Huston Smith — Why Religion Matters_ The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief-Harper-Collins (2002)


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MATTERS
ATE OF THE
PIRIT
Huston Smith
To the memory of our daughter,
Karen Senyak,
and her adopted Judaism, which sustained her in her ordeal
with sarcoma cancer;
to Antonio Banuelos,
our youngest grandchild,
who bids to see more of the third millennium
than will the rest of our family;
and for Kendra,
this love poem by the sixth Dalai Lama:
I asked so much of you
ONTENTS
CKNOWLEDGMENTS
REFACE
NTRODUCTION
ART
ODERNITY
Whos Right About Reality: Traditionalists, Modernists,
or the Postmoderns?
Modernitys Cosmological Achievement. Postmodernisms Fairness
Revolution. The Traditional Worldview.
The Great Outdoors and the Tunnel Within It
Worldviews: The Big Picture. The Decisive Alternative.
The Tunnel as Such
The Flagship Book. The Tunnel in Question. A Disqualified
Universe. Conclusion.
CONTENTS
The Tunnels Floor: Scientism
The Flagship Book. Tracking Scientism. Spinozas Conatus.
Of Rocks and Pebbles. From Warfare to Dialogue. Colonizing
Theology. The Tilt of the Negotiating Table.
The Tunnels Left Wall: Higher Education
The Flagship Book. What Happened. The Pull of Science
on Other Disciplines. From Nonbelief to Disbelief. The
Ineffectiveness of the Theological Response. The New
Professionalism. Conclusion.
The Tunnels Roof: The Media
The Flagship Book. Kansas Update. The General Picture.
Who Pays the Piper? Conclusion.
The Tunnels Right Wall: The Law
The Flagship Book.
Employment Division v. Smith.
Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Marginalizing
Religion. Handling Creationism. Conclusion.
ART
IGHT AT THE
The Physics of Light. Light Subjectively Experienced.
Is Light Increasing: Two Scenarios
God Is Dead. The Eyes of Faith. Clearing the Ground.
Discerning the Signs of the Times
Straws in the Wind. Counterculture and the
New Age Movement. Four Modern Giants Revisited.
CONTENTS
Three Sciences and the Road Ahead
Physics. Biology. Cognitive Psychology.
Terms for the Détente
A Glimpse of David Bohm. Science Rightly Defined.
The Limits of Science. Division of Labor. The Cow That
Stands on Three Legs.
This Ambiguous World
Lifes Cosmic Inkblot. A Sidewise Glance at the Social Scene.
The Big Picture
The Great Divide. Subdivisions. A Hierarchical Reality.
Topdown Causation and the Multiple Degrees of Reality.
Spiritual Personality Types
Characterology. Ubiquity. The Atheist: There Is No God.
The Polytheist: There Are Many Gods. The Principle of
One-Way Mirrors. The Monotheist: There Is One God.
The Mystic: There Is Only God.
Spirit
The Self/World Divide. Tacit Knowing. Spirit and Its Outworkings.
Consciousness and Light. Happy Ending.
PILOGUE
Other Books by Huston Smith
CKNOWLEDGMENTS
t is a pleasure to record here my gratitude to those whose assis
tance has made this book possible. The Rockefeller Foundation
granted me an idyllic month to begin my work at its Conference
and Study Center in Bellagio, Italy. Stephen Mitchell and Philip
Novak have critiqued the entire typescript. Nik Warren and
Jonathan Wells, respectively, have coached me where physics and
biology enter the book. My editor, John Loudon, and my agent,
Thomas Grady, have been friends and helpers throughout. Eric
Carlson, Keith Chandler, Neal Grossman, Sarah Lewis, Robert
Sprich, and Lance Trumbull have researched a number of facts and
references. To all of these my sincerest thanks. I hate to think how
much poorer this book would have been without their help, but
none of them should be held responsible for the use I have made of
their services.
My wife, Kendra, was a zealous accomplice in the last stages of
revision. Years ago I told her that an important part of a wifes role
REFACE
would place these pages last except that beginning with them
may increase the chance that the reader will hear me out.
I think I have a different window onto the world, one that enables me to
see things that others do not. I was born into a loving family whose parents
committed their lives to the highest calling they could conceive„that of
being missionaries to China. Sacrifices were to be expected, and (in the disease
ridden China of that time) they arrived on schedule; their firstborn died in
their arms on his second Christmas Eve. My parents did good things. In the
town they chose for their lifework there was no education for girls, so their
first act was to start a girls school. Now coeducational, it has become the
most important primary school in the town.
The most important thing I inherited from my parents was
faith. Its substance made me, on average, a trusting person, and its
content can be stated equally simply: we are in good hands, and in
gratitude for that fact we do well to bear one anothers burdens.
On coming to America for college, I brought that faith with me,
and the rest of my life has been a struggle to keep it intact in the
face of modern winds of doctrine that assail it. If those winds were
powered by truth, I would bow to them, but as I have not found
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Everything in this book should be read in the light of the above
paragraphs, and I should also use this Preface to say a word about
the books title. The wording
Why Religion Matters
End of the Tunnel,Ž with its closing punctuation„a question mark
A glance at the Table of Contents will show how resolutely I
adhered to that two-part working title while writing the book, but
on reading the finished product I saw that underlying and interlac
ing the intellectual history and social criticism that the book deals
with is a pervading and urgent thesis. That thesis is the importance
of the religious dimension of human life„in individuals, in soci
Rarely in these pages do I argue that importance systematically;
Huston Smith
Berkeley, California
June 2000
NTRODUCTION
ticular ways of organizing political systems and economies. In dif
ferent ways, the East and the West are going through a single com
world. That condition is characterized by loss„the loss of religious
certainties and of transcendence with its larger horizons. The
nature of that loss is strange but ultimately quite logical. When,
with the inauguration of the scientific worldview
started considering themselves the bearers of the highest meaning
in the world and the measure of everything, meaning began to ebb
and the stature of humanity to diminish. The world lost its human
dimension, and we began to lose control of it.
The beginning of a new millennium presents itself as a fitting
occasion to ponder this situation. The movements that precede
millennial shifts have come and gone for this round, but before
INTRODUCTION
tant, even though the end is not what he thinks it is. He is not just
protesting our reigning culture. However falteringly, he is gesturing
toward a heavenly city that offers an alternative to this earthly one,
which is always deeply flawed.
This gives me a way to think about the book I have written, for
it does indeed look back at our ancestral roots in the hope that
doing so can help us understand the confusions of our present
period. Cultural critics have been taking this approach for a cen
tury or more, so I owe it to the reader to explain why I have taken
it upon myself to add to the library. In short, what is new here?
In a word, what is new is simplification. The danger it risks, of
course, is oversimplification, and I take that risk on every page. If it
Today
show the morning after Irving
Berlin died (at the age of 101, as I recall), and I was surprised to
Today
had invited a world-class musician, Isaac Stern, to
reflect on the lifework of this tunesmith. The host of the show
INTRODUCTION
composing over one hundred hits, many of which will continue
into the new millennium. How did Stern account for the discrep
Sterns answer was so direct that it was breathtaking. Berlins
philosophy of life (Stern proceeded to explain) was simple. He saw
life as composed of a few basic elements: life and death, loneliness
and love, hope and defeat„not many more. In making our way
itly, he helped people cut through the ambiguities and complexities
of a confusing century.
So, piggybacking on Irving Berlin, what is obvious to me?
First, that the finitude of mundane existence cannot satisfy the
ing for a moreŽ that the world of everyday experience cannot
requite. This outreach strongly suggests the existence of the some
thing that life reaches
in the way that the wings of birds point
to the reality of air. Sunflowers bend in the direction of light
Individuals may starve, but bodies would not experience hunger if
The reality that excites and fulfills the souls longing is God by
whatsoever name. Because the human mind cannot come within
light-years of comprehending Gods nature, we do well to follow
Rainer Maria Rilkes suggestion that we think of God as a direc
tion rather than an object. That direction is always toward the best
that we can conceive, as the formula of theologys Principle of
Analogical Predication indicates: when we use objects and concepts
from the natural world to symbolize God, the first step is to affirm
INTRODUCTION
what is positive in them; the second step is to deny to God what is
limiting in them; and the third step is to elevate their positive fea
tures to supereminent degree (which is to say, to the highest point
that our imaginings can carry us). With God and the world cate
gorically distinguished but nowhere disjoined, other things fall into
ical one. Until modern science arrived, everyone lived with a
worldview that conformed to the outline just mentioned. Science
replaced that traditional worldview„manifold in its expressions,
fied belief. The impressiveness of pure science enters the picture,
but for the public at large the miracles of technology have generally
been more important.
This is the cause of our spiritual crisis. It joins other crises as we
enter the new millennium„the environmental crisis, the popula
Chapter One backs up for a running start and traces the three
historical periods that have brought us to where we now are, high
Two describes the spiritual dimensions of the world that people
inhabited before being shunted by our
misreading
of modern sci
INTRODUCTION
ence„I emphasize that the culprit is not science itself but our mis
construal of it„into the tunnel that serves as the presiding
Part Two looks to the future as symbolized by light at the tun-
nels end. Its first several chapters toy with predictions, but it then
gious landscape that are invariant. The strategy is straightforward.
Because prediction is a hazardous enterprise, it yields diminishing
PART 1
MODERNITY S
I move into Part One of this book by way of three quotations.
They are longer than I might wish, but there is good reason to
quote them in full. For whatever the reader may think of the con
troversial chapters that follow, I do not see how (after reading these
The first quotation is by a colleague of mine while I was teach
ing at Syracuse University, the sociologist Manfred Stanley.
It is by now a Sunday-supplement commonplace that the . . . mod
ernization of the world is accompanied by a spiritual malaise that
At its most fundamental level,
the diagnosis of alienation is based on the view that modernization
forces upon us a world that, although baptized as real by science, is
denuded of all humanly recognizable qualities; beauty and ugliness,
love and hate, passion and fulfillment, salvation and damnation. It
is not, of course being claimed that such matters are not part of the
existential realities of human life. It is rather that the scientific
worldview makes it illegitimate to speak of them as being objec
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
tivelyŽ part of the world, forcing us instead to define such evaluation
and such emotional experience as merely subjectiveŽ projections of
peoples inner lives.
Ernest Gellner, sociologist and philosopher, picks up where
Stanley leaves off by admitting that we have no reason to think that
the world in itself is as Stanley describes it. It is just that we are
now constrained to think that that is its character because the
tions and increases our ability to control it. In Gellners words:
It was Kants merit to see that this [epistemological] compulsion is in
us, not in things. It was Webers to see that it is historically a specific
We have become habituated to and dependent on
effective knowledge [as just described] and hence have bound our
selves to this kind of genuine explanation
Reductionism,Ž the
lary of effective explanation.
It was also Kants merit to see the inescapable price of this Faustian
purchase of real [sic] knowledge. [In delivering] cognitive effective
ness [it] exacts its inherent moral, dehumanizingŽ price
price of real knowledge is that our identities, freedom, norms, are no
longer underwritten by our vision and comprehension of things. On
tion and identity.
MODERNITYS TUNNEL
out nihilism moving in].
With these thoughts clearly before us, welcome to the tunnel of
modernity.
EALITY
RADITIONALISTS
ODERNISTS
herever people live, whenever they live, they find them
selves faced with three inescapable problems: how to win
food and shelter from their natural environment (the problem
lem), and how to relate themselves to the total scheme of things
(the religious problem). If this third issue seems less important
than the other two, we should remind ourselves that religious arti
facts are the oldest that archeologists have discovered.
The three problems are obvious, but they become interesting
when we align them with the three major periods in human history:
the traditional period (which extended from human beginnings up
to the rise of modern science), the modern period (which took over
Each of these periods poured more of its energies into, and did
entific understanding of it, it deserves credit for the discovery.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Postmodernism is tackling
more resolutely than
people previously did. This leaves
worldviews
tinct from cosmology, which restricts itself to the empirical uni-
verse„for our ancestors, whose accomplishments on that front
have not been improved upon.
ODERNITY
OSMOLOGICAL
CHIEVEMENT
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Europe stumbled on a
new way of knowing that we refer to as the
ters in the controlled experiment and has given us modern science.
