A New Dialogue


I am writing this from the perspective of one who is still seeking. I have come to the conclusion that the path that I have chosen to walk is the path that I need to walk. In the words of John the Mystic, seek the truth and the truth will set you free.

But I think there are too many others out there in the world for whom it is not clear what path to walk. I also think that there are those out there eager and willing to give directions but who have no idea where those directions lead but expect that one will blindly and without question follow them wherever the path may lead.

I come to these thoughts because of the recent conversations that have taken place in this country and around the world. These conversations have led me to a couple of conclusions.

First, there needs to be a dialogue among Christians about the nature of Christianity. It seems to me that many of those who proclaim themselves to be Christians have no idea what it means to be Christian. Excuse me for being blunt but many of those who proclaim themselves Christian on Sunday do not lead that life on Monday; either they have compartmentalized Christianity as a Sunday-only activity or they have a corporate and nationalistic view of what Christianity means.

There may be disagreements about what Christianity is and what it does; after all, that is why we have the various denominations. But the tone that many use when they speak of Christianity implies an interpretation that isn’t in the historical record but one which has been created in America over the past one hundred years. In other words, we have Americanized Christianity and made it fit our way of life.

It also seems to me that there needs to be a dialogue between the various faiths. Part of this can be seen in the voices who cry out that they and they alone know the true path to salvation and freedom. I know the path that I wish to walk and it is the path that I would encourage others to walk but is it the only path?

There are three religions, each of which proclaims a belief in the same God and whose roots all come from one man who had two sons. Yet, the languages of many of the more conservative followers of each religion proclaim that the other paths are false paths. It strikes me that the commonality of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity is far more important than any radical interpretation of either religion which states that all other religions are false. And, for someone to proclaim that one who has decided to follow a non-Abrahamic path or even a non-Western path is a lost soul is to say that one has no knowledge of that path.

From a Christian viewpoint, it strikes me that Christianity has done a great disservice to mankind in its justification of the enslavement, subjugation and/or destruction of any group of people because they refused to believe as we have proclaimed they should know. If we know nothing about the path others walk, perhaps we need to see where it leads before saying it goes nowhere.

I have observed too many individuals who have left “the church” because of what a particular church has done or is doing. They seek to find peace in their souls but they cannot find it in a religion that provides fixed and unchangeable answers to complicated questions or who expect blind obedience and unswerving loyalty. Some change religions in an attempt to find the answers; others leave religion behind, seeking other choices.

Then there some who have been raised in a life without faith or belief, commonly referred to as “the unchurched”. For these individuals, the world around them is a world of logic, certainty and rational thought. They have no use for religion because religion defies certainty and logic, of calling for miracles and events that transcend rational thought.

For these individuals, there is no place for religion in their lives of rational and logical thought. What these individuals have done, though, is replace one religion with another. While calling upon science to solve the problems of the world, they are in fact invoking scientism, a belief that there is only one reality, the material world.

Science and scientism are not the same thing; for those whose belief is in scientism, science is the only trustworthy method for gaining knowledge about this material reality. In this view science has an exhaustive monopoly on knowledge and it judges all claims by religion to have knowledge of supernatural realities as fiction, as pseudo-knowledge. All explanations are to be reduced to secularized material explanations and religion loses because it is nothing more than false knowledge. (Adapted from “Eight Models of Relating Science and Faith”)

Rabbi Michael Lerner pointed out that

"Science, however, is not the same as scientism — the belief that the only things that are real or can be known are those that can be empirically observed and measured. As a religious person, I don’t rely on science to tell me what is right and wrong or what love means or why my life is important. I understand that such questions cannot be answered through empirical observations. Claims about God, ethics, beauty and any other face of human experience that is not subject to empirical verification — all these spiritual dimensions of life — are dismissed by the ‘scientistic’ worldview as inherently unknowable and hence meaningless."

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"Scientism thus extends far beyond an understanding and appreciation of the role of science in society. It has become the religion of the secular consciousness. Why do I say it’s a religion? Because it is a belief system that has no more scientific foundation than any other belief system. The view that that which is real and knowable is that which can be empirically verified or measured is a view that itself cannot be empirically measured or verified and thus by its own criterion is unreal or unknowable. It is a religious belief system with powerful adherents. Spiritual progressives, therefore, insist on the importance of distinguishing between our strong support for science and our opposition to scientism.

In 1959 the physicist and author C. P. Snow presented a lectured entitled “The Two Cultures” in which he foresaw a schism between science and literary life. For Snow, science was the key to solving the widening gap between the rich and poor of the world. For Snow, science was the agent of change necessary to halt the spread of Communism. (Adapted from “Our Two Cultures”) But as I read Dizikes’ essay, I saw the seeds for what we would call scientism.

So, with Communism perhaps dead and the gap between rich and poor still growing, perhaps the agent of change is not religion, be it secular or sectarian. Rather, as Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote,

"So why has the [political and religious] left become so attached to scientism? The left emerged as part of the broad movement against the feudal order, which taught that God had appointed people to their place in the hierarchical economic and political order for the good of the greater whole. Our current economic system, capitalism, was created by challenging the church’s role in organizing social life, and empirical observation and rational thought became the battering ram the merchant class used to weaken the church’s authority. Many of Marx’s followers thought they were merely drawing out the full implications of their new worldview when they adopted a scientistic approach that not only dismissed God and spirit as being without empirical foundation but also reduced all ethical and aesthetic judgments to little more than reflections of class interests."  (Adapted from Science and the religious progressives, “The Daily Dose” (Science & Theology News) for Wednesday, April 12, 2006 – http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060424/lerner)

When I began this piece, it was with the thought that there needed to be a dialogue between science and religion. It is clear that such a dialogue needs to take place. But, as with the other dialogues that need to take place, it is a dialogue that requires an understanding of the points being discussed. It is an understanding that each side speaks a language that the other does not necessarily understand. It is also an understanding that each person must speak both languages in a world of many languages.

Albert Einstein once noted that “science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind.”

This is a call for a new dialogue, a dialogue between denominations, a dialogue between faiths, and a dialogue of world views.

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