those of us who doubt resent, put down (envy?I only add this to strike the egos of some among you) those who claim to know the ultimate essence of anything.
Doubt is very important in academia. Those who have no doubts have no business in the university. They should become media hosts, perhaps, like Geraldo or Rush Limbaugh. Most of us in academia do not accept certainties of any kind. How can then a Christian professor best approach those colleagues who have made uncertainty and doubt their profession? By admitting that he or she is one of them? That would be too much to ask. On the other hand, it would help the communication, if it is honestly felt.
RI: What advice would you give to a Christian professor who hesitates to speak to colleagues about spiritual matters? What should be their approach?
A: For the Christian professor who considers speaking to colleagues about spiritual matters, their approach should contain a combination of daring and humility. Let me explain.
(a) Be humble. Try not to give him the impression that you are in a superior state of awareness. Don't be as condescending as he might be.
(b) Be as daring as politeness and civilized behavior allows. But, as I implied before, do not be shy to deconstruct the pretentiousness of his world in the same way that he is not shy to point out the "triumphs" of science, the Enlightenment, and rationalism over the "superstitions" of religion. And, above all, in conversation with him do not use the word "love" and "pray" as in "we love you," or "we'll pray for you." It sounds so patronizing to him.
RI: In your opinion, what does a Christian have to offer a non-believing professor?
A: A different point of viewa spiritual dimension. Many professors are immersed in a materialistic, cost/efficient, publish-or-perish world where fame, power, and the unconscious satisfaction of the ego are priorities. The Christian professor should be able to bring the reality of the Sermon on the Mount into the artificial world in which these professors live.
RI: Is there something to be said for tenacity on the part of a Christian? When should the believer back off or move forward?
A: In carrying on a long-term dialogue don't forget that it takes "two to tango." Anybody, Christian or not, should back off when the partner in the conversation becomes repeatedly abusive or morally "racist"that is, when he starts to consider those with a different belief system from his as morally "inferior." If there is a separation, however, it should remain only temporary. The conversation can be interrupted but should never be terminated. In my opinion, it is the only hope we have to avoid the type of human catastrophes that have besieged mankind since the beginning of history.
Most professors know about Christ. . . . They may not like organized religion but many like Christ. They admire the "unrealistic dreamer" of 2000 years ago who said things like "love your enemies," "turn the other cheek," "give all your money to the poor," "lend without prospect of return," "treat well those who hate you," and on and on (I quote all these expressions to point out the fact that we are not dealing here with an isolated maxim but with a "moral trend."). This is a new message for a new world, a fantastic world.
The challenge for the Christian professor is to help make this fantastic world real. The excuse of the non-Christian professor is all these maxims are too unreal as they don't take into account the true nature of human beings and the most essential realities of the world in which we live. He asserts that anyone who tries to organize his existence by them would not live for very long ("look what happened to Christ: he did not make it beyond his third year of public life"). . . . It is impossible to implement those tenets in our lives unless we have deep faith in a transcendence. We must be willing to declare "our kingdom is not of this world" and take the consequences.
These are the excuses of the non-Christian who believes he has only one life to live. What are those of the Christian professors? They cannot afford to give excuses or "explanations" if they are honest about wanting to open spiritual and truthful dialogue with their non-believing colleaguesthat is the price they must pay for having declared themselves Christians.
It is my opinion that most people at some point in their life arrive at a set of beliefs, a worldview, and spend the rest of their existence trying to justify it. My willingness and desire to listen to and answer your questions derives from the need to maintain a dialogue between people with different belief systems, not for the specific purpose of trying to convince each other but, above all, of listening to each other and learning something new and different.