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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday 27 January 2012

Faith and Science, Church and State – and Politics

As public resentment against the failings of capitalism swells in a frustrated, embittered population, there is spillover resentment being aimed at other institutions associated with the Right – for example, the Church.  Of course, generalizations are human nature, so just as the Political Right is inextricably identified with the Church (the Christian institution in its multiple and diverse facets, again, generalized), the Church is viewed as inseparable from religion.
This is, of course, facetious.  Religions are systems of meaning, not structures or hierarchies.  Religious institutions no more encompass the entirety of a religion than grammar and syntax are the sum total of language, or for that matter, language the whole of communication.  Perhaps a better comparison would be cinema; a movie tries to get a message, a sentiment, a collective experience across through images, words, music, editing and all the tools of the trade.  This is what religion does; the institutions are simply the grammar.
While language is the single greatest tool humankind has developed – it allows us to communicate complex ideas, share information and collectively plan – it comes with its own inherent constraints.  A good example of this; we partly define a thing by expressing that which it is not.  When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly; when people see some things as good, other things become bad. 
The political spectrum is a perfect example of this; we define things as being “Right Wing” or “Left Wing”, though we fully recognize that a fiscal conservative isn’t necessarily a social conservative, or that a Liberal isn’t necessarily anti-capitalist.  People who self-identify as being at one end of the spectrum or the other will both claim exclusionary title to the basics of morality (things like compassion, integrity, resolve) even though that’s clearly not the case.  The oppositional definitions that we create for ourselves and our tendency to view others as being that which we are not greatly limits our capacity for dialogue.

Which is why, to be broadly successful, political parties invariably have to move towards the centre.
Religion, then, is not the antithesis of science; instead, they serve different, complimentary purposes.

The Complimentary Difference

The purpose of religion is to provide meaning: “Why am I here? What was I meant to be?"  These are esoteric questions that can’t be quantified or rationalized; therefore they are beyond the capacity of science to answer.  Religion is interpretation, not a statement of fact.
Fact is the domain of science.    The purpose of science is not to provide meaning, but to expand understanding – to know the mechanics of existence.  This is invaluable.  If we didn’t, for example, understand the properties of light, we wouldn’t have electricity, CDs, X-Rays, etc.  Knowing how the world functions allows us to interact with it more efficiently and to better harness the potential that lies in nature.
While science may provide us with the button, it can’t tell us whether it is right to push it.  The more we learn about the universe and ourselves through science, the more questions we have about our place, purpose, and responsibilities – again, questions that science has never claimed to have answers for. 
Science opens the door; it’s religion that takes us through.
Yes, as the global village goes through its current period of growth pains, polarization is natural; tension leads to agitation, which is narrow in scope and confrontational.  The solutions to our challenges, though, won’t lie in seeking to differentiate ourselves from each other by gravitating to the left or the right, but in the way the confluence of each propels us forward.
Science is not capable of giving our world meaning; despite what  some would claim, that doesn’t imply that meaning doesn’t exist.
When the doctrine of any religion was written, the writers didn’t have access to the vast amount of knowledge science has provided us with, nor do they now have all the facts we will ever know – our understanding of existence continues to expand and evolve.  This doesn’t repudiate the message or the values carried by religious beliefs – meaning and knowing aren’t the same thing.  Why not "render unto science the things which are science's?”
Religion and Science, much like the individual approach of the Right and the collective approach of the Left – the only way forward is together.

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