Generic science (which consists of careful attention to nature and
its regularities) is as old as the hills„at least as old as art and reli
gion. What the controlled experiment adds to generic science is
proof. True hypotheses can be separated from false ones, and brick
by brick an edifice has been erected from those proven truths. We
WHOS RIGHT ABOUT REALITY?
scientific worldview,
mology
is more precise because of the ambiguity of the word
world
world
view only for those who assume that
The scientific cosmology is so much a part of the air we breathe
that it is hardly necessary to describe it, but I will give it a paragraph
to provide a reference point for what we are talking about. Some
Taught from primary schools onward, this story is so familiar
Traditions Cosmological Shortcomings
on the moon? Our ancestors were impressive astronomers, and we
can honor them unreservedly for how much they learned about
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
nature with only their unaided senses to work with. And there is
another point. There is a naturalism in Taoism, Zen Buddhism,
and tribal outlooks that in its own way rivals sciences calculative
Postmodernisms Cosmological Shortcomings
With traditional cosmology out of the running, the question turns
to postmodernism. Because science is cumulative, it follows as a
matter of course that the cosmology we have in the twenty-first
century is an improvement over what we had in the middle of the
modernists are most entitled to.
The next section of this chapter will discuss postmodernisms
achievements on the social front, but before turning to those I need
to support my contention that postmodern science (it is well to say
here) does not measure up to modern physics in
the scope of its discoveries. It says nothing against the brilliance of
Stephen Hawking, Fred Hoyle, John Wheeler, Freeman Dyson,
Steven Weinberg, and their likes to add that they have discovered
nothing about nature that compares with the discoveries of
Copernicus, Newton, Maxwell, Planck, Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr,
Schrödinger, and Born. In molecular chemistry things are different.
DNA is a staggering discovery, but, extending back only three bil
WHOS RIGHT ABOUT REALITY?
lion years compared with the astrophysicists fifteen billion, it is not
in natures foundations. The fact that no new abstract idea in
physics has emerged for seventy years may suggest that nothing
more remains to be discovered about
natures foundations.
Be that
as it may, postmodernisms discoveries (unlike modern discoveries in
ativity theory, and quantum mechanics, which continue to be used to
make space shuttles fly and to help us understand how hot electrons
ories that change back and forth) have produced no discoveries that
impact human beings in important ways. All are in the domain of the
onds of the universes life, and the like„while headlined by the media
have no conceivable connection to human life and can be neither fal
sified nor checked in normal ways. This allows the building blocks of
nature„particles, strings, or whatever„to keep changing, and the
age of the universe to be halved or doubled every now and then.
Roughly 99.999 percent of science (sci
entist Rustum Roys estimate)
is unaffected by these flickering hypotheses, and the public does not
much care about their fate.
Outranking the foregoing reason for not giving the cosmological
Oscar to postmodernism is the fact that the noisiest postmodernists
have called into question the very notion of truth by turning claims
to truth into little more than power plays. According to this reading
of the matter, when people claim that what they say is true, all they
are really doing is claiming status for beliefs that advance their own
social standing. This relativizes sciences assertions radically and
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
rules out even the possibility of its closing in on the nature of
nature. The most widely used textbook on college campuses for the
past thirty years has been Thomas Kuhns
The Structure of Scientific
Revolutions,
and its thesis„that facts derive their meaning from the
tific facts to scientific paradigms. As there are no neutral standards
by which to judge these paradigms, Kuhns thesis (if unnuanced)
leads to a relativism among paradigms that places Hottentot science
on a par with Newtons. Kuhn himself phrased his thesis carefully
enough to parry such relativism, but even taken at its best, it pro
ing reason for not giving postmodernism the cosmological prize. It
EVOLUTION
The magic word of postmodernism is
And changes are occurring. Post colonial guilt may play a part
here, and so much remains to be done that self-congratulation is
premature. Still, a quick rehearsal of some changes that have
WHOS RIGHT ABOUT REALITY?
In 1919 the Brooklyn Zoo exhibited an African American
caged alongside chimpanzees and gorillas. Today such an act
The civil rights movement of the 1960s accomplished its
major objectives. In the United States and even in South
Africa today, people of different races mix where they never
could before„on beaches, in airline cabin crews, everywhere.
No war has ever been as vigorously protested as was the war
The womens movement is only a blink in the eyes of history,
but it has already scored impressive victories. Until long after
the Civil War, American women really had no civil rights, no
legal rights, and no property rights. Not until 1918 did Texas
alter its law that everyone had the right to vote except idiots,
Arguably, the most important theological development of the
In an unprecedented move, in March 2000 the pope prayed
to God to forgive the sins his church had committed against
the people of Israel, against love, peace, and respect for cul
tures and religions, against the dignity of women and the
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
of persons. Two months later, two hundred thousand
Australians marched across Sydney Harbor Bridge to apolo
gize for their treatment of the aborigines while the skywritten
word
SORRY
floated above the Sydney Opera House.
Traditions Social Shortcomings
lous than we are, but on the whole they saw their obligations as
extending no further than to members of their primary communi
ties: Buddhisms
(gifts), Jesus cup of water given in my
name,Ž and their likes. Encountered face-to-face, the hungry were
fed, the naked were clothed, and widows and orphans were pro
vided for as means allowed, but there human obligations ended.
Injustices that were built into institutions (if such injustices were
even recognized) were not human beings responsibility, for those
institutions were considered to be God-given and unalterable.
People regarded them in the way we regard laws of nature„as
givens to be worked with, not criticized.
Modernity changed this attitude. Accelerating travel and trade
WHOS RIGHT ABOUT REALITY?
Modernitys Social Shortcomings
Modernity deserves credit for that discovery, and (if we wished) we
might excuse it for its poor handling of its discovery on grounds
that it was working with a new idea. The record itself, however, is
dering the white mans burdenŽ to minister to lesser breeds with
out the law,Ž it ensconced colonialism, which raped Asia and
Africa, hit its nadir in the Opium Wars of 1841…42, and ended by
subjecting the entire civilized world to Western domination. David
Hume is commonly credited with having the clearest head of all
the great philosophers, but I read that somewhere in his correspon
dence (I have not been able to find the passage) he wrote that the
ments in Shanghai, where I attended high school, that read, No
dogs or Chinese allowed.Ž With a virgin continent to rape, the
United States did not need colonies, but this did not keep it from
hunting down the Native Americans, continuing the institution of
slavery, annexing Puerto Rico and Hawaii, and establishing pro
tectoratesŽ in the Philippines and several other places.
ORLDVIEW
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
dropped from view and then (as the position hardened) were denied
existence. In the distinction registered earlier in this chapter, this was
by announcing that the Cosmos is all that is
or ever was or ever will be,Ž he presented that unargued assumption
as if it were a scientific fact. Modernitys Big Picture is materialism or
(in its more plausible version) naturalism, which acknowledges that
there
are
while insisting that those things are totally dependent on matter.
Both versions are stunted when compared with the traditional out
look. It is important to understand that neither materialism nor nat
uralism is required by anything science has discovered in the way of
sonable beginning it plunged on to argue unreasonably that world
views (often derisively referred to as
grand narratives
) are misguided
in principle. In
The Postmodern Condition,
Jean François Lyotard
The incredulity takes three forms that grow increasingly shrill as
they proceed. Postmodern
out that we have no consensual worldview today; we have no
maps and dont know how to make them.Ž
Mainline
ernism adds, and never again will we have a consensual worldview,
WHOS RIGHT ABOUT REALITY?
enteenth-century New England; we now know too well how little
the human mind can know.Ž
Hardcore
trajectory to its logical limit by adding, good riddance!Ž Stated in
the in-house idiom postmodernists are fond of, worldviews total
izeŽ by marginalizingŽ minority viewpoints. They are oppressive in
principle and should be resolutely resisted.
If hardcore postmodernism were accurate in this charge it would
stop this book in its tracks, but it has not proved that it is accu-
rate„it merely
that it is accurate and rests its case on
examples of oppression that, of course, are not lacking. What has
not been demonstrated is the impossibility of a worldview that
building block. There is irony here, for the very postmodernism
that is dismissing the possibility of a comprehensive humane out
look is working toward the creation of such through its fairness
revolution„its insistence that everybody be given an equal chance
at the goods of life. The deeper fact, however, is that to have or not
have a worldview is not an option, for peripheral vision always
conditions what we are attending to focally, and in conceptual see
ingŽ the periphery has no cutoff. The only choice we have is to be
consciously aware of our worldviews and criticize them where they
To say as I have that neither modernism nor postmodernism
ditional worldview and defending its merits. That, however, comes
so close to being the object of this entire book that I will not try to
compress it into a page or two here. Moreover, the traditional
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
worldview is so out of favor today that the only possible way to
gain a hearing for it is to ease into it, so to speak, by suggesting
plausibilities wherever openings for them appear.
That leaves this present chapter open ended, but even so these
early pages have accomplished two things. The first of these is
ting. The second is prescriptive
for an obvious moral emerges from
what has been said. We should enter our new millennium by run
ning a strainer through our past to lift from each of its three peri
tantly in the third millennium, and postmodernitys focus on jus
tice likewise stands a good chance of continuing. It is the tradi
tional worldview that is in jeopardy and must be rehabilitated if it
is to survive.
REAT
hose who fear that my announced regard for the traditional
worldview may mean that this book is headed toward a nos
talgia trip can rest assured; there will be no pining here for the so
called good old days. When the Irish joke, To hell with the future;
we live in the past,Ž I enjoy the wry humor, but it is no stance for
parisons is beyond me. I have neither taste nor talent for the proj
ect. I have no idea what it felt like to live in ancient times. When?
And as if these imponderables were not already sufficient, pre
siding over them all is the mood one happens to be in when one
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
of the earth, the capacity of people to do evil. When I write, the
first side is true; when I do not write, the second is.Ž Touché! I
Improvements are possible and we should do our best to effect
them, but as Robert Frost put the matter, each must wreak our will
on the world in our own way. My way relates to worldviews. I am
convinced that whatever transpires in other domains of life„poli-
tics, living standards, environmental conditions, interpersonal rela
THE GREAT OUTDOORS AND THE TUNNEL WITHIN IT
ground, I have been pondering the ultimate nature of things since
as far back as I can remember, and I would have to think poorly of
myself„suffer from a low self of steam,Ž as a high school student
wrote„if the sheer quantity of that cerebration had not produced
ORLDVIEWS
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
destiny to live,Ž he wrote, it is difficult to imagine what could be
gist Ernst Haeckel said that if he could have one question answered
authoritatively it would be, Is the universe friendly?
Those reports tell the story, but they are one-liners, so I will
flesh them out slightly.
A generation ago, psychologist William Sheldon of Columbia
Universitys College of Physicians and Surgeons wrote that contin
ued observations in clinical practice lead almost inevitably to the
conclusion that deeper and more fundamental than sexuality,
deeper than the craving for social power, deeper even than the
desire for possessions, there is a still more generalized and universal
craving in the human makeup. It is the craving for knowledge of
the right direction„for orientation.Ž Such orientation requires
knowing the lay of the land if only intuitively, and there is no cut
Stated in my own words, the point comes down to this: minds
require eco-niches as much as organisms do, and the minds eco
niche is its worldview, its sense of the whole of things (however
much or little that sense is articulated). Short of madness, there is
THE GREAT OUTDOORS AND THE TUNNEL WITHIN IT
If these few sentences have not convinced the reader of the
LTERNATIVE
Two working principles control this comparison. The first is Max
Webers notion of ideal types. Ideal types are like platonic forms or
mathematical lines. Never perfectly instantiated in our imperfect
world, they can (nevertheless) serve as heuristic devices to help us
keep our ideas in order. My second strategy is to table in this chap
ter the question of truth: which of the two Big Pictures, traditional
and scientific, do we have reason to believe coincides most closely
with the nature of things? That question supersedes everything else
I shall be saying about the worldviews, but I am reserving it for
later, where it will be addressed head on. Here at the beginning I
am concerned with which view is descriptively superior. If we had
our choice, which would we prefer?
The Enchanted Garden
In describing the traditional world as an enchanted garden, Max
tion condescendingly, for the enchantment he had in mind was
that of children who experience the world in its original freshness,
unmarred by habituation„in Wordsworths words, the time when
meadow, grove and stream, the earth and every common sight, to
me did seem apparelled in celestial light, the glory and the fresh
ness of a dream.Ž (A friend of mine told me that after he outgrew
that childhood stage, he could recover its magic by bending over
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
and viewing the world upside down through his outspread legs.
