|In the seventeenth century,
knowledge of nature became more secularized (that is, divorced from the
sacred) as scientists developed models of the universe as a giant
machine. Its ways could be discovered by human reason, by studying its
component parts and mathematically quantifying its characteristics.
However, even in discovering such features, many scientists regarded
them as the work of a divine Creator or Ruler. ... The old
unitary concepts of science and religion received another serious challenge in 1859, when the naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published The Origin of Species,
a work that propounded the theory of evolution by natural selection.
Darwin demonstrated that certain genetic mutations give an organism a
competitive advantage over others of its species. ... According to evolutionary biology
theory, over great lengths of time such gradual changes have brought the
development of all forms of life. The theory of natural selection
directly contradicted a literal understanding of the biblical Book of
Genesis, in which God is said to have created all life in only six
days. By the end of the nineteenth century, all such beliefs of the
Judeo-Christian tradition were being questioned. (Living Religions, 19-20)
current dialogue between science and religion, four general positions
have emerged. One is a conflict model,
which is most apparent in issues
such as creation, with some scientists rejecting any form of
supernatural agency and some religionists holding onto faith in a
Creator God whose
existence cannot be proved by scientific method. A second position is
that science and religion deal with separate realms. That is, religions
deal with matters such as morality, hope, answers to philosophical
questions (“Why are we here?”), and ideas about life after death,
whereas science deals with quantifiable physical reality. In this
position, a person can live with “two truths,” and neither side is
required to venture into the other’s domain. A third position is that
of dialogue, in which scientists and religious believers can find
common ground in interpreting religious propositions as metaphors and
bases for the moral use of scientific research. Claims to absolute
truth are softened on each side. A fourth position is that of
integration, in which science and religion overlap ... [for at] the
cutting edge of research, scientists themselves find they have no
ultimate answers that can be expressed in scientific terms. (Living Religions, 24-5)
- Are science and religion fundamentally incompatible?
- How have different religions responded to the challenge posed by science and rationality?
|Absolutists and Liberals
Within each faith people may ... have different ways of interpreting their traditions. The orthodox
stand by an historical form of their religion, strictly following its
established practices, laws, and creeds. Those who resist contemporary
influences and affirm what they perceive as the historical core of
their religion could be called absolutists.
In our times, many people feel that their identity as individuals or as
members of an established group is threatened by the sweeping changes
brought by modern global industrial culture. The breakup of family
relationships, loss of geographic rootedness, decay of clear behavioral
codes, and loss of local control may be very unsettling. To find a
footing, to attempt to preserve their distinctive identity as a people
in the face of modernity and secularization, some people may try to
stand on selected religious doctrines
or practices from the past. Religious leaders may encourage this trend
toward rigidity by declaring themselves absolute authorities or by
telling the people that their scriptures are literally and exclusively
true. They may encourage antipathy or even violence against people of
other religious traditions.
|The term fundamentalism is
often applied to this selective insistence on parts of a religious
tradition and to highly negative view of people of other religions. This use
of the term is misleading, for no religion is based on hatred of other
people and because those who are labeled “fundamentalists”
may not be engaged in a return to the true basics of their religion. ...
|Those who are called religious liberals, also sometimes called progressives, take a more flexible approach to religious tradition. They may see
scriptures as products of a specific culture and time rather than the
eternal voice of truth, and may interpret passages metaphorically
rather than literally. ...|
absolutists tend to take their scriptures and received religious
traditions as literally true, liberals have for several
centuries been engaged in a different approach to understanding their
own religions and those of others: historical-critical studies. These
are academic attempts to reconstruct the historical life stories of
prophets and their cultures as opposed to legends about them, and to
subject their scriptures to objective analysis. ... Non-faith-based
methods of exegesis
(critical explanation or interpretation of texts) reveal that “sacred” scriptures may include polemics against opponents of the religion, myths, cultural influences, ethical
instruction, later interpolations, mistakes by copyists, literary
devices, factual history, and genuine spiritual inspiration. ... Although
such research attempts to be objective, it is not necessarily
undertaken with sceptical intentions. To the contrary, these forms of
research are taught in many seminaries as ways of reconciling faith
with reason. (Living Religions, 17-9)
the absolutists right for holding on to the beliefs and practices that
sustained them in the past ... or are the liberals right for being
flexible and adapting to the times?
- Can the phenomenological approach to the study of religion help us resolve this conflict?
I. A Not-So-Random Universe
…The fine-tuning of seemingly
heterogeneous values and
ratios necessary to get from the big bang to life as we know it
intricate coordination over vast differences in scale — from the galactic
down to the subatomic one — and across multi-billion-year tracts of
time. Hoyle, who coined the term “big bang,” has questioned the
very legitimacy of the metaphor of an initial “explosion.” “An
explosion in a junkyard does not lead to sundry bits of metal being
assembled into a useful working machine,” he writes. The more
physicists have learned about the universe, the more it looks like a
The great modern era…is at an
end. It is
truly justifiable to speak of our current period as the “postmodern
age.” And there is every reason to suppose that this postmodern
age will also be postsecular, since the original philosophical
assumptions underpinning the modern secular worldview have been
shattered — ironically enough, by science itself….
The barrier that modern science
appeared to erect
to faith has fallen. Of course, the anthropic principle tells us
nothing about the Person of God or the existence of an afterlife; it
has nothing to
say about such issues as right or wrong or the “problem of evil.” But
it does offer as strong an indication as reason and science alone could
expected to provide that God exists. (Anthology of Living Religions, 19)
- Is this a convincing argument for the
existence of God?
- How does this argument affect the
traditional interpretation of Genesis in the Judeo-Christian
tradition? What are the broader implications of reinterpreting
the “literal” meaning of the bible to accommodate science and
- Does this argument imply a monotheistic
God, or is it consistent with the existence of many gods? Does it
some religious traditions more than others, or is it potentially
with all religions?
II. The New Polytheism
Religiously, polytheism is the worship of many gods
and goddesses. Though monotheism in its exclusive forms — say, in
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam — rules out the possibility of
polytheism in religion, polytheism, in a curious way, includes a
monotheism of sorts. The great polytheist cultures — Greek, Hindu,
Egyptian, Mesopotamian, American Indian — have in actual practice been
composed of communities of men and women who worship one God or
Goddess, or at least they worship one at a time — Athena, Vishnu, Ra,
Baal, Wakan Tanka. The theologies of these peoples, however,
affirm the reality and the worship of many. This implies that a
polytheistic religion is
actually a polytheistic theology, a system of symbolizing reality in a
way in order to account for all experience, but that the religious
is composed of consecutive monotheisms. Similarly, it would seem
that one might profess a monotheistic faith, but need a polytheistic
to account for all of one’s experiences in the life-context of that
faith. (Anthology of Living Religions, 15)
- What does Miller mean by
and in what sense can it include the notion of “monotheism”?
- What would the implications of such a
be with regard to a monotheistic tradition such as Judaism,
Christianity, or Islam?
- Do you think that contemporary
monotheistic traditions are capable of adopting such a polytheistic
conception of “the Divine”? What are the implications of
rejecting such a position?
III. The Ground of Being
All of us are part of being; we are
being. Our total life experience is this being, this ground,
which embraces all of
existence. Nirvana [in Buddhism, the cessation of suffering,
attained through spiritual awakening] and samsara [the endless round of
bodily reincarnations in this world, with all its illusions] are both
manifested within this ground level. The more we understand this,
the more life becomes rich and fulfilling. We see that this ground of being is totally open; everything is
there. Nothing can destroy this openness. Meditation
us to remain at this ground state for long periods of time. ... But once we
skilled at perceiving the arising and flowing of thought, we are able
go beyond this level of perception, to experience a level that is
similar to the fresh perception of childhood. We are able to
directly experience mind as a process. When we can soar, when we
can transmute the quality of the mind, then we approach genuine
freedom. (Anthology of Living Religions, 16)
- What does Tarthang Tulku mean by the
are part of being; we are being. Our total life experience is
being, this ground, which embraces all of existence”?
- Do you think it is possible to attain a direct
realization of this
“unity of being” — a state in which “genuine freedom” is fully realized?
- Is this perspective “rational” or does it rely
- Is this
perspective consistent with the major
traditions of the West — Judaism, Christianity and Islam?
IV. God as Dominating Other
not simply male metaphors that need to be broken ... but also the larger
picture of who God is. ... The God of Jewish liturgy is a king robed in
majesty, a merciful but probing father, and master of the world. His
sovereign Otherness is elaborated extensively: his dominion over
creation, his control of history past and future, his revenge against
his enemies, his power over the human soul. ...
The notion of God as dominating Other finds
quintessential expression in the image of the holy warrior who punishes
the wicked with destruction and death. The God who hears the groaning
of his people in Egypt is a fighter more powerful than all the armies
of Pharaoh, a God whose army can destroy the Egyptians, drowning them
in the seas (Exodus 15). When Israel enters the promised land, God is
present in his ark at the head of its marching armies, giving military
victory over city after city (Joshua). Hardening the hearts of the
local people, God ensures that they “should receive no
mercy” but be “utterly destroyed” (Joshua 11:20). ...
Metaphors of sovereignty, lordship, kingship, and
judicial and military power evoke images of arbitrary and autocratic
rule that have been rejected in the human political sphere at the same
time they live on in religious language. If the image of God as male
provides religious support for male dominance in society, the image of
God as supreme Other would seem to legitimate dominance of any kind.
God as ruler and king of the universe is the pinnacle of a vast
hierarchy that extends from God “himself” to
angels/men/women/children/animals and finally the earth. As
hierarchical ruler, God is a model for the many schemes of dominance
that human beings create for themselves. (Anthology of Living Religions, 30-1)
- What is the main point that the author is making?
- Do you think that God is male, female, both or neither?
- Do we possess the liberty to change how we think about God, or are the sacred depictions of God from the past immutable?
- Is there a place for the feminine in a contemporary Judeo-Christian-Islamic theology?
What are the implications of these four passages
with regard to the pluralistic world of religion in which we
live? Do they open up possibilities for interfaith dialogue and
if so, how?