We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Book of Nature & Science

Jonathan Haidt
My review of Tippett's book, Einstein's God, at Rom Phra Khun Reviews describes that book as a journey into new territory in the relationship of science and faith.  It leaves behind the acrimonious debates now raging between groups of atheists and fundamentalists as it experiments with new ways to think about the Spirit and the human spirit.  In that new territory, theists and those who don't consider themselves theists find that some of their thoughts and words are beginning to converge in ways that transcend labels.  It is scientists, including self-styled atheist scientists, who are leading the way in the discovery of this new realm beyond the culture wars and self-righteous dualistic thinking.

A guest posting at CNN by psychologist and self-described atheist Dr. Jonathan Haidt gives further witness to this movement. His posting is entitled, "Why we love to lose ourselves in religion," and it describes the role of organized religion in encouraging us to have transcendent experiences.  Haidt has dedicated his life to studying morality, which led him to  the further study of such experiences.  In the course of his research, he had found that religions are particularly adept at encouraging their adherents to have experiences of the transcendent, whether it be through meditation, worship, or times of inter-personal interaction.  He believes that religion is a part of our evolutionary heritage and writes, "Whether or not you believe in God, religions accomplish something miraculous: They turn large numbers of people who are not kin into a group that is able to work together, trust each other, and help each other. They are living embodiments of e pluribus unum (From many, one)."

It is not clear what Haidt means when he calls himself an "atheist," but often atheists scientists reject traditional ways of thinking about a supreme being.  Some identify "God" with what they consider to be objectionable beliefs about God while others reject the idea of any kind of ultimate being entirely.  For those of us who happily wear the label "theist," the findings of researchers such as Haidt only add to our sense that there is Something going on in the universe that is ultimate and real.  There is a Presence that is both infinitely Beyond and intimately Present and that Haid's research reveals something of the reality of that Presence.  It is, of course, a "leap of faith" for us to then equate our own faith tradition with that Presence and to use our word, God, for it.

The thing is, the more the scientists dig into reality in its various manifestations, the more they are drawn back to the role of religion in life and to using language that is almost theological.  They are drawn to spiritual realities that keep pointing to a deeper and greater Spirit, which the theistic religions have long known as the Holy Spirit.  We can't deny that we do make a leap of faith from the findings of science to our theological inheritance as Christians, but the more we learn about the "real" world the more sense our leap makes.