The technique worked for less than a year, however.) Webers
Enlightenment belief that early peoples were children in compari
I will speak more plainly. The traditional worldview is preferable
to the one that now encloses us because it allows for the fulfillment
of the basic longing that lies in the depths of the human heart. I
mentioned that longing in the Introduction and need now to
describe it more fully.
There is within us„in even the blithest, most lighthearted
among us„a fundamental dis-ease. It acts like an unquenchable
fire that renders the vast majority of us incapable in this life of ever
coming to full peace. This desire lies in the marrow of our bones
tainments, obsessions, addictions, and distractions of every sort.
But the longing is there, built into us like a jack-in-the-box that
presses for release. Two great paintings suggest this longing in their
titles„Gauguins
Who Are We? Where Did We Come From? Where
Are We Going?
and de Chiricos
Nostalgia for the Infinite„
fining walls of finitude and mortality.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS AND THE TUNNEL WITHIN IT
Release from those walls calls for space outside them, and the tra
ditional world provides that space in abundance. It has about it the
to explore„distances and vistas that are quality-laden throughout.
Some of its vistas, as I mentioned, are terrifying; still, standing as it
does as the qualitative counterpart to the quantitative universe that
physics explores, all but the fainthearted would switch to it instantly
if we believed it existed (so at least this chapter argues). Our received
wisdom denies its existence, but that wisdom cannot prevent us from
as if they come from a different world.
Mystics are people who have a talent for sensing places where
lifes carapace is cracked, and through its chinks they catch
glimpses of a world beyond. Isaiah seeing the Lord high and lifted
up. Christ seeing the heavens open at his baptism. Arjuna privy to
Krishna in his terrifying cosmic form. The Buddha finding the uni
enment. John reporting, I was on an island called Patmos, and I
was in a trance.Ž Saul struck blind on the Damascus road. For
Augustine it was the voice of a child, saying, Take, readŽ; for Saint
Francis, a voice that seemed to come from the crucifix. It was while
Saint Ignatius sat by a stream and watched its running water, and
while that curious old cobbler Jacob Boehme was looking at a
pewter dish, that there came to each that news of another world
that it is always religions business to convey.
Stories grow up around theophanies such as these, and in the
course of generations they condense into myths that impregnate
cultures with meaning and motivation. Science provides a useful
analogy here. The entire scientific worldview has been spun from a
relatively few crucial experiments, which can be likened to the
numbered dots in childrens puzzles that (when they are connected
by a line that is drawn through them sequentially) produces the
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
outline of a giraffe or whatever. Myths are like the lines traditional
peoples collectively and largely unconsciously draw to connect the
dotsŽ of the direct disclosures that their visionaries report.
If number is the language of science, myth is the language of
religion. It does not map literally onto the commonsense world„
biblical literalists mistake is to think that it does„but that is not a
problem, for as Steven Weinberg tells us, We know how hopeless
it is trying to fit quantum mechanics [too] into our everyday
world.Ž The signature of myth is always its happy ending, which
makes myths like fairytales writ large. Fairytales locate their happy
endings„marrying the princess„in this world; myths anchor that
ending in the final nature of things, which conquers death itself. It
is the most successful plot device that has ever been conceived, and
dria and Origen (to name only two) called this plot device the
Principle of Maximum Meaning and proposed it as the ruling prin
ciple for all exegesis. Does the scriptural passage in question inspire
and strengthen us?
I have been considering the great outdoors from the human
standpoint by trying to suggest how it might feel to live in it, but
ings, space with its separations, and finitude with its oppressive
THE GREAT OUTDOORS AND THE TUNNEL WITHIN IT
scendence and immanence (the former capitalized to indicate its
fore there is an escape from the born, the become, the made, the
To say that the pilgrim is not alone in her heroic journey under
states the case, for it is the spark of divinity that God plants in
Transcendence takes the initiative at every turn: in creating the
view. That the divine
I am trying to keep to my resolve to reserve questions of truth
find charges of wishful thinking,Ž escapism,Ž and hopes for
peace of mindŽ gnawing around the edges of these paragraphs as I
write them, so I will interrupt for a moment to face them, begin
ning with a fourth charge that was not on my original list because I
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
That struck a nerve, and provoked a response I shall be candid
enough to report. Mr. Wilson:
When you have endured an eight-day
in a Zen
monastery, sitting cross-legged and motionless for twelve
hours a day and allowed only three and one-half hours of
sleep each night until sleep and dream deprivation bring on a
temporary psychosis (my own nondescript self );
When you have almost died from the austerities you under
went before you attained enlightenment under a bo tree in
India;
When you have been crucified on Golgatha;
When you have been thrown to lions in the Roman coliseum;
When you have been in a concentration camp and held on to
some measure of dignity through your faith;
When you have given your life to providing a dignified death
When, Mr. Wilson, you have undergone any one of these trials, it
will then be time to talk about the ease of religion as compared
with the ardors of empiricism.
That outburst weathered, I proceed with the escapism I was
going to address before I lost my temper. There are times when
efforts to escape are not ignoble. Why should a man be scorned if,
gion to have been elected to the U.S. Congress) told me shortly
THE GREAT OUTDOORS AND THE TUNNEL WITHIN IT
before his life was cut short by a fatal heart attack. His scholarly
work, which ranged widely, included a book on monasticism. As
part of his research for that book he paid a number of live-in visits
to monasteries. As he was driving home from one of them, preoc
ness with cut-rate underwear?
The Tunnel
The arrival of modern science has had consequences that our ances
tors could not have remotely envisioned. That science has changed
our world beyond recognition goes without saying, but it is the way
that it has changed our worldview that concerns this book. The tra
oned with. This is why (as I earlier mentioned) I am resorting to
Max Webers ideal types. Very few, if any, people today subscribe to
either the scientific or the traditional worldview without (uncon
sciously if not consciously) smuggling in some features of the other
outlook. Even those who have abandoned the theological specifics
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
of the religious view continue to linger in its afterglow by believing
that human beings are endowed with certain unique properties
(inherent dignity and inalienable rights), that other organisms do
gent values, but what passes unnoticed (as Walker Percy pointed
a value,Ž a huge act of devaluation has already occured.
If we add to the fact that no one subscribes to either the scientific
or the traditional worldview in its uncontaminated form the further
fact that no two persons see either view in exactly the same way, my
reason for presenting the views as ideal types becomes clear.
LTERNATIVES
In the traditional, religious view
matter derivative
. (In this discussion, unless otherwise indicated, I
traditional
religious
interchangeably, for all tradi
only occasionally, like icebergs. The scientific worldview turns this
picture on its head. In restricting consciousness (which is as close
In the religious worldview human beings are
the less who have
derived from the more.
Trailing clouds of glory, they carry within
themselves traces of their noble origins. They are creatures of their
Creator, or (stated philosophically) emanations from the One that
THE GREAT OUTDOORS AND THE TUNNEL WITHIN IT
contains every perfection. Tribal peoples couch the point graphically,
as when the Tukano people of the Vaupés region of Colombia say
that the first people came from the sky in a serpent canoe. Science
The traditional worldview points toward a
happy ending;
scientific worldview does not. In the Abrahamic family (which is
more invested in history than tribal and Asian religions are) both
individual souls and history as a whole end happily. History cli
maxes in the coming of the Messiah (Judaism), the Second
al-Mahdi,
Rightly Guided, who appears before the end of time and restores
physically mediocre and not much interested in the subject)
Directly across from the back gate of our tiny compound in
Changshu stood an empty lot that was reserved for public occa
sions, including funeral rites. For funerals in well-to-do families a
life-size paper house was constructed that contained real tables,
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
signed to flames. The obvious point of the ritual (apart from being a
display of conspicuous consumption) was to ensure a comfortable
hereafter for the deceased. In the last such rite that I witnessed, a
papier-mâché replica of a Model-T Ford was parked by the front
door, presumably on the assumption that whereas the deceased had
lived
really
live in the next.
Now for my promised report on hell. In the West, Christian and
Islamic versions of the doctrine hit one in the face„and not with
out reason, for I am not aware that
side of them. However, the notion of hell-for-a-spell is widespread.
ever, carved in bas relief a foot deep, was a gigantic panel that
depicted the tortures of the damned with a blood-curdling literal
ness that Hieronymus Bosch would have envied.
To dwell further on damnation here would disrupt this chapter,
so I shall close the topic down for now with two staccato points
As for the scientific worldview, there is no way that a happy end
ing can be worked into it. Death is the grim reaper of individual
THE GREAT OUTDOORS AND THE TUNNEL WITHIN IT
in an expanding universe) is anybodys guess. Teilhard de Chardin
tried heroically to introduce teleology into the universe with his
Omega Point, but his vision has passed neither theological nor scien
tific muster. Theologians want to know where the fallŽ and crucifix
ion are in his scenario, while scientists are downright contemptuous.
P.
B. Medawar writes of Teilhards
The Phenomenon of Man,
Its
author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before
deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.Ž
cerns meaning. Having been intentionally created by omnipotent
Perfection„or (less anthropomorphically described) flowing as it
does from that Perfection like a fountain ever on,Ž in Plotinuss
wording„the traditional world is meaningful throughout. In the
scientific worldview, meaning is only skin-deep, skinŽ here signify
ing biological organisms on a single speck in the sidereal universe. As
John Avis and William Provine have said, Our modern understand
ing of evolution implies that ultimate meaning in life is nonexistent.Ž
Steven Weinberg joins them in acknowledging that the more the
universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless.Ž
Finally, in the traditional world people feel at home. They
to their world, for they are made of the same spiritually sen
tient stuff that the world is made of. The
(Japanese scroll
painting) that hangs in my front hall reminds me daily that
heaven and earth [East Asias idiom for all that exists] is pervaded
We of today can hardly imagine how seamlessly traditional
peoples have woven the great world of nature into the spiritual
aspects of their lives. To cite a single example, the Pawnee people of
Oklahoma pattern their houses after the architecture of nature as
they understand it. Still today, often sitting at night on rooftops,
children hear from their parents how Evening Star and the Moon
created the first girlchild, and Morning Star and the Sun created the
first boychild. The Great Chief Star that shines from the direction
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
of the winter wind and never moves is pointed out to them, and until
sleep overcomes them, they watch the rest of the stars circle around
him. The Great Chief Star reminds tribal chiefs of their responsibility
to care for their people. Nothing like this sense of belonging can be
derived from the scientific worldview. Albert Camus speaks for its
disciples when he says, If I were a cat I would belong to this world,
this world to which I am opposed with the whole of my being.Ž In
his ninth decade now, Czeslaw Milosz sees himself as having lived
to see the dawning of the age of homelessness.Ž
Understandably, there is a tendency to try to soften the stark con
nate meaning of meaning, no purpose other than lifes continuance.Ž
Still and all, it fills her with feelings of awe and reverence.Ž
We can be glad that it does, but how much comfort can we
draw from that fact when the awe nature awakens in human beings
is, like all emotions, no more than a Post-it note, so to speak,
affixed to a nature that is unaware of being thus bedecked.
Reverence and awe are human sentiments that extend no deeper
into nature than human consciousness extends, and in a universe
fifteen billion light-years across, that consciousness is a veneer so
thin that it approaches a mathematical line. To speak of natures
depths as sacred in themselves, without human beings imputing
sanctity to those depths, is to be guilty of the anthropomorphic
THE GREAT OUTDOORS AND THE TUNNEL WITHIN IT
lacy of imputing feeling where there is none. Goodenoughs
sacrednessŽ is in her eye, the eye of the beholder, and in the eyes of
those who share her sensibilities. What is in the depths of nature„
enough rejects Steven Weinbergs just-cited verdict of meaningless
ness, but his is the consistent reading of matter.
ful lives for themselves, which subjective, existential meaning people
like Goodenough project onto the world at large. Around the
Can Science Save Us?
In the verbal storm of
yeses and nos that followed, I found my own answer to be this: sci
save scientists, for the thrill of discovery and the sense that
one is onto important things is deeply fulfilling.
A legend that circulated through the corridors of
was teaching there brings this point home. When Edwin Land and
his partner were at the decisive point in their discovery of the
process that led to the Polaroid camera, they worked around the
to sleep. At one point Lands partner said he was exhausted and
Like all hagiography, the story is probably heavily embroidered,
but no one who has been involved in creative work will miss its
point in relating it is to flag the difference in fulfillment
that comes from inventing the Polaroid camera, on the one hand,
and buying one, on the other.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
SAT
TAKE
As I have said, I have tried in this chapter to steer clear of the ques
tion of truth and have confined myself to simply contrasting the
two worldviews that are contending for the mind of the future. But
I have only touched on my reason for adopting this tactic, and the
time has come to state it fully.
