Live your life as if there are no miracles and everything is a miracle.
– Albert Einstein
Crisis in Religion
A spate of bestsellers—The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins; The End of Faith by Sam Harris; and God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everythingby the late Christopher Hitchens—argues that religion, as we’ve known it, no longer serves the needs of our scientific, cosmopolitan world.
Books like these appeal to a public put off by science deniers, repulsed by clerical abuses, and alarmed by fundamentalist zealotry. Contemporary religious leaders, painfully aware of the relationship between public participation and institutional viability, know that empty pews, like empty theaters, herald obsolescence.
If religion is serious about restoring its public reputation,...
[This is the 19th in the series Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship.]
As prophets in every religion have tried to tell us, humankind is one big extended family. The simultaneous advent of globalization and the emergence of dignitarian values is no coincidence. Greater exposure to “foreigners” is making their demonization untenable, and, as discussed in previous posts, the predatory strategy is becoming obsolete.
An important factor in its demise is that it simply isn’t working as well as it used to. Victims of rankism have gained access to powerful weapons and can exact a high price for humiliations inflicted on them. Increasingly, they’re in a position to make the cost of predation exceed the value of the spoils. Weapons of mass destruction seize the...
[This is the 18th in the series Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship.]
The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.
– Martin Luther King Jr.
One reading of the human story emphasizes war, domination, pillage, rape, slavery, colonization, and exploitation. Wealth and leisure for the few and a subsistence living for the many. To the extent that we can put people down and keep them there, we take what’s theirs and force them to do our bidding. To the extent that we can’t credibly do so, it’s our ineluctable fate to be victims.
Another telling of history highlights overthrowing tyrants, expelling colonizers, and, by marshaling the strength of numbers, progressively emancipating ourselves from slavery, poverty, and other degradations....
[This is the 17th in the series Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship.]
The Many Faces of Rankism
Rankism is a collective name for the various ways power can be abused in the context of a rank difference. It’s a name broad enough to cover a wide range of rank-based indignities and abuses. Whereas rank is meant to serve, rankism is self-serving, a perversion of service.
Examples of rankism (some may overlap):
• Illegitimate uses of legitimate rank (e.g., a boss extorting money or sex from an employee)
• The creation or use of social hierarchies that condone degradation and exploitation (e.g., the social construct of white superiority and supremacy, the caste system)
• Damaging or degrading assertions of rank (e.g., hate crimes, sexual harassment, child abuse)
[This is the 16th in the series Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship.]
What People Want – Dignity
There’s a place for us,
A time and place for us.
Hold my hand and we’re half way there.
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there
Somehow, Someday, Somewhere!
– Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story
What people really want in relationships is dignity, not domination. While it’s not hard to understand why people who have suffered oppression might fantasize taking a turn at domination, to actually do so is to over-reach. Domination is not a reciprocal, symmetrical relationship. It’s one of superior and inferior, and simply reversing the roles of sovereign and subject perpetuates indignity rather than ends it. Reversing the directionality of domination...
[This is the 15th in the series Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship.]
Somebodies and Nobodies
Bullying has always bothered me. Not just being bullied, though that too of course. I mean the phenomenon of bullying, in all its forms. I think bullying troubles everyone, even the bullies themselves. No one wants to be pushed around, to be forced to act against one’s own interests. And, if it’s happening to anyone, deep down we know it can happen to us.
Growing up, I saw bullying all around me. War was an extreme example of it. Slavery was, too. But, I didn’t need to look that far afield to find bullies. My schools were full of put downs, physical and verbal. Some of my classmates were regularly humiliated with epithets like “retard” and “fatso.”...
[This is the 14th in the series Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship.]
Those who argue that religion should be counted out are overlooking the role that religious leaders played in overcoming segregation in America, repealing apartheid in South Africa, and ending the communist dictatorship in Poland and Central Europe. That religion has not always lived up to its own ideals does not mean it hasn’t also made important contributions to social justice.
Religion is a repository of the time-tested wisdom of the ages, and a purveyor of precepts that have acquired the mantle of tradition. But as every reformer knows, tradition has its downside. Old moral codes can legitimize patterns of indignity; premonitions of a fairer world are then strangled in the crib. While the heavy hand...
[This is the 13th in the series Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship.]
When religion has committed itself to a particular science model, it has often been left behind as the public embraced a new model. That’s the position in which the Catholic Church found itself in defending Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the solar system against the simpler heliocentric model of Copernicus. It’s the situation in which supporters of “creationism”—and its offspring, “intelligent design”—find themselves today.
Many contemporary religious leaders do not make this mistake, although those who do get a disproportionate amount of attention. Religious leaders who cheerfully cede the business of modeling nature to science are no longer rare. Neither...
[This is the 12th in the series Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship.]
Live your life as if there are no miracles and everything is a miracle.
But because of its connection with power, the miraculous seduces some into magical thinking. Both the fraudulent and the profound appear at first to violate our expectations. Science has learned to examine puzzling new phenomena from all angles to see if there isn’t a way of accounting for them from known principles. New evidence may force scientists to revise their best, most comprehensive theories, but only as a last resort....
[This is the 11th in the series Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship.]
In the aftermath of movement politics, California was teeming with seekers after truth. More than a few political activists had replaced their concerns about social justice with a quest for personal enlightenment. I was skeptical but intrigued by rumors of a state of consciousness promising clarity of mind and perception.
I knew a number of high achievers in mathematics, physics, politics, and the arts, and I wanted to know if attaining enlightenment would be helpful in such fields. If enlightenment is indeed a state of exceptional lucidity, it ought to affect the quality of the work done by those who've attained it.
To check this out, I read widely (e.g., Jesus, Lao-tzu, Mo-tzu, Huang Po, Nisargadatta, Wei...