Home > Uncategorized > God is the Egg Shell, God is the Sky

God is the Egg Shell, God is the Sky

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

In the ancient Near East, religion was the standard by which things were understood and judged. It was the unquestioned, unquestionable root of reality, and however fantastic its suppositions may have been, they were not metaphorical. They were fact. The serpent spoke. Ladders descended from heaven. God walked in the garden. Once, “religion provided the map or contract or set of rules needed to maintain the established order” (Oxford Study Bible, page 6). Once, it defined everything.

Somewhere along the way, that touchstone was exchanged for another. Today, science is our society-wide lingua franca of reality, of truth, and in a way, this has made religion effectively a hobby. Granted, faith is still authoritative for many, many people, but it cannot be denied that science has superseded religion as the common measure of what is real. “If the Bible says it, I believe it,” but if a study proves it, it is so.

Consider: if a parent chooses to heal their sick child through prayer instead of modern medicine, and if that effort fails, that parent faces severe consequences. They are scorned, tried and jailed. If modern medicine fails in the same situation, no one jails the doctor who did everything in their power. Because, as a society, we hold that prayer is a nice idea, but medicine is real; and when the shit hits the fan, you have a societal obligation to make a real effort to save your child.

When it really comes down to it – when the stakes are high enough – our true opinions are revealed: that religion is impotent, that it’s something to humor as long as you have the luxury to pretend.

Here’s the point. If we don’t believe our religion, it’s an accessory only. It’s cosmetic. When we look at what we really do believe, whatever that may be, we must admit that is our real religion.

This constitutes a revolutionary change in the worldviews of human history. By pointing it out, I’m not making a statement about whether the change is good or bad – I’m just saying a change has taken place. Having hatched, we cannot return. Science has changed us. It has revolutionized the way we interact with information, the way we receive and judge knowledge, the way we make decisions about what to do. We now know many of the physical reasons behind things, and while this in no way diminishes the stirring of thunder of the force of love, it does compromise our ability to believe in the literal reality of Pandora’s box or the River Styx. We now know a world unlike that ancient egg. As good and worthwhile as it may have been, we have exited, and cannot rebuild the fragments.

I do not know where God exists in this new world. I would like to think that God was the egg shell as well as the sky.

In any case, it’s interesting that science hasn’t actually erased our religious needs. Instead, some of us at least have invited it to step into religion’s shoes and answer those needs itself.

Like a religion, science offers us a set myths. (By “myth” I don’t mean falsehood; myth, rather, is the genre of story that answers the most basic, meaningful human questions: where did time begin, where are we in context, who are we, how will it end.) Also, science offers us comprehensive life guidance. When in doubt, we look to specialists – our priests – to direct us in any choice we face: what to eat, how to heal ourselves, how to change our fortunes or manage our emotions.

I love science, and I’m grateful to it for the countless, invaluable things it brings us. The problem is that as religions go, it’s not a very good one.

Science is has a very definite scope of inquiry. It answers certain unknowns and not others. Its language is limited to questions like how does it work, what is it made of, when did it happen, why does it do that. But the whole scope of human questioning is not contained in the realm of scientific inquiry. Empirical study can tell us much, but only so much. It can identify facts, but it can’t provide meaning. Detached, repeatable experiments are able tools, deserving of awe, capable of holding us accountable to the data to an extent that no other age has experienced. But they cannot and don’t even try to go beyond that.

Some people would disagree. Some would say that science is fully able to cover all the bases, to answer all the needs; that it’s a worthy vessel for spiritual impulses as well as intellectual discoveries. I know a few who call themselves practitioners of quantum mysticism. This is a category mistake. When you do this, you’re no longer practicing science. To call one’s science-inspired spirituality by the same name is to make a deceptive misnomer, to lose sight of science’s essential purpose, and to call as science something which isn’t science at all.

Given the fact that we have hearts and spirits as well as intellects, given our capacity to believe and the way that faith can transform one’s world, there must be a role for religion yet. What is that role? We can’t ask science to stop verifying the data – that is what it is here to do. Yet as long as we make science the ultimate standard of true and false, religion will remain an ornament, not a ground of being.

It remains for us to flesh out the non-empirical facets of life which science cannot touch, and stand them side by side with it, in parallel, and allow each discipline to speak its own language. Toward that end, there must be a new weight and an importance to be found in the old answers and images of religion, capable of being translated into even our enlightened world… not just for the benefit of our amusement (“Oh yes, dear, unicorns exist – but only in stories”) but in some large and real way that can hold its own beside all of the things that science has shown us to be true. And not just in the Joseph Campbell sense, where one more specialist seeks to frame our religious feelings in a scientific context, reducing mythology to the strictly psychological. In that case, one hasn’t stepped outside of science-as-religion at all. I don’t want to redefine religion; I want to rediscover it.

The ancient cosmos was surrounded by water; so is the fetus in the womb. It appears the water has broken. In a very large and real way, the old rules make no more sense now. We can no longer get our oxygen from the umbilical cord. We have taken on a whole new means of interacting with air.

Now that science has remade the questions, we must develop new relationships with the answers.

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