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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Gilead" Author Says Science Is "Amazing"

"Religion is a framing mechanism. It is a language of orientation that presents itself as a series of questions. It talks about the arc of life and the quality of experience in ways that I've found fruitful to think about. Religion has been profoundly effective in enlarging human imagination and expression. It's only very recently that you couldn't see how the high arts are intimately connected to religion," says Christian writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson (author of Gilead and the new book Home) in a Q&A in The Paris Review, in which she talks about her personal relationship with both science and faith.
"The science that I prefer tends toward cosmology, theories of quantum reality, things that are finer-textured than classical physics in terms of their powers of description. Science is amazing. On a mote of celestial dust, we have figured out how to look to the edge of our universe. I feel instructed by everything I have read. Science has a lot of the satisfaction for me that good theology has," she says.
"As an achievement, science is itself a spectacular argument for the singularity of human beings among all things that exist. It has a prestige that comes with unambiguous changes in people's experience—space travel, immunizations. It has an authority that's based on its demonstrable power. But in discussions of humans beings, it tends to compare downward: We're intelligent because hyenas are intelligent and we just took a few more leaps. The first obligation of religion is to maintain the sense of the value of human beings. If you had to summarize the Old Testament, the summary would be: Stop doing this to yourselves. But it is not in our nature to stop harming ourselves. We don't behave consistently with our own dignity or with the dignity of other people. The Bible reiterates this endlessly."


Rico said...

Robinson says that "Religion has been profoundly effective in enlarging human imagination and expression." There is a nugget of truth in this, but certainly through no conscience effort on the part of the religious or due to the paradigm of religion itself.

Lets not forget how hard the Catholic Church worked to quash scientific breakthrough that contradicted their elementary understanding of scripture, of their treatment of Gallileo, and their bloody crusades.

Lets not forget how Christians in this country resisted the idea of dinosaurs, and to this day resist anything that does not fit into their theology.

Yes, religion has had a profound affect on human imagination and expression. If not for their tireless campaign to quash imagination and expression, we should not have the reams of great literature that we do, delineating the human suffering they have inflicted upon the world, with every now and then a touch of human kindness, but nothing that approaches what is expected of them from their holy book.

Robinson is a skillful writer. She wrote a pedantic novel and nobody even caught on. She made Christianity, as it is practiced, or not practiced, in this country actually sound palatable.

And what better way to bring up the topic of war and the variant perspectives of warfare, and not sound like you are not for the troops in doing so by using the Civil War for that particular discussion?

She brought up the topic of predestination in the novel and totally sidestepped the issue, and rather skilfully too. It seemed reasonable the the reverend would not be baited, nor of course, Robinson, herself.

The book would have been more than a little less palatable to her readers had she been as forthright with the issue as she has been in her essays on the subject.

But I digress. No, not really. Religion has actually done very little, of its own volition, to encourage imagination and expression.

In many ways I find science remarkably like religion inasmuch as they set up a protocol for research and it is often ignored and they, the scientists, often have the attitude of the religious that anything they say ought to accepted on their word alone. They can be as quick to quash a question that will challenge a theory as a religious can with something that challenges their theology.

I don't agree, however, with Robinson, that science compares humanity, "humans are compared downward." I certainly don't see why we should not credit the hyena with a modicum of intelligence, or the ant for that matter. The problem with Christianity, rather Christians, is they don't respect God's creation. They think too highly of themselves, and they forget that they are the stewards of this planet. Certainly, the hyena comports itself with more dignity than the average human bear, and with a proper regard to God and all creation. We actually might learn a thing or two from the hyena and others of Gods creatures if we had a mind.

The first obligation of religion is not "to maintain the sense of the value of human beings," not when they puff themselves up and think too much of themselves.

I think Robinson is once more being subtle. What she says sounds a little like it makes sense, just a little. But the first obligation of religion is to love one another. If Christians can ever get that down, stop trying to legislate their faith through the secular government of the United Sates, stopped worrying about whether others thought, believed, and behaved as they did, who was having sex with whom, if the right hardware was going into the correct software, stopped preaching and started loving all God's Creatures, Great and Small, then by beginning to value others rather then their individual selves, would help mankind onto a more imaginative path that would prove less harmful to ourselves and others.

But of course, that is not what Robinson believes: "it is not," she says, "in our nature to stop harming ourselves."

Well, if that sort of religious rhetoric doesn't just quash the human imagination and expression!