Here are my thoughts for this 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany
It was the opening words of Isaiah in today’s Old Testament reading (1) that got my attention. I know that I spend a lot of time writing and speaking about my childhood and how I perceived many of the social problems that came with growing up in the South during the Sixties.
I may not have completely understood what was happening back then but as the years went by, especially when I was in junior high school and high school, it became apparent that there was a system involved and it was a system that worked against people, not for people. So, slowly and surely, I have begun to speak out. For what I see in the world today tells me that we have not learned the lessons of the past and are bound and determined to repeat the same mistakes of oppression and inequality.
And growing in an environment that encouraged thinking (for which I must thank my parents), I have to cry out and not keep silent when people seek to create churches that reject the poorest and the lowest. I have to cry out and I cannot keep silent when scientists attempt to say that there is no place for religion in the coming years.
There is an electronic magazine called “Edge” (2) that I receive each month. It provides some interesting reading, especially at the beginning of the year when the editors ask readers to respond to a particular question. For 2007, the question was “What are you optimistic about and why?” Many of the 160 responses that were included were, if you will, optimistic in the view of what was to come in the next few years.
But I was very much disturbed by the comments from two of the respondents.
Philosopher Daniel Denett believes that within 25 years religion will command little of the awe it seems to instill today. The spread of information through the internet and mobile phones will “gently, irresistibly, undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance”.
Biologist Richard Dawkins said that physicists would give religion another problem: a theory of everything that would complete Albert Einstein’s dream of unifying the fundamental laws of physics. “This final scientific enlightenment will deal an overdue death blow to religion and other juvenile superstitions.”… (2)
Now, I must admit that I am not familiar with Daniel Denett’s work but Richard Dawkins is the one who has written several books that argue against the presence or existence of God.
While I have not read what Dawkins has written, I have seen the synopsis of his work. I am not sure why he has taken the approach that he has taken (but I suppose that I would if I had read some of his work). But it strikes me from the perfunctory readings that I have made that they are confusing science with scientism.
Scientism is the belief that nothing is real in the world except that which can be observed and measured. Those that hold this belief believe that science is the means to absolute truth, even if the absolute truth is that all things are relative or that there is no meaning in life. While science relies on empirical observations to describe the world, it does not seek to add meaning to what it finds. Science can easily tell a person why the aurora borealis forms but it cannot explain why one can explain the awe and wonder that accompanies such sights.
Scientism goes beyond an understanding of the role of science in society. In some ways, scientism has become the religion of secular consciousness. Its supporters attempt to do what it accuses religion of doing, supplying a faith system. (3)
I think that it is possible to be both a scientist and religious. After all, I have been both for most of my life and I know others who easily follow religious orders while maintaining interest and activity in science. So I cannot stand back and stay silent when someone says that religion will disappear in the coming years.
Of course, those on the religious side who argue for Intelligent Design and a complete distrust of the scientific method do not help matters either. If you pursue a path that denigrates or reduces science to medieval superstition, then you are no better than those who would do the same to science.
The problem for those in the modern church is that people today see church as an exclusionary and oppressive organization that speaks one language but holds to another. It does not help that there are pastors today, just as in the Sixties, who used the Bible to justify racism and sexism. If this is all the public sees, it will be the view that they have.
As Jesus says in the Gospel reading for today (4), we have kept the good stuff for ourselves and not shared it with others. We know that the fruits of the Gospel make the future possible but we are not always willing to help others to share in the Good News that the Gospel brings. We hide the good stuff and say to those outside the walls of the church that they can’t have what we have because they are not worthy. But then again, we are not worthy either. And when we hide what we know from others, we are at risk of not having anything.
But how do we let others know of the Good News? How do we let others know of the saving Grace found in the Gospel? Paul, writing to the Corinthians (5), noted that everyone has a particular gift and each person’s gift is different. And since we have these gifts, we should be using them to the Glory of the Lord.
We look around and we see injustice in the world. We look around and we see people oppressed. We look around and see people hungry, sick, and cold. We can walk on by and say nothing. But Martin Niemöller reminds us
First They Came for the Jews
First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
I am reminded also that Jesus came to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and bring hope to the oppressed. I am also reminded that we are charged with that same task today. So, I cannot keep quiet when it comes to speaking out. And neither should you.
(1) Isaiah 62: 1 – 5
(3) Adapted from The Left Hand of God, Michael Lerner (page 130 – 133)
(4) John 2: 1 – 11
(5) 1 Corinthians 12: 1 -11