Where positions are taken for granted, supporting evidence does not
enter the picture because the positions seem obviously, self-evi
true. Less commonly recognized than that first point is a second
one. In cases where supporting evidence is sought, how seriously it
is sought rests on how much depends on the thesis in question
being correct. To test the strength of a trouser belt, a hard yank is
enough, for the consequence would be minimal if the belt broke.
Where lives are at stake, however, the situation changes; thus the
strength of parachute ropes must be precisely calibrated.
ter reenforces the title of the book as a whole,
Why Religion Matters.
ONCLUSION
The inherent superiority of the traditional worldview over its scien
tific alternative has been the running theme of this chapter, but I
want to conclude by coming down on it hard. That does not require
belaboring the point. A single contrast, followed by the testament of
THE GREAT OUTDOORS AND THE TUNNEL WITHIN IT
First the contrast. A decade ago a book review in the
Chronicle of
Higher Education
opened with this categorical assertion: If
characterizes modernity, it is the loss of faith in transcendence, in a
reality that encompasses and surpasses our quotidian affairsŽ (italics
With those two assertions juxtaposed, I offer the verdict of
Jacques Monod, the dean of microbiologists when he died a gener
ation ago. It appears as the conclusion of his valedictory book,
Chance and Necessity.
ing. In both primitive and classical cultures the animistic tradi
tion [his phrase for what I am calling the traditional worldview]
saw knowledge and values stemming from the same source. For
the first time in history a civilization is trying to shape itself while
clinging desperately to the animistic tradition to justify its values,
and at the same time abandoning it as the source of knowledge
Just as an initial choiceŽ in the biological evolution of a
species can be binding upon its entire future, so the choice of
launched the evolution of culture on a one-way path: onto a
ith questions of truth suspended, the scientific worldview
faired poorly in the preceding chapter. Some of its partisans
may have gone along with what was being said on the assumption
that once truth entered the picture the scientific worldview would
regain its stature; if so, the strategy that I announced for that chap
ter had some effect. Because the traditional worldview is coming
Ready now to hear what truth has to say on the comparative
accuracy of the two worldviews, we find it to be very little„noth-
ing definitive, actually. We generally assume that the findings of
THE TUNNEL AS SUCH
such-and-such block have eyes only for Suzie, the hearer were to
conclude that Suzie was the only girl on that block.
If science cannot tell us what (if anything) is outside our uni
verse, what can? Nothing
definitively,
draw on every resource available. Inclusively, things are neither as
science says they are nor as religion says they are. They are as sci
ence, and religion, and philosophy, and art, and common sense,
are. What all of these complementing resources„with the excep
tion of modern science, which works with a limited viewfinder (see
Chapter Twelve)„have said about the Big Picture throughout
human history has shaken down into a single, wondrously clear
and inspiring worldview. This worldview, which I consider the
winnowed wisdom of the human race, is found distilled in the
worlds great, enduring religions.
I myself consider this convergent report to be the best measure
of truth about the whole of things that we have, but I cannot prove
that, so I will say only one more thing about truth before turning
to this chapters main concern. The pragmatic theory of truth
what works.
I am not fond of that theory, but as long
as we do not allow it the last word, it gives us things to think
about, and here its interesting deliverance concerns the placebo
effect. Physicians have found no remedy to be as universally effec
tive as the placebo. Psychologically that translates into
If you think
matively, your immune system responds affirmatively.
mer to be more conducive to a positive lifestance than is the latter,
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
and the following three almost randomly chosen facts speak to
A graduate student in psychology at New York University
conducted an experiment on students who were taking a
course on business law. Dividing them into an experimental
and a control group, he had both groups gaze in separate
rooms at blank screens for a minute before they entered the
classroom for each class session. For four milliseconds„too
short a time to be consciously perceived„a tachistoscopic
image was flashed on each screen. For the experimental group
it read, Mommie and I Are OneŽ; for the control group,
People Are Walking.Ž When this summer course ended, it
was found that students in the experimental group scored
Robert Rosenthals famous Pygmalion in the classroomŽ
experiments show that when teachers raise their expectations
of certain students, those students pick this up, and the
improved self-image that the elevated expectations accord
A 1999 Duke University study shows that regular churchgo
ers are 28 percent less likely to die in a given seven-year
period than non-churchgoers. Many studies of this sort have
been conducted. All that I have seen are in line with this one.
Pragmatic considerations such as these do, as I say, give us
things to think about, but I want to shut down on them fast. The
problem is not that if one tries to make much of them, mountains
of contingencies pour in to blur the claims being made. More cen
tral is the fact that using the consequences of religious beliefs to
support the beliefs themselves will not work because placebos are
effective only when they are not known to be such. If the tradi
tional worldview is to have beneficial effects, it will be because it is
THE TUNNEL AS SUCH
believed to be true, and one cannot argue oneself into believing
that X is true because it pays dividends. The Duke study illustrates
a second danger. When the consequences of belief are worldly
goods, such as health, fixing on them turns religion into a service
station for self-gratification and churches into health clubs.
the opposite of authentic religions
ego, not pander to its worldly desires.
With these epistemological points entered, I proceed now to the
related chapters will begin with a book I have selected to serve as the
chapters flagship, and I will follow their respective wakes so faith
fully that the reader could do worse than to think of this first half of
my book as a mosaic configured from the books I use to introduce
its respective chapters. I proceed to the book chosen for this chapter.
LAGSHIP
William Gasss 1995
The Tunnel
was a strong contender for the
tagonist is as repulsively lonely a character as fiction affords. A
middle-aged professor of history at a midwestern university, he
takes to going down into the cellar of his big middle-class house to
escape from his unloved, undesired, and unloving wife. He starts
tunneling down through the floor and out beyond its foundations,
lying on his fat belly and squirming past trowelfuls of clay and dirt
and dust on his way out. He is trying to escape from his life and
from our times, which his horrible home symbolizes.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
This storyline fits this third chapter of my own book so snugly
that, if it were not for two clear differences, I could have been
valent and opaque to allow for alternative readings at every turn.
My aim is the opposite„to be as clear and direct as the subject
matter allows.
With
The Tunnel
disqualified, I reached for T. S. Eliots
The Waste
„from a five-foot shelf of candidates, I hasten to say„because
an important sign that we are
cians preyed on hope as never before„promising the war to end all
wars,Ž the war to make the world safe for democracy,Ž the century
of the common man,Ž the four freedoms,Ž one world,Ž the great
one, and we have his verdict: The very best is not to be born; the
next best is to die soon.Ž For Yeats, the best lack all conviction,
while the worst are full of passionate intensity.Ž Kazantzakis con
cluded that hope is a rotten-thighed whore,Ž and even Bergson
(who moved Darwins onward-and-upward biology into philosophy)
was driven in the end to the view that human beings were being
crushed by the immense progress they had made. I have never man
aged to think of Sartre as profound, but he was a shrewd phenome
nologist, and on the existential level where he worked, he concluded
that we must learn to live without hope.Ž Motion picture titles take
up the refrain:
I Have Seen the Future and It Doesnt Work.
THE TUNNEL AS SUCH
Given pronouncements of this sort, I could have chosen any
number of books to steer this chapter by: Arthur Koestlers
Darkness at Noon,
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land
What . . . branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
The Hollow Men
describes the denizens of this waste land:
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
The balance of this chapter expands Eliots lines in my own way.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
I remind the reader that (as I said in Chapter Two) the tunnel
ter, for then the views were life-enhancing. The important build
ings were temples; statues were of gods and saints; legends, songs,
and dances wore the cast of morality plays; and holidays lived up to
being holy days. Reminders of the sacred were everywhere, strewn
about almost carelessly, we might say. Marco Pallis reported that in
In times like those, explicit references to the sacred were hardly
necessary, but those times are long gone. Today we do not live
Unfortunately, philosophers, who formerly made it their job to
monitor worldviews and their consequences, have now disclaimed
THE TUNNEL AS SUCH
cal spirit is an incalculable damage for the general order of intelli
gence and human affairs,Ž but philosophers were in no mood to
This rejection by philosophers of what historically had been
lack for an explanation„two related explanations, in fact. First,
chology, artificial intelligence, neurobiology, and cognitive science
accept some version of materialism because they believe that it is
the only philosophy that is consistent with our contemporary sci
entific worldview.Ž
ernism, for (as Chapter One noted) it emerged in good part to do
the project in. Assuming without argument that worldviews neces
sarily oppress, and overlooking the fact that even if that were the
case, they cannot be excised from human knowing, philosophers
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
this books critical side„that of holding modernitys Big Picture up
to withering inspection. (Modernity and postmodernity cannot be
modernity, as I do in Chapter One, or to include postmodernity, as
I use the word here.)
ISQUALIFIED
Lewis Mumfords memorable characterization of the scientific
worldview as disqualifiedŽ rides a play on the word. That world
view is disqualified in the straightforward sense of being out of the
runningŽ as a human home, and what disqualifies it for that role is
the way it strips the objective world of its qualities and leaves it
We commonly assume that science can at least handle the corpo
real world that our physical senses register, but strictly speaking that
is not the case, for we experience the corporeal world decked with
sounds, smells, and colors, whereas science gives us only the quantifi
able underpinnings of those sensations. Secondary qualitiesŽ„the
colors we see and birdsongs we hear„do not turn up in sciences
textbooks. From its standpoint, human beings (and perhaps other
And if secondary qualities have no place in the objective, trans
human world, much less do tertiary qualitiesŽ„which is to say,
values. Hopes and fears, pleasures and pains, successes and disap-
pointments„the sum total of the lives that we experience
directly„are for science epiphenomenal only, the foam on the
beer, which requires beer (matter) to exist but not vice versa. Only
THE TUNNEL AS SUCH
connect,Ž E. M. Forster counseled as his valediction, but what is
there to connect to when what is distinctively human about us is
only skin deep in the objective nature of things?
Forsters succinct counsel strikes an important note that is worth
pursuing. Thanks to the marvels of microphotography we can now
see single nerve cells, and what catches the eye is their dendrites,
it appears„of touching the dendrites of another cell. When two
dendrites do touch, they lock arms and, as a result, their cells stand
ing. Religions show people bonded to the ultimate Source of things
by their very lineage, for if the Ultimate did not literally parent
them (as Izanagi and Izanami did in Japans creation myth), it
begotŽ them in substance through creation or emanation. And
because human beings have derived from bonding, it becomes
incumbent on them to bond with others. Be ye members one of
another,Ž St. Paul counseled. Confuciuss version reads, Within
the four seas all men are brothers.Ž
Nature is included in the picture as well. The title of Carolyn
Merchants
The Death of Nature
reminds us that nature was not
always thought of as dead. The earth was seen as alive and consid
ered to be a beneficent, receptive, nurturing female. The Roman
compiler Pliny warned against mining the depths of Mother Earth,
speculating that earthquakes were an expression of her indignation
at being violated in this manner. In much the same way, Native
Americans objected to European ways of treating the Earth Mother.
In the words of the Smohalla of the Columbia Basin tribes:
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
You ask me to plow the ground! Shall I take a knife and tear my
mothers breast?
You ask me to dig for stone! Shall I dig under her skin for her
You ask me to cut grass and make hay and sell it! How dare I cut
off my mothers hair?
The reference to Confuciuss four seasŽ aphorism in an earlier
paragraph triggers a recollection that relates to it. Several years ago
my wife, Kendra, took a young grandson to the neighborhood play
ground where they found two children already on the swings and
slides„a girl about eight and a younger boy, presumably her brother.
With the briefest of preliminaries the girl asked Kendra, What
are we?Ž Kendra squinted a bit and answered, Chinese?Ž No.Ž
are we; what is our basic essence? And the young-
sters answer was equally on the mark. Our essence is relation-
ship„we are brother and sister„and the foundation of that
essence is love.
What happens when the sense of bondedness to the Ultimate
erodes and religious directives to bond are discounted? Already a
century ago, W. B. Yeats was warning that things were falling apart,
that the center did not hold. Gertrude Stein followed him by not
THE TUNNEL AS SUCH
I am in danger of overstating my case. The direct cause of the
munities, and its radios and televisions relieved people of the effort
tory has known„and I promised to stick to worldviews. So I will
revert to the minimalist claim for this book that I registered earlier:
ble hardships. The same can be asked regarding the Holocaust vic
tims who had God on their lips when they died.
And while I am disclaiming, I want again to exonerate scientists
as a professional group from having gotten us into our tunnel.
When modern science gained momentum and took off, its payoffs
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers,
We see the contrast clearly in the fate that has befallen Aristotles
cause of my computer is (in part) its silicon chips; its
cause was their objective in producing such machines„to help me
entists to the notion of intelligent designŽ is part and parcel of their
denial that formal causes exist anywhere except in human minds;
THE TUNNEL AS SUCH
is useful in describing the purposive behavior
of organisms, apart from that special case
teleology
is out. The cor
With purposelessness (and its synonym
) in the drivers
seat, blind whirl is king. This leaves us strangers and afraid in a
world [we] never made,Ž to quote A. E. Housmans The Shrop
shire Lad.Ž Albert Camus found the world absurd.Ž Samuel
tions of traditions great outdoors and modernitys tunnel.
It could have been expected that the inhospitality of the scien
tific world to humanitys deepest concerns would generate revolts.
Romanticism and existentialism were the chief of these. William
Blake called for the rise of soul against intellectŽ to save us from
Single vision and Newtons Sleep!Ž but Matthew Arnolds lament
over faiths long receding roarŽ a century later amounted to an
admission that Blakes cause was not succeeding. As for existen
tialism, it held out resolutely for human freedom in the face of
native worldview in which to anchor the rights of the human that
they so nobly championed. Belonging to the extrascientific side of
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
ONCLUSION
An interview in the issue of the
New Yorker
I conclude this chapter has Albert Gore pointing to a kind of psy
Bertolt Brecht is best remembered for his plays, but critics con
sider his poems more profound. The relevant one here is titled To
Those Born LaterŽ:
Truly I live in dark times!
The innocent word is folly.
An unlined forehead
Suggests insensitivity.
Just hasnt heard
It was supposed to be Arts and Crafts for a week,
with the Jesus SavesŽ button, we knew what art
was up, what ancient craft.
She liked her little friends. She liked the songs
they sang when they werent
THE TUNNEL AS SUCH
Jesus had been a good man, and putting faith
we had to do to stay this side of cynicism,
O.K., we said, one week. But when she came home
singing Jesus loves me,
the Bible tells me so,Ž it was time to talk.
Could we say Jesus
doesnt love you? Could I tell her the Bible
is a great book certain people use
to make you feel bad? We sent her back
without a word.
It had been so long since we believed, so long
since we needed Jesus
as our nemesis and friend, that we thought he was
that our children would think of him like Lincoln
or Thomas Jefferson.
Soon it became clear to us: you cant teach disbelief
only wonderful stories, and we hadnt a story
nearly as good.
On parents night there were the Arts and Crafts
all spread out
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
and one in which they had to jump up and down
for Jesus,
I cant remember ever feeling so uncertain
about whats comic, whats serious.
Evolution is magical but devoid of heroes.
You cant say to your child
Evolution loves you.Ž The story stinks
exciting happens for centuries. I didnt have
a wonderful story for my child
and she was beaming. All the way home in the car
occasionally standing up for Jesus.
There was nothing to do
but drive, ride it out, sing along
We hadnt a story nearly as good.Ž We need not restrict our
selves to the Jesus story in this, for its counterparts turn up in every
tribe and civilization. Jews have their Passover story of a miraculous
escape from Egypt. In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna, on the eve of a
horrendous battle, wrings the meaning of life and death from
disguised as his charioteer. The Jataka Tales have Siddhartha Gautama
in his incarnation as a rabbit throwing himself on a fire to save luck
less hunters from starving. The list has no end.
LOOR
ith the foregoing account of the tunnel in place, I proceed
now to describe its four sides, beginning with the floor„
Everything depends on definitions here, for this chapter will fall
Scientism adds to science two corollaries: first, that the scientific
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
So important and undernoticed is this fact that I shall devote
gions speak are at best doubtful. If in any way our hopes, dreams,
intuitions, glimpses of transcendence, intimations of immortality,
and mystical experiences break step with this view of things, they
yard for outlooks that were once taken for granted. Todays common
sense becomes tomorrows laughingstock; time makes ancient truth
uncouth. Einstein defined common sense as what we are taught by
the age of six, or perhaps fourteen in the case of complex ideas.
Wisdom begins with the recognition that our presuppositions are
options that can be examined and replaced if found wanting.
LAGSHIP
My flagship book for this chapter is Bryan Appleyards
Understanding
the Present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man.
I will compress its
THE TUNNELS FLOOR
Imagine a missionary to Africa. Conversion is slow going until a
child comes down with an infectious disease. The tribal doctors are
summoned, but to no avail; life is draining from the hapless infant.
At that point the missionary remembers that at the last minute she
slipped some penicillin into her travel bags. She administers it and
the child recovers. With that single act, says Appleyard, it is all over
If only that tribe could have reasoned as follows, Appleyard
continues; if only they could have said to themselves, This for
eigner obviously knows things about our bodies that we do not
know, and we should be very grateful to her for coming all this
distance to share her knowledge with us. But as her medicine
appears to tell us nothing about who we are, where we came from,
why we are here, what we should be doing while we are here (if
anything), and what happens to us when we die, there seems to be
no reason why we cannot accept her medicine gratefully while
continuing to honor the great orienting myths that our ancestors
have handed down to us and that give meaning and motivation to
our lives.
If only those tribal leaders had the wit to reason in that fashion,
Appleyard concludes, there would be no problem. But they do not
have that wit, and neither do we.
From that fictionalized condensation of Appleyards book, I pro
ceed to develop its thesis in my own way, beginning with the recep
tion his book received.
Before I had laid hands on Appleyards book, I attended a con
ference at the University of Notre Dame. Finding myself at break
fast one morning with the noted British scientist Arthur Peacocke,
I asked him about the book, for it had first appeared in England
and I thought Peacocke might have gotten the jump on me in
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
reading it. He said that he had not read it but had heard that it was
turned out not to be against science at all, not science distinct from
scientism. But because it spells out with unusual force and clarity
what social critics have been saying for some time now„namely,
that we have turned science into a sacred cow and are suffering the
consequences idolatry invariably exacts, it is a sitting duck to be
taken as an attack on the scientific enterprise. Not by all scientists.
It is not a digression to say (before I continue with Appleyard) that
not all scientists idolize their profession. The spring 1999 issue of
American Scholar
that crosses my desk on the day that I write
this page bears this out forcefully. Its review of
Of Flies, Mice, and
Men
sees its author, the French microbiologist François Jacob, as
having written his book to renounce much of the epistemological
privilege of science, for as [he] points out with surprising and even
I could hardly ask for a stronger ally in this chapter than biolo
Understanding the Present
was published, responses to it
polarized immediately. The
Times Literary Review
saw the books
author as voicing truths that needed to be spoken, whereas
Englands leading scientific journal,
Nature,
branded it dangerous.Ž
When reviews began to appear on this side of the Atlantic, the
New York Review of Books
chose a science writer, Timothy Ferris, to
do the job. Ferris gives us his opinion of the book in his closing para
THE TUNNELS FLOOR
selves to imagine that science might soon be able to predict
everything, and we ought to be able to muster the sophistication
to recognize such claims as hyperbolic. Scientism today is advo
cated by only a tiny minority of scientists.
Those of us who stand outside the science camp can only read
such words with astonishment. Scientism flourished
thinkers permitted themselves to imagine that science might
soon be able to predict everythingŽ? Scientism today is advocated
by only
of scientistsŽ? Ferriss assertions dismiss
RACKING
A discussion I was party to recently comes to mind. Historians of
religion were asking themselves why the passion for justice surfaces
more strongly in the Hebrew scriptures than in others, and when
someone came up with the answer it seemed obvious to us all. No
other sacred text was assembled by a people who had suffered as
as the Jews had, and this made them privy from the
inside to the pain injustice occasions. It is extravagant to compare
the damage that scientism wreaks to the suffering of the Jews, but
the underlying principle is the same in both cases. Only discerning
victims of scientism (and sensitive scientists like François Jacob
whom I quoted several paragraphs back) can comprehend the mag
nitude of its oppressive force and the problems it creates. For it
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
takes an eye like the one Michel Foucault trained on prisons, men
tal institutions, and hospitals (which eye I am striving for in this
tism exert in contemporary life.
Another procedural point must be entered, for it too is often
physically controlled, for if one believes that the scientific world
view is true, the two appendages to it that turn it into scientism are
not seen to be opinions. (I remind the reader that the appendages
are, first, that science is our best window onto the world and, sec
ond, that matter is the foundation of everything that exists.) They
present themselves as facts. That they are not provable does not
count against them, because they are taken to be self-evident„as
plainly so as the proverbial hand before ones face.
major problem for this book, because what is taken
to be self-evident depends on ones worldview, and disputes among
worldviews are (as the preceding chapter established) unresolvable.
Todays science-backed self-evidence is a fact of contemporary life
that must be lived with. It is like wind in ones face on a long jour
ney: to be faced without allowing it to divert one from ones
intended course. During the McCarthy era it was said that Joe
McCarthy found Communists under every bed, and those who are
scientism„or as finding under stones the sermons I have already put
there, as Oscar Wilde charged Wordsworth with doing. There being
(from their point of view) no problem, they will see this entire book
as an exercise in paranoia. Because the difference comes down to one
of perception, I will plow ahead in the face of that charge, taking
ation, Drucker received every honor that his field had to confer.
THE TUNNELS FLOOR
spired. In it he was seated with the
Because,Ž Drucker added, thats invariably the case. I never tell
my clients anything they dont already know. My job is to make
them see that what they have been dismissing as incidental evi
dence is actually crucial evidence.Ž That is what I see myself doing
with respect to scientism in this book.
Having referred to the
New York Review of Books
regarding its
handling of Appleyards book, I will turn to it again for my next
John Polkinghorne is a ranking British scientist who at the age
of fifty became an Anglican clergyman. The
New York Review of
never reviews theological books; but presumably because
Polkinghorne is also a distinguished scientist, it made an exception
in his case. To review his book, the
reached for a world-class
scientist, Freeman Dyson.
A scientist to review a book on
theology? To see what that choice bespeaks, we need only turn the
table and try to imagine the editors of the
reaching for a
theologian to review a book on science. The standard justification
ology is not, but now hear this. Several years back at a conference
at Notre Dame University I heard a leading Thomist say in an
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
aside to the paper he was delivering, There may be„there just
be„twelve scholars alive today who understand St. Thomas,
We turn now to what Dyson said about Polkinghornes book.
for historical sections of the book under review, Dyson turned to his
theology, which like all theology, he said, suffers from being about
words only, whereas science is about things.
It is symptomatic of the unlevel playing field on which science
and religion contend today that a scientist with no theological
credentials (Freeman Dyson in the
New York Review,
May 28,
1998) feels comfortable in concluding that the theology of a fel
low scientist (John Polkinghorne) is, like all theology, about
words and not, as is the case with science, about things. This
flies in the face of the fact that most theology takes God to be
ows in Platos cave. Muslims in their testament of faith some
times transpose There is no God but the GodŽ to read, There
is no Reality but
Reality,Ž the two assertions being identical.
recting my mistakes,Ž he wrote. I have, as he says, no theological
In a chapter that has to struggle at every turn not to sound pee
vish and aggrieved, whimsy helps, so I will mention the occasion
THE TUNNELS FLOOR
ingly) at me. (I told the story in my
Forgotten Truth,
repeating here.)
Not surprisingly, the incident took place at
, where I taught
for fifteen years. I was lunching at the faculty club and found
The tone in which his discovery was delivered„playful, but
occasion. When I
asked a scientist how he and his colleagues regarded us humanists,
he answered affably, We dont even bother to ignore you guys.Ž
Despite the levity in these accounts, the very telling of them opens
embittered I will say that they are quite wrong. Our scientific age
has, if anything, treated me personally above my due. My concern
dling modernism throughout. For, science writer that he is, there is
no way Ferris could have been unaware that Jacques Monod drew a
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
gloomier conclusion from our having separated values from knowl
edge than Appleyard does. Think back to the key assertions by
Thus far this chapter has proceeded largely in the wake of
Appleyards book. I want soon to strike out on my own, but not
before adding Appleyards most emphatic charge, which is that
science has shown itself unable to coexist with anything.Ž Science
swallows the world, or at least more than its share of it. Appleyard
does not mention Spinoza in this connection, but I find in
Spinozas
the reason for Appleyards charge.
