Saturday, January 9, 2010

Big questions

In Chet Raymo's Skeptics and True Believers: The Exhilarating Connection Between Science and Religion, he tells how Nicholas Humphrey points out the questions posed in Gaugin's last painting. From where did we come? What are we? Where are we going? Questions asked in every faith, by every person. "Who am I? Where did come come from? Why am I here?"

"People want explanations for the first two questions, says Humphrey. They want reassurances for the third."

Although I think Raymo's premise of Skeptics and True Believers is too narrow, as most if not all binary or dualistic attempts are, I appreciate his wonder at our existence, and his scientific explanations from an evolutionary perspective. He is an accessible writer, like Carl Sagan.

Regardless of whether we find a simple answer to our big questions through faith in God - God made me, I have a soul, I am here to serve; or by answering in more humanistic terms, which leave room for a diversity of answers, the questions remain, and are part of how we develop a theology, or statement of life .

Raymo says, "Religion...provides a sense of belonging to a group, a history, and a culture...service... and rites of passage," referring to more conservative religion, but I believe that liberal religion offers those things as well. My ministers assert that the large societal struggle we face in contemporary times is disconnection. It is the role of our church to find connection through social action, small group ministry, worship, and friendship.

I belong to, and believe strongly in a church where my congregation has at least two, if not three ministers who identify as non-theist. Does that identification as humanist, in a broad sense that strives beyond anthropomorphic belief, negate their religious authority? I think not. A skeptical person who seeks a personal theology or a liberal church has a hard job. They have to be responsible for their path, for articulating their beliefs and defending them, and cannot fall back on simple answers of faith.

I find that our messages of connection, hospitality and service offer a religion that allows us to feel part of a group and culture, to serve, and to participate in rituals. I hope through further learning to find ways that we can address end of life issues around questions of death and the loss and grief that accompanies that.


Captain Thomas R. Beall, USN (ret.) said...


Rev. Richard Gilbert talks about the importance of the connections of which you speak in his book "The Prophetic Imperative: Social Gospel in Theory and Practice." A fully integrated church, in his view, is the model of a UU Congregation.

I gave a sermon during our summer series last year the connection between science and religion - agreeing (I think) with many of the points you make: Hope you will take a look and tell me what you think.

Thanks for this post.


Kelly KH said...

Tom, thanks for sharing. This paragraph stood out for me as one of the key tenets of Raymo's work:

"What troubles me is not that we embrace theories founded on science versus those founded on religious faith. Rather I am troubled by the layman’s tendency to put an unquestioning faith in the findings of modern science without really understanding the philosophy of science, the extent to which it has furthered our understanding of the universe, and, most importantly, how incomplete that understanding may be. This unquestioning faith is the basis for the critique that science is merely another religion.

He believes that those that believe blindly in existing science, without continuing to test it, challenge it, expand on it, are also true believers and fundamentalists (which Dawkins smacks of at times )).

As you say,
"In seeking to expand our understanding of the universe, in seeking to take us where no man has gone before, they recognize that science does not provide all the answers – at least not yet."

Great sermon!