TO BELIEVE OR NOT TO BELIEVE

                        By Sy Schechtman

                       

        Many years ago it  was fashionable  to think of science and religion as two antithetical  entities;  two opposing  concepts that were seemingly irreconcilable.   Science was much more current and trendy.   Religion was rather embarrassingly old fashioned, out of date.   It was only a matter of    time before it would  fold its theological tent and become an interesting   anthropological artifact.   That was about mid century of the last century.   Just post World War II.   There was, indeed, then an impressive, if not large,  theology  on the scene called the “Death of God movement”.    Some eminent Protestant and Jewish theologians despairingly declared that the God of History was dead; and as Richard Rubenstein in his book, “After Auschwitz,” stated that his congregants would now have to get used to “going from the oblivion of birth to the oblivion of death”.  All this was understandable amidst the great despair after this most devastating conflict.   Now,  however,  God  is  still aloft in  the heavenly  world above in some meaningful way  again to many people,   even though modified as to His/Her  ultimate power, but still  as a powerful aspiration for humanity to chose the right path of morality and virtue ---and  possible salvation--- in this mortal life.

        The idea of total randomness in birth and death defies the human instincts of many people for some form of order and purpose in this  life---and even beyond.   The seeming inchoate void that surrounds us in an uncaring universe shrivels up most of our cognitive  mechanisms, all the vibrant and striving spirit that makes one the dynamic center of a caring universe.  And makes one, literally, a power center for human achievement.  And fights against that rigid wall of mortal death as the ultimate end of all sentient being.   It is true, however, that this return to prominence of the supernatural is not exactly  a universal phenomenon in the western world, but is  manifest most evidently in the United States.   But it is also true that the United States is by far the most successful and powerful nation in our civilization and in world history.  And  has citizens who are evidently very industrious, many of whom have no qualms about working two jobs and whose spouses happily also share the financial burdens of the enhanced consumerism our society encourages (indeed  celebrates!)  by being both caring housewives, mothers  and  jobholders.   Some amount of this abundance of energy, no doubt,  has to do with the lure of enhanced material acquisition  and the freedom to pursue it,  but also for the possibility  of  existence in some form of supernatural salvation beyond earthly existence, validating our human travail  on planet earth.  Indeed many polls of differing age groups in this country—even including college students---  show a believe in some form of Deity,  not  perhaps the exact scriptural  image of Jesus or Moses, but still a vague, tenuous, pious believe of  an afterlife of some sort, and not necessarily that anthropomorphic God concept  that we may have created so far. And many, many people “vote with their feet” legally and illegally to partake of our “exceptional” culture, by both legal and illegal immigration.   Balancing  both material  and spiritual aspirations and their concomitant burdens  on  both shoulders and being, not overwhelmed, but inspirited.

        The negative overhanging of all this, however, is the  “holier than thou” fanaticism that surrounds some of the extreme religious movements and motives.   As we know  very well now after our encounter   on 9/11/01  with the Moslem jihad against us in New York and Washington. And the Israelis know, too after these die hard fanatics evidently willingly sacrifice their lives continually   for the “seventy virgins in paradise” bounty.  And their earthly remnant families happily rerceiving a $25,000 bounty per martyr in the family!  And certain areas in Britain and Spain and Indonesia know first hand, before and after 9/ll, the terrorism  these committed fanatics have perpetrated  in many areas of the civilized world.  People who evidently are willingly sacrificing themselves and guaranteed a safe passage to paradise.   Indeed, to some of us more dubious  westerners fear another world wide confrontation is possible, a fourth world war,  (figuring the Soviet United States cold war as  World War number 3).  Unless we finally see and hear from the rest of the Islamic  world, who so far have stood  mutely aside, as if, by their silence, seemingly acquiescent  in Jihads’ demonically intolerant  dogma of an overwhelming Allah who demands death to all infidels.

 

        Science tells us of mesons, pions, quarks and other almost incomprehensible facts on the infinitesimal side of physical life,  and of great masses of invisible matter--black holes---  and  all galaxies  speeding away from each other at seemingly accelerating speeds in the vast universe around us.  So, while our intensely human concept of a Godlike image ---a father figure, if you will--is understandable as we search and wonder, almost as if at the edge of the vast ocean of space, still sort of getting our feet wet in understanding this universe we have to inhabit, and the true  role we have to play as our understanding of the cosmos continues to unfold..    Which, hopefully,  will help lead both to physical and spiritual salvation,  and  the ultimate true God and the divine connection with humanity   on planet earth.   And  most urgently some better understanding of fractious humanity, the upright part holy and part beastly creature who rules this planet. 

        In this vein , in 1997 Steven Jay Gould, famed American evolutionary biologist and  paleontologist,  wrote an article  in Natural History magazine about the importance of the two separate but significant   domains of science and religion and how each was relevant in our search for understanding of the universe  and ourselves.   As one of his confreres  put it, respectfully, “science  teaches us about the heavens and religion how to get there.”  And scientists, respectfully, now have no qualms about studying religion cognitively to derive more insight from this persistent and perhaps pesky human foible.    And ultimately, hopefully, to find God and our true relation ship to him.  Mere mortals that we are  who still yearn and seek the eternal.   And hopefully, as Isaiah stated, to at last have the “lion lay down with the lamb”  and not the wrath of God in a Noah size atomic flood.