An often repeated criticism of religion in general by some scientists( mostly atheist scientists)is that religion has contributed nothing of value to the world. During debates between atheists and theologians, the atheist scientist will question the theologian in dramatic effect by asking the theologians to name one single thing that religion has contributed of value to society.
The scientists of course are looking for answers that involve technology, medical breakthroughs, space exploration and the like. Most of the answers given by the theologians involve ethics and morals. The atheist scientist will often shoot back that you don’t need religion for a moral or ethical system of belief.
When the theologian points to the glory of God revealed in the universe as evidence for God and further asserts that religion represents man’s attempt to find meaning, the atheist scientist will respond that if anything the universe is God. One atheist goes so far as to say, if a Christian needs someone to die for them they need look no further than the death of stars as the true giver of life. Because when stars die (explode after expending all of their fuel) elements necessary for life are created.
On the other hand the late former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, lamented in a speech that despite all of the accomplishments of science, life has become devoid of meaning. Here is what he had to say, “Classical modern science described only the surface of things, a single dimension of reality. And the more dogmatically science treated it as the only dimension, as the very essence of reality, the more misleading it became. Today, for instance, we may know immeasurably more about the universe than our ancestors did, and yet, it increasingly seems they knew something more essential about it than we do, something that escapes us. The same thing is true of nature and ourselves. The more thoroughly all our organs and their functions, their internal structure, and the biochemical reactions that take place within them are described, the more we seem to fail to grasp the spirit, purpose, and meaning of the system that they create together and that we experience as our unique ‘self’.”1
Spirit, purpose and meaning spoken of by Havel, are the essence of life. Both the theologian and the atheist often strip spirit, meaning and purpose from life in their attempts to intellectually define life. But life is defined by living; and living reveals spirit, purpose and meaning. The key to truly living is staying connected to that from which we have evolved or from which we were created, if you prefer. The irony of the atheist/theologian debate is that both agree that human beings are connected to the universe in a special way. To the Christian theologian and to many religions, in one form or another, humankind is represented as having sprung from the earth: God created man from the dust of the earth or to the scientist humankind evolved from the elements born of dying stars. Which ever you prefer, the inescapable truth is that we are all connected to the earth and the universe.
In the same speech, Havel went on to assert that spirit, meaning and purpose could be found in self-transcendence once these connections were understood, “Yes, the only real hope of people today is probably a renewal of our certainty that we are rooted in the earth and, at the same time, in the cosmos. This awareness endows us with the capacity for self-transcendence. Politicians at international forums may reiterate a thousand times that the basis of the new world order must be universal respect for human rights, but it will mean nothing as long as this imperative does not derive from respect for the miracle of Being, the miracle of the universe, the miracle of nature, the miracle of our own existence. Only someone who submits to the authority of the universal order and of creation, who values the right to be a participant in it, can genuinely value himself and his neighbors, and thus honor their rights as well.”²
I believe it is this concept of self-transcendence that religion has contributed to the world in a significant way. There was no more transcendent figure than Jesus. And though the various Christian religions and denominations claim to represent his teachings, none comes anywhere near the transcendent, nor do they teach their “members” transcendence. Though the history of Jesus’ life is replete with references to transcendence, this concept is mostly ignored or corrupted. For those of you who must have scriptural references in order to comprehend anything spiritual I refer you to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus: you must be born again. Or to the the transfiguration, to the sermon on the mount, to healing of the sick, to forgiveness, to loving your enemies and finally to the resurrection. All of these are examples of transcendence. God, bing all in all, Jesus remained connected to all and lived a transcendent life.
Science and religion have both brought about, at best, equal parts good and evil. At their worse they have led humanity away from spirit, purpose and meaning. They have been anti-transcendent. They have sought to redefine spirit, purpose and meaning with their own paradigms and refused to see the evidence of transcendence all around them. Thereby subsuming the lesser beneath the greater. But as Havel noted in his speech, the more science revealed of our physical existence, the less connected we have become to to the earth and the universe. The more missionaries have spread their religious dogma, the more alienated people have become to spirit, purpose and meaning.
In my next blog I will discuss spirit, purpose and meaning in more detail. Not in excruciatingly complicated or convoluted detail, rather in simple and beautiful way that will help reconnect you to all of the wondrous glory of God.
To God Be The Glory Forever and Ever.