PINOZA
ONATUS
Spinoza wrote in Latin, and the Latin word
English as will.Ž Every organism, Spinoza argued, has within it a
viduals have mastered that art, but when they gather in institu-
tions„the appropriately named American Association for the
Advancement of Science, the
Scientific American,
collegiality takes over and one feels like a traitor if one does not
pitch in to advance ones professions prestige, power, and pay. I
THE TUNNELS FLOOR
I can remember the exact moment when this important fact
broke over me like an epiphany. It was a decade or so ago and I was
leading an all-day seminar on scientism in Ojai, California. As the
day progressed, I found myself becoming increasingly aware of a
relatively young man in the audience who seemed to be taking in
every word I said without saying a word himself. True to form,
others had tendered their goodbyes, whereupon he asked if I would
like to join him for a walk. The weather was beautiful and we had
been sitting all day, but it was primarily because I had grown curi
ous about the man that I readily accepted his invitation.
He turned out to be a professor at the University of Minnesota
whose job was teaching science to nonscientists. Word of my semi
nar had crossed his desk, and being invested in the topic, he had
flown out for the weekend. You handled the subject well today,Ž
he said, after we had put preliminaries behind us, but theres one
thing about scientism that you still dont see. Huston, science
At first that sounded odd to me, for I had devoted the entire day
to distinguishing the two as sharply as I could. Quickly, though, I
de jure
ble. Sciences
inevitably enters the picture, as it does in
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
every institution. The American Medical Association is an obvious
example, but the signs are everywhere.
Jürgen Habermas, a philosopher of the Frankfurt School, coined
a useful phrase for the way money, power, and technology have
adversely affected the conditions of communication in ordinary,
face-to-face life. He charged them with colonizing the life world.Ž
A neo-Marxist himself, he had no particular interest in religion, but
the concerns of this book prompt me to add scientism to his list of
imperialists. One of the subtlest, most subversive ways it proceeds is
by paying lip service to religion while demoting it. An instance of
this is Stephen Jay Goulds book
Rocks of Ages,
which I will approach
by way of a flashback to Lyndon Johnson. It is reported that when a
My nice little sermon to Professor Gould is, Paleontologist
though you are, you show yourself unable to distinguish rocks
from pebbles, for a pebble is what you reduce religion to.Ž Now for
the ruination.
Gould says he cannot see what all the fuss is about, for (he tells us)
tion emerges,Ž which turns out (not surprisingly) to be his own.
world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these
THE TUNNELS FLOOR
facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally impor
tant, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings,
and values.Ž
Note that it is human (not divine) purposes, meanings, and val
ues that Goulds religionŽ deals with, but the deeper issue is who
(in Goulds dichotomy) is to deal with the factual character of the
nonnatural, supernatural world. No one„for to his skeptical eyes
the natural world is all there is, so facts pertain there only. He has a
perfect right to that opinion, of course, but to base his definitions
of science and religion on it prejudices their relationship from
the real issue is lost on Stephen Jay Gould, but not
on all biologists. Two years ago I was asked to speak to the evolu
tion issue at the University of California, Davis, in a lecture that its
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
ROM
ARFARE TO
IALOGUE
Religious triumphalism died a century or two ago, and its scientis
tic counterpart seems now to be following suit. Here and there
diehards turn up„Richard Dawkins, who likens belief in God to
century that it will soon be as impossible for an intelligent or edu
cated man or woman to believe in god as it is now to believe that
ter. It seems clear that both science and religion are here to stay.
E.
O. Wilson would be as pleased as anyone to see religion fail the
Darwinian test, but he admits that we seem to have a religious gene
THE TUNNELS FLOOR
With both of these forces as permanent fixtures in history, the
This could be in part because money has entered the picture
ters devoted to the study of science and religion are thriving in the
ferences, lectures, and workshops. Several hundred science-and-
religion courses are taught each year in colleges and universities
around the country, where a decade or two ago you would have
had to dig in hard scrabble to find one; and every year or so new
Science and Spirit, Theology and Science,
Origins and Design
Zygon
the avalanche of books„many of them best-sellers„that keep the
On the whole, this mounting interest is a healthy sign, but it
hides the danger that science (I reify for simplicitys sake) will use
dialogue as a Trojan horse by which to enter religions central
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
OLONIZING
HEOLOGY
To once have belonged to the enemy camp provides one with
insights into its workings, and so (with apologies for the military
language) I will claim that advantage here.
When I came to America from the mission field of China, my
tégés. Thus it was that when I arrived at the Divinity School of the
University of Chicago to study with Professor Wieman, I was
already as ardent a disciple as he had ever had. That lasted through
my graduate studies, after which my resonance to the mystics con
verted me to their worldview.
tury), Wiemans liberal naturalistic theism was giving its conser
vative rival„neo-orthodoxy, as founded by the Swiss theologian
Karl Barth and captained in America by Reinhold Niebuhr„a run
for the Protestant mind. Niebuhr won that round, but with White
head and his theological heir, Charles Hartshorne, naturalism has
THE TUNNELS FLOOR
Do we not see the hand of science„which process theologians
point to proudly„in this half-century theological drift? In relating
it to the concerns of this chapter, two questions arise. First, if we
ond? If it has, science has vectored the drift and we must follow its
lead. If no such facts have turned up, scientistic styles of thought
are guilty of colonizing theology.
With this quick reference to the last fifty years, I turn now to
the present.
ILT OF THE
EGOTIATING
Because scientists at this point are negotiating from strength and
would be happy to have things remain as they are, it is theologians
demic journal in the field, and the Berkeley Center mounts the
conferences.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
have created the universe and to operate within it, but God must not
be taken to suspend at times its laws or to leave gaps in them that are
divinely filled from outside. (That would give us a God of the gaps,Ž
a deity who would be squeezed out when, as it is assumed will hap
pen, science eventually fills those gaps.) In a word, miracles and
naturalism generally are out. Those who honor the three men
proscriptions are welcomed in
Zygon
doings; others are not.
Such at least is my reading of the matter. If the reading is basi
tions that would be distractions in this discussion.) Why? The
obvious answer seems to be that these planks do not fit the scien
tific worldview. I cannot speak for the governing boards of the two
institutions and do not know if their policy here is tactical„to
keep scientists from walking away from the negotiating table„or if
it reflects a belief that science has discovered things that require
that the traditional planks be dropped. I know the Berkeley team
well enough to know that its members are sincere Christians who
do not see themselves as capitulating to the scientific worldview if
it is read in ways that exclude God. But the God they argue for is
the worlds first and final cause, who (2) works in history by
The problem with this approach is that it overlooks the ghost of
of the God-hypothesis. More serious is the procedural way things
THE TUNNELS FLOOR
are going. The institutions that dominate the science-religion con
versation do not consider the way they relate theology to science to
be one possibility among others that merit hearings. They consider
it to be the truth and believe that it needs to be understood if reli
gion is to survive in an age of science.
Darwinism provides the clearest example of this monopolistic
approach. That the issue of how we human beings got here has
strong religious overtones goes without saying, and its founder and
I are only two among millions who find the Darwinian theory
(when taken to be fully explanatory of human origins) pulling
against the theistic hypothesis. Among scientists themselves, debates
over Darwin rage furiously, fueled by comments such as Fred
Hoyles now-famous assertion that the chance of natural selections
producing even an enzyme is on the order of a tornados roaring
through a junkyard and coming up with a Boeing 747. But when
religion enters the picture, scientists close ranks in supporting
Darwinism, with
Zygon
right in there with them. To my
knowledge, no one critical of the theory has been published in
Zygon
Michael Ruse of the University of Guelph„a self-confessed
bulldog for Darwinism„puts this colonization of theology by
biology in perspective when he charges his fellow Darwinists with
behaving as if Darwinism were a religion. Rustum Roy, a materials
scientist at Pennsylvania State University, goes further. Half seri
ously, he has threatened to sue the National Science Foundation
for violating the separation of church and state in funding
of science that have turned themselves into religions. If these
spokespeople are right and Darwinism has grown doctrinal, we
have the curious spectacle of its colonizing not only theology but
biology as well. I will close this chapter with an instance.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
The 1999 conference on The Origin of Animal Body Plans
and the Fossil RecordŽ was held in China because that is where a
disproportionate number of fossils relating to the Cambrian explo
sion of phyla have been found. On the whole, its Western delegates
argued that the explosion can be explained through a Darwinian
approach, whereas the Chinese delegates were more skeptical of
that. Jonathan Wells, of the Center for Renewal of Science and
Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, closed his report of
the conference with an account that carries overtones ominous
Ill end this report with one poignant anecdote about a conver
sation I had with a Chinese developmental biologist from Shang
tle on an official theory and then teach it to the exclusion of all
others. So far, she said, this has not happened in biology; since
ence how dogmatic American biologists had already become,
and she pleaded with me to defend the spirit of free inquiry. The
way she put it, the world is counting on you to do this.
DUCATION
urning now to the left wall of the tunnel, which is higher edu
From Protestant Establishment to Established
Nonbelief,
comes close to telling the story in itself.
LAGSHIP
The first American colleges were created to train clergymen, and it
followed as a matter of course that a religious atmosphere pervaded
their campuses. This atmosphere persisted for decades as the objec
tives of education expanded beyond the training of ministers. Only
a century ago, almost all state as well as private universities and col
leges held compulsory chapel services, and some required Sunday
church attendance as well. Today, however, the once-pervasive pres
ence of religion on campuses has all but disappeared.
the American University
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
WASP
establishment ruled. It does argue, however, that the addi
tion of feminist and multicultural perspectives need not and should
not have excluded traditional religious viewpoints, which can enrich
the college curriculum without threatening sound scholarship and
free inquiry.
The history of this matter is so familiar that I need only dub in
some of the highlights of Marsdens thoughtful thesis, along with
my own commentaries.
HAT
APPENED
American colleges were founded in a time of fervent national and
moral idealism, and it would have been surprising if their founders
had not viewed their practical concerns through religious lenses.
Those lenses were evangelically Protestant, and the clergymen
presidents of the early colleges typically taught courses on the Bible
and Christian doctrine and encouraged campus revivals. From the
start, however, colleges recognized truths that could be reached by
natural reasonŽ and without the help of revelation. Philosophy was
the province of those truths, and natural philosophy (the early
name for science) was the branch of it that dealt with nature. Early
in Harvards history one of its presidents quoted as the truly golden
saying of Aristotle, Find a friend in Plato, a friend in Socrates, but
above all find a friend in Truth,Ž and he went on to extol natural
philosophy explicitly: For what is Natural Philosophy, unless a
system in which natural things are explained; and in which that
hypothesis is certainly the best by which the greater part of natural
phenomena are most fully and clearly explained. These things are
to be sought and acquired.Ž
So science and religion were allies at the beginning. But as the
two subsequent centuries have unfolded, religion has steadily been
THE TUNNELS LEFT WALL
pushed to the periphery. Colleges and their successor universities (I
university
interchangeably, for there
lation here, however. By and large they simply kept pace with the
The most important cause of that increased secularization has
been the progressive technologizingŽ of the Western world in the
name of progress, and universities have been key agents in that proj
ect. Scientists have been needed to discover new laws of nature, and
engineers to put those laws to use. Everybody got into this act, not
just universities and scientists, for from healthy bodies to microwave
vented the veritable explosion of science and engineering on cam
puses. Land-grant colleges were established explicitly to bolster the
by their own momentum in the older, more prestigious universities,
tising, and distribution, all of which lie within the province of cor
porations. Foreign students used to come to the West for science
degrees, but a masters degree in business administration from the
Given the modern world, this burgeoning of science, technol
ogy, and schools of business on campuses was inevitable and in
itself not inappropriate. It has exacted a price, however. The
have been
elbowed to the sidelines.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
I shall come back to this point, but several other social develop
ments have affected the feelŽ of the educational experience so
much that they need to be mentioned before I resume the main
concern of this chapter, which is the way the university shapes stu
dents worldviews.
Bulging enrollments have turned universities into megaversi
ties. In my college days we students were in and out of our
professors homes all the time. The logical limit of todays
depersonalized education is courses that proceed entirely by
If burgeoning enrollments have depersonalized education,
burgeoning knowledge has fragmented it. Renaissance men
With rising tuition costs most students must now work while
they learn, which leaves them tired much of the time.
Vocational objectives have taken over. Higher education has
always been a vehicle for social mobility, but now a college
degree is needed simply to stand still and stave off the specter
Two other developments in higher education are relevant to
our discussion here, but these I place in a different category
because their long-range effects promise to be enriching: the
THE TUNNELS LEFT WALL
more visible.
Doubtless there have been compensating gains in the four dis
turbing changes I noted, and it is always a mistake to underestimate
the capacity of the human spirit to adapt to new circumstances.
But my point in noting these social developments is really to put
them aside. They needed to be mentioned because they affect the
uralism and the point of this chapter is to note how the universitys
inattention (at best) to a reality that exceeds nature, and (at worst)
its denial that such a reality exists, shape students minds.
To restate the definition that has already been entered, natural
ism is not materialism. Materialism holds that only matter exists.
Naturalism grants that subjective experiences„thoughts and feel-
ings„are different from matter and cannot be reduced to it, while
insisting that they are totally dependent on it. No brains, no
This is a prominent aspect of the scientific worldview, and what
has happened to higher education is that it has been overtaken (or
taken in) by it. There is a story to the effect that when, early in the
master of Balliol College at Oxford University), distressed that he
ryphal witticism, no doubt, but it highlights how times have
Though I say that the scientific worldview has taken over, I
must stress again that this has not been by design. The takeover is
simply the culmination of the unconsidered outworkings in the
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
university of the scientism that imbues modernism throughout.
ogy. At the last social science colloquium I attended, the speaker
(an economist) opened by asking if the social sciences are becom
ing more scientific. His answer was, Not fast enough.Ž
prising that among other divisions of the university it is the social
sciences that feel the pull of the natural sciences most strongly. As a
social scientist himself, Robert Bellah has had to live with that pull
throughout his career, and since he is exceptional in the clarity with
which he recognizes the pull in question and the courage with
tion of the chapter over to him.
The assumptions underlying mainstream social science,Ž Bellah
can be briefly listed: positivism, reductionism, relativism and
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behind complex cultural forms biological, psychological or socio
logical drives, needs and interests. By relativism I mean the
assumption that matters of morality and religion, being explica
ble by particular constellations of psychological and sociological
conditions, cannot be judged true or false, valid or invalid, but
Most social scientists, Bellah goes on to add, do not think of
these assumptions as conflicting with the assumptions of religion.
The assumptions are so self-evidently true that they are beyond
contradiction. Religion, being unscientific, could have no reality
claim in any case, though as a private belief or practice it may by
some be admitted to be psychologically helpful for certain people.
tinues, and for it there is no cosmos, that is, no whole relative to
which human action makes sense. There is, of course no God, or
any other ultimate reality, but there is no nature either, in the
traditional sense of a creation or expression of transcendent real
ity. Similarly, no social relationship can have any sacramental
quality. No social form can reflect or be infused with a divine or
cosmological significance. Rather, every social relationship can
be explained in terms of its social or psychological utility.
Finally, though the social scientist says a lot about the self,Ž he
has nothing to say about the soul. The very notion of soul
ern thought. To put the contrast in another way, the traditional
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
religious view found the world intrinsically meaningful. The
drama of personal and social existence was lived out in the con
text of continual cosmic and spiritual meaning. The modern
view finds the world intrinsically meaningless, endowed with
struct, for their own ends.
Because Bellah says exactly what I would have wanted to say„
Most social scientists would politely refuse to discuss the con
trasts just mentioned. They would profess no ill will toward reli
gion; they are simply unaware of the degree to which what they
teach and write undermines all traditional thought and belief.
Unlike an earlier generation of iconoclasts, they feel no mission
to undermine superstition.Ž They would consider the questions
raised above to be, simply, outside my field,Ž and would refer
one to philosophers, humanists, or students of religion to dis
cuss them. So fragmented is our intellectual life, even in the best
universities, that such questions are apt never to be raised. That
does not mean that they are not implicitly answered.
Psychology
Psychology has fractured. Experimental psychology comes close to
being an exact science, but most of our minds and selves are
beyond its pale, and this leaves clinical, or depth, psychology to
pick up the residue. Whereas experimental psychology deals with
people as objects, clinical psychology approaches them as subjects.
THE TUNNELS LEFT WALL
In experimental psychology, Pavlovs salivating dogs, J. B.
Watsons behaviorism, and B. F. Skinners updated version of the
two are obviously within the gravitational pull of the hard sciences.
To these can be added stimulus-response theory generally: in hold
ing that actions followed by rewards are repeated, Thorndikes
Perhaps the most telling fact here is the universitys stonewalling
of models of the self that make more room for the human spirit
than the orthodox Freudian view does. The chief of those alterna
tive models are the ones proposed by first, C. G. Jung; second,
humanistic and transpersonal psychology; and third, Asian reli
gions, all of which have proven so useful to practicing therapists
that they have spawned Jungian Institutes, the existentially ori
ented Association for Humanistic Psychology, and the Association
for Transpersonal Psychology. All three entities are flourishing and
have led to the founding of accredited programs for training ther
apists outside the university. (The California Institute for Pro
fessional Psychology, Saybrook Institute, and Pacifica Institute in
Santa Barbara are three in my own backyard.) But their proven use
fulness has not gained them entrance to the university.
It takes no great feat of mental gymnastics to recognize the hand
of Freudian orthodoxy in this closure. Daniel Goleman, former
New York Times,
says that Freuds
depiction of the human self is the closest the West comes to having
a model, and he does not think well of it. It is more pessimistic
than the alternative models that the extramural psychologies work
with. (Psychiatrists Roger Walsh and Dean Shapiro have pointed
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
out that the index to the collected works of Sigmund Freud con
tain over four hundred entries for pathology and none for health.)
The Humanities
Advocates of the human spirit, the humanities were traditionally
the heart of higher education. Today they are neither its heart nor
its center. Having been replaced at the center by professionalism
and science, the humanities are now outlying provinces„in enroll
ing loads are the heaviest, and their time allotted for research is the
This can be seen as a takeover by technology and vocationalism,
but it can just as well be seen as abdication; humanists have
renounced their post as moral mentors. Emerson argued that the
tors no longer wrestle with the purpose of human existence and the
correct ordering of the soul. The sad news,Ž according to Robert
Scholes, is that teachers of literature [his field] are in trouble
THE TUNNELS LEFT WALL
because we have allowed ourselves to be persuaded that we cannot
make truth claims but must go on professing just the same.Ž Carl
Woodring adds dryly, Literature is useful for a skeptical conduct
This skepticism, which all of the humanities now foster, is
effected by two main thrusts, deconstruction (which comes close to
being the heart of postmodernism) and the hermeneutics of suspi
cion. Both call for a brief word. First, deconstruction.
In the game of name-that-song (or that age, or century),
modern
is the best that historians have been able to come up with
ing chapter of this book, postmodernism began as a movement to
question the grand narratives of the Enlightenment and human
progress and has gone on from there to question all worldviews.
Charging that systems (both social and conceptual) are coercive, it
I have never heard deconstruction presented as an extension of
Gödels theorem into philosophy and literary criticism, but
is the bottom line for both. From Aristotle to Turing,
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
generating new ideas, new values, new understandings of the world
and ways we might respond to it„is the stock-in-trade of decon
As I wrote this page, David Carsons
Sight: Grafik design after
crossed my desk. Its message as displayed on its
cover read: creativity is unusual stuff. it frightens. it deranges. its
subversive. it mistrusts what it hears. it dares to doubt. it acts. even
if it errs. it infiltrates preconceived notions. it rattles established
certitudes. it incessantly invents new ways. new vocations. it pro
vokes and changes point of view.Ž The point for this chapter is the
way (in modes such as that one) deconstruction contributes to the
As for the hermeneutics of suspicion, I begin with Steven
Weinbergs report of an elderly friend of his who (at the prospect of
his impending death) says he draws some consolation from the fact
that when that event arrives he will never again have to rush to his
dictionary to look up what the word
hermeneutics
means. It means
posed that X is the case? Suspicious hermeneutics responds, not by
claim at that level at all„but by changing the subject to the unac
knowledged motives that (it alleges) are the real reasons for advanc
THE TUNNELS LEFT WALL
the attack is mounted from a Marxian angle, the real reasons for
making the claim (it is charged) are the claimants class interests.
From the Freudian angle, repressed aggression or libido are cited as
the real cause. In everyday examples, the claimant is accused of
wanting to make a name for himself, or to be a provocateur.
For the notion of truth, the hermeneutics of suspicion has been
a disaster. In Foucault and much of postmodernism generally, truth
comes close to being no more than a power play. Wilfred Cantwell
Smith reported that although
veritas
remains enshrined on the
insignia of Harvard University, the word does not once appear in a
The hermeneutics of suspicion has its place, for motives regu
larly figure in human doings. I will go so far as to admit that this
entire first half of my book can be read as an extended investiga
tion into the way motives we were not conscious of have worked to
cause us to pin our hopes excessively on science. But I do not make
such muckraking my supreme concern. My supreme concern is the
nature of things, to which the second half of this book is devoted.
The slackening of that concern is what produces the nonbelief
Marsden is troubled by. Robert Bellah endorses Marsdens thesis
emphatically. The deepest indictment of todays university, Bellah
says, is that it erodes not just religious belief but all beliefs other
phenomenon in my own backyard recently. At a Labor Day block
party a newcomer recognized me and (giving his interest in philos
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
year or two, and then it dissolves and I start searching again.Ž
Convictionally impaired„
Marsdens nonbelief Ž in a nutshell, and
also a testament to Philip Rieffs charge that the essence of moder
Philosophy
Outside the Western world, philosophy and theology can hardly be
separated, and in the West too they were partners through and
beyond the Middle Ages. Clement described Christianity as the
confluence of two rivers, Athens and Jerusalem, and Thomas
physics to the foundations of Christian theology. In the Middle
Ages, philosophy was the handmaid of theology, and (with Hume
as the lone dissenter) God remained the kingpin in the great mod
ical positivism swept the two aside. Linguistic philosophy slowed
positivism in the third quarter of that century, but the century
closed with its materialistic premise back in place. I remind the
reader of John Searles earlier-quoted assertion that professionals in
philosophy now accept some version of materialism because they
believe that it is the only philosophy consistent with contemporary
That God has no place in such philosophy goes without saying,
but what counts more is the fact that Gods absence is now so
taken for granted that it is hardly noticed. It used to be that while
theists and atheists differed in their conclusions, both sides consid
ered the question important, but that common ground has col
lapsed. The confrontational iconoclasm of Bertrand Russell and
THE TUNNELS LEFT WALL
Jean-Paul Sartre has given way to the atheism of apathy, indiffer
With respect to the human spirit, philosophys compliance with
the gravitational pull of science is only half of the story. The other
half is its reinforcement of that pull by actively pushing itself away
with religion.
Self-esteem entered the picture also, for religions low status in
the university caused philosophers to resent being associated with it
and to demand their own departments. Richard Rorty suggests that
present-day philosophy may be playing out the gloomy vision of
Henry Adams, who (a century or so ago) regarded the new religion
of science as being as self-deceptive as the old-time religion had
Religious Studies
When state universities and colleges were created, it was initially
assumed that the constitutional separation of church and state
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
prohibited the teaching of religion in public institutions. Around
the middle of this century, however, a distinction was drawn
This has not served the human spirit as much as might have
been expected, for when higher education adopted the European
model of the university, it took over its way of studying religion,
(More on this important topic soon.) Auguste Comte had laid
down the line: religion belonged to the childhood of the human
gious studies off to a promising start. The disciplines founding
fathers, who continue to be revered as its giants„linguist Max
Müller, anthropologist Emile Durkheim, and sociologists Max
Weber and Karl Mannheim„were either agnostics or atheists.
Müller confessed to being religiously unmusical,Ž and Mannheim
These early prejudices remain in place. Once the world was
cal character: religions arise not from divine incursions into the
world but from historical circumstances, and they are therefore rel
ative. Freud spun out the psychological variant of this theme by
arguing that religion is a projection of human needs and desires, a
THE TUNNELS LEFT WALL
view all the more sinister because of the unedifying character of the
needs and desires Freud postulated.
