Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Limited stories

I'm going to provide links to three articles, all of which are confronting the same issue from the same angle. All three are saying that religion, far from the force for evil that some claim it to be, is the very thing we need most here and now. I would put it in the form of a question, one that I have asked myself (a materialist for almost as long as I can remember) many times: can a secular society built on Christian-inspired ideals survive when it has cast off those ideals?

I have wondered about this for a long time, especially since I recognised that Anglo-Saxon liberalism is not essentially an ideal in itself. It is a negative philosophy, a recognition of the inevitable fallibility of all individuals and of the institutions that they create. Far from asserting the equality of all men and women (which seems to me a metaphysical asssertion), it rather rests on acknowledgement that no-one is, or can be, in a position to claim that anyone else is not equal. We are equal before the law only because we have made it that way; it is neither inevitable or necessary that it be so. As a materialist, I must admit that we exist within an enclosed circle of our own making - we assert democracy, equality and the value of individual life and, because we are powerful, we can maintain and defend that assertion and have done so far.

That enclosed circle is not, in fact, impermeable. It must confront the same challenge that all life faces: change. Now, one of the greatest attributes of this system built on fallibility is that it is able to adapt. Because it is not constructed of Temple marble, but of wood, which is more flexible and can be easily replaced piecemeal. However, despite my own confidence that this is the system best suited to its environment, that doesn't mean it always will be or that there are circumstances that will favour other ways of organising things. There are many who believe that we are faced with these circumstances now.

William Rees-Mogg (like Osama bin Laden and Pope Benedict to name but two others) thinks that the West is spiritually impoverished and lacks the means to extricate itself from its self-made 'poverty' trap. (One of those above believes that this will guarantee him victory in the end.) Larry Siedentop, on the other hand, thinks that Europe has fallen into an unfortunate misunderstanding in opposing its secular civil rights to religion. In fact, that "secularism [is] an embodiment of Christian moral intuitions" and the problem is that Europeans in particular are "out of touch with the Christian roots of their liberalism".

Neil Postman goes via the argument of need. We need a Grand Narrative, one that only a god can provide. We need a story which puts us securely inside something far greater than ourselves, with a beginning, middle and end that includes something of our own will. [You will rebut that just because we need it doesn't mean it's true. Maybe. However, it may mean that it is useful.] But he is not urging any final revelation upon us.

He quotes Galileo

The intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes.
And Pope John Paul II
Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.
[This is what Benedict was on about in the Regensburg Address.] And then puts out his stall
Science and religion will be hopeful, useful, and life-giving only if we learn to read them with new humility - as tales, as limited human renderings of the Truth. If we continue to read them, either science or Scripture, as giving us Truth direct and final, then all their hope and promise turn to dust. Science read as universal truth, not a human telling, degenerates to technological enslavement and people flee it in despair. Scripture read as universal Truth, not a human telling, degenerates to Inquisition, Jihad, Holocaust, and people flee it in despair. In either case, certainty abolishes hope, and robs us of renewal.
It's worth a few moments' thought.

(The first two via Ninme)

No comments: