The Other I

April 8, 2012

Myths for our time

I said in my post yesterday that Christianity has been facing the destruction of many of its myths with the beginning of the scientific revolution 600 years  ago.  In a way, this is surprising, because historically, Christianity has been absolutely brilliant at incorporating the myths of the peoples converted to Christianity.  Christmas and Easter are perhaps the most well-known but there are hundreds of myths like this which have enriched Christianity over the centuries.

Christianity, like other great religions, addresses questions which cannot ultimately be addressed by science –  questions like what happens after we die? why do the innocent suffer and the guilty suffer?  Why then has Christianity been so flummoxed by the discoveries and inventions of science?

I’m wondering if it is because so often Christian missionaries have arrived with so much more knowledge, so many treasures, so much temporal power that they have not felt the need to incorporate science into their myths.  Christianity has so often been almost like a cargo cult.  Christians had so much, it must have looked as if their god was indeed better than those already in residence.

And yet there is so much in science that could resonate with the basic Christian message.  There are mysteries at the center of science that, for me, at least, are as awe-filled and awful as the mystery of god.  Aren’t concepts like dark energy, or the singularity out of which the universe burst 67 billion years ago an opportunity to suggest that we perhaps need to forego our anthropomorphic concepts of god arising from an era when gods lived in the mountains and growled in the thunder?

This is not an argument for God.  It’s a word that, perhaps because of my socialization, I cannot use to describe the mystery which seems to reside at the heart of existence.  For a similar reason, perhaps, many of the Christian myths strike me as childish.  But that is not true for hundreds of thousands of people who can draw great strength and courage from these myths.  I watched my own mother face death from cancer at the age of 48 leaving behind ten children under the age of 20.  The myth of heaven brought her great strength, and she faced her death with a courage that I still find simply incredible.

But this is a hope that more people who understand Christianity might be able to develop myths that incorporate the essence of the Christian message within a framework that does not require the believer to fear or distort science.  Primack and Abrams in their book, The View from the Center of the Universe, are trying to do this in a way that I find quite tantalizing.  They argue that science is showing that we are, in a most extraordinary way, quite literally in the center of the universe.

Similarly, Tony Equale in his Easter post has taken the message of god’s universal love to a new and challenging level.  Five hundred years ago Galileo challenged the Church to stretch its world beyond that of Earth.  This post challenges us to stretch god’s love beyond our universe, beyond time as we know it.

It seems to me that our religious myths must begin to develop this way.  Or there will be an ever-widening gap between science and religion.  This will be a terrible loss.  Science is too powerful to be unexamined, it is potentially too destructive not to be submitted to the demands of respect and even love for our fellow-man.


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