Sacred myths and texts are the heart of religion, and its adher
ents accept them as revealed. Having fallen from heaven, so to
speak, they bring news of a reality that exceeds and surpasses our
To a large extent, the defining characteristic of biblical scholar
Scripture without reference to another world. Born in the
Enlightenment, which radically transformed all academic disci
subject matter in accord with the root image of reality that dom
inates the modern mind. RationalŽ explanations„that is,
rationalŽ within the framework of a one-dimensional under
standing of reality„are offered for texts which speak of super
naturalŽ phenomena.
The major sub-disciplines which have emerged in biblical
scholarship are those which can be done without reference to
other levels of reality: studies of the way the biblical writers
redacted the tradition which they received, the form and func
For the Hebrew Bible, Arthur Green has this to say:
Wissenschaft
[the science of history, in the
broad, European meaning of the word
] brought forth the
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
ROM
ONBELIEF TO
The Soul of the Modern University: From Protestant Establishment to
Established Nonbelief
has been invaluable in charting the course for
this chapter, but the two preceding subsections in my own text
show it stopping short of the mark. The modern university is not
agnostic toward religion; it is actively hostile to it. It countenances
spirituality as long as it is left undefined; I have never encountered
nature. But organized, institutionalized spirituality (which is what
religion comes down to) is not well regarded on campus. In a fol-
History helps to place this prejudice in perspective. We know
that universities evolved in Europe from cloisters; the word
initially referred to cloisters of monks who needed to know how to
read in order to perform their offices. And as has been noted, in
THE TUNNELS LEFT WALL
the New World the first colleges were primarily seminaries for
training ministers. But when colleges in the course of becoming
universities loosened or severed their church connections, they
needed a new identity (a new model, if you will), and the German
universities, then the most prestigious in the world, were ready at
hand. They were positivistic to the core, and (because they have
Positivism is the philosophical position usually associated with
thing that (because of its givenness) must be accepted at face value
and without need of explanation. As its negative corollary, the
peeches to Its
Cultured Despisers.
sity remains in place in the American university today. Force of
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
habit explains this in part, but rivalry also enters the picture.
Having won its autonomy from the church, the university has
become the churchs rival for the mind of our times, and rivals sel
dom have the fairest pictures of their opponents positions.
This is not a pleasant topic. I do not recall, in the innumerable
science-religion discussions I have been party to over the years, ever
having heard it laid on the table. But it is a fact of life, and to face
ology which mobilized the businessmen against Franklin D.
Roosevelt.Ž
The sense of lost positionŽ and of prestige passingŽ to others
are the telling clauses here. In his book
Name-Dropping,
Galbraith
generalizes their point in a paragraph that is so germane to the uni-
versitys hostility toward religion that I shall quote it in full:
Two motivating forces exist in any economic system: one is the
desire for money; the other is the need for prestige. The pursuit
of money„income„is widely accepted. But for the business
rate executive or the financier. An active government, like
Roosevelts, all too obviously challenges the basis for business
THE TUNNELS LEFT WALL
business did in the Great Depression] than to see this prestige„
the right of leadership„impaired or invaded.
All that needs to be changed in those words to explain the preju
dice against religion on todays campus (and the disbelief in matters
NEFFECTIVENESS OF THE
HEOLOGICAL
The universitys assault on religion placed theologians in a difficult
position. They needed to counter it to make a place for their con
cerns; at the same time, however, they did not want to withdraw
from the intellectual life of culture, and higher education had
firmly established itself as the primary institutional center for devel
oping the knowledge on which a modern scientific-technological
If I were to choose a flagship for the present short section, it
would be Douglas Sloans
Faith and Knowledge: Mainline
Protestantism and American Higher Education,
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
ward. The latter are not grounded in knowledge. They arise out of
The strength of the twofold approach is that it helps to keep
alive important dimensions of human experience and meaning that
the dominant view of knowledge cannot encompass. It has, how
ever, a fatal weakness. While resisting in certain ways the modern
century theology illustrated that disparity; it did not correct it.
One more occurrence deserves notice before this chapter closes.
THE TUNNELS LEFT WALL
ROFESSIONALISM
The emergence of the American university in the second half of the
ing of intellectual life. Where those universities most revealed their
secularism, freed themselves from the religious orientation that
guided the old colleges, embraced curiosity as a value in itself, and
enshrined reason as the driving force in intellectual life.
This new spirit showed itself especially in the new professional
ism, which reorganized old professions (theology, medicine, and
law) and spawned new ones (business administration, journalism,
ONCLUSION
I round off this chapter on education with two quips that are bit
ing in their content but expressed in ways that keeps them from
sounding bitter.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
The reviewer of a recent spoof on midwestern colleges of agri-
culture„a book titled
Moo U„
opens by saying that the book is of
course a satire, and then proceeds to excuse that fact by asking how
else is it possible to write about todays university.
The second observation was delivered by the art historian A. K.
Coomaraswamy. Imported from India to establish the Asian wing
of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, he is said to have remarked
that several decades as an immigrant had convinced him that it
takes four years to acquire a college education in America and forty
egardless of their profession, most intellectuals are profoundly
socialized by their formal education. This means that universi
ties put the finishing touches on the minds of those who go forth
to rule America. Small wonder, then, that the secularism and anti
LAGSHIP
Edward J. Larsons
Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and
Americas Continuing Debate over Science and Religion
here. Written by a historian of science and professor of law at the
University of Georgia, and published by Harvard University Press
in 1998, it concerns itself with a single phenomenon: the medias
handling of the 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee. Larsons
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
analysis of that event is so revealing that I will devote the first half
of this chapter to reporting it and defer generalizations about the
media to its second half.
Inherit the Wind
Until historians started looking into the matter and their findings
The bare facts from which the film takes off are generally
known. (Because the film was based on the play, I shall refer to
them interchangeably.) In 1925, Tennessee enacted a law against
teaching evolution, and the American Civil Liberties Union (
ACLU
advertised for a biology teacher to test its constitutionality. The
ACLU
had hoped to keep the trial to the free-speech versus majori
THE TUNNELS ROOF
trial,Ž in which John Scopes was convicted of violating the law
against teaching evolution. Under Stanley Kramers theatrically
brilliant and blatantly partisan reenactment of the trial, the film all
but replaced the trial itself in the publics memory. Writing at the
time, Irving Stone said that the film had dealt the deathblow to
fundamentalism, which the film did not distinguish from religion
generally. If time has proved Stone wrong, no credit goes to
Inherit
the Wind.
The Plays the Thing
Inherit the Wind
opens with Leslie Uggams singing Give Me That
Old-Time ReligionŽ in dirgelike, drumbeat cadence as three stern
faced officials and a preacher in a small Southern town march into
a schoolroom to arrest a biology teacher who is rumored to be
teaching evolution. We next see this teacher, John Scopes (there is
film gives the protagonists), being visited behind bars by his lovely
pled, soon-to-be husband and her love for her Bible-thumping
father, who regards Scopes as the devil himself. This is a standard
ately offered to pay the minimum fine of one hundred dollars that
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
the Dayton train station, he is given a heros welcome and an
ing, Well hang John Scopes to the sour apple tree,Ž and not even
the flamboyant atheism of the trials star reporter„ H.L. Mencken
Baltimore Sun
ble as, Hooligans of the world unite; you have no one to burn but
your intellectuals.Ž
The actual facts are these. In the hope of reversing three decades
of declining population, Daytons town fathers saw in the
ACLU
search for a biology teacher to test the legality of the Tennessee law
a golden opportunity to put Dayton back on the map. That its
problem; the football coach and general science teacher, John
ogy from his students than they had learned from him, for at least
they had had six weeks of instruction from someone who knew
The town fathers strategy exceeded their wildest hopes. Over two
hundred reporters alone poured into Dayton, and the trial turned
out to be the first in America to receive international coverage.
Liberties of the sort I have mentioned lace the film throughout,
all of them designed to make the point that science is reasonable,
THE TUNNELS ROOF
forward-looking, and tolerant, whereas religion (equated with fun
damentalism) is bigoted, closed-minded, and backward-looking.
Despite Bryans explicit assertion on the stand that he read the six
days of creation allegorically, he is depicted as a dyed-in-the-wool
biblical literalist. Whats more, the humanitarian side of his case is
totally ignored. Bryan was first and foremost a passionate humani
tarian. He was an irrepressible evangelist for social reform, and
social Darwinism (which would soon be discredited) was then in
its heyday. Bryan had seen the survival-of-the-fittest theory used to
defend the robber barons in America, and in Germany to justify
the brutal militarism that led to World War I. This had led him to
believe that the Darwinian theory represents man as reaching his
present perfection by the operation of the law of hate, the merciless
law by which the strong crowd out and kill off the weak.Ž
One would never guess from the film that it was this perception
of Darwinism that mostly drew Bryans fire, for the film focuses on
Darrows making a fool of Bryan via his (inaccurately portrayed)
beliefs on evolution and scoring thereby a thumping victory for sci
ence. The reporters who covered the trial saw things differently.
They took the confrontation to be the opening skirmish in a battle
lical literalism. (I made up my mind to show the country what an
ignoramus he was,Ž Darrow wrote to Mencken after the trial, and
In actuality, Bryan did not consider himself beaten at all. He
spent the following days issuing statements to the press and prepar
ing a fifteen-thousand-word stump speech that would continue his
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
battle against Darwinism and Darrow. He did (as it turned out) die
five days after the trial, but not because his spirit was broken.
Referring to Bryans legendary love for food, Darrow said he died
of a busted belly.
Inherit the Wind
acted alone in misrepresent
ing the Scopes trial, but the distortions started building a year or
two after the trial itself. If a single book were to be credited with
launching them, it would be Lewis Allens
Only Yesterday,
was published in 1931 and sold over a million copies. A racy book
In all, Allens treatment of the trial left the impression that it
amounted to a triumph of reason over revelation, and this became
the received version of the matter. By the time of the McCarthyite
Fifties, even historians of the stature of Richard Hofstadter were
citing the trial as an expression of the dark, anti-intellectual forces
in America. Almost half a century was to elapse before this stereo
type of the trial was clearly recognized to be such and efforts were
initiated to correct it. In a piece titled A Visit to Dayton,Ž pub
cance, and several other historical studies (Ray Gingers
Six Days or
Forever: Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes,
and Edward Larsons initial
Trial and Error: The American Legal
Controversy
THE TUNNELS ROOF
over Creation and Evolution,
which prepared the ground for his
definitive study„the flagship for this chapter) back Gould up on
Art has rights of its own, of course. It has to select and highlight to
keep its storyline clear, and along the way it may have to pit good
guys against bad guys. Be it said, therefore, that the revealing fact
Inherit the Wind
is not that it takes liberties. Even its gargan
tuan licenses can be excused (if one wishes to excuse them) by call
tive is to try to imagine the roles in
Inherit the Wind
reversed. In
todays climate of opinion, can we imagine Hollywood using the
Scopes trial as the basis for a story that cast William Jennings
Bryan in the role of the hero and Clarence Darrow the villain?
Edward Larson does not charge that
Inherit the Wind
from thin air; intellectual intolerance was certainly an important
issue in the case. What Larson does (in addition to flagging the fac
tual errors in the film) is to restore attention to aspects of the trial
that are commonly overlooked and that continue to reverberate
today in discussions about the place of science and religion in pub
lic schools. The fear Bryan voiced during the trial„that we shall
lose the consciousness of Gods presence in our daily life if we must
accept the theory [Darwinism] that through all the ages no spiri
tual force has touched the life of man and shaped the destiny of
nationsŽ„reads as if it could have been uttered yesterday. And in
uttered virtually yesterday, in the recent brouhaha
over Darwinism in Kansas.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
PDATE
I would not have devoted the space I have to
Inherit the Wind
did not see it as the most graphic index I know of the way the
media handle religion in our time. Media coverage of the Kansas
Board of Educations August 1999 decisions regarding evolution
confirms that impression, so I will tack that case on as an update.
My local newspaper,
The San Francisco Chronicle,
followed the pat
tern across the country in titling its editorial on the decision A
Vote for Ignorance,Ž but if we look below the surface we find that
it was the medias coverage of the decision that raised the ignorance
level of our nation.
If that sounds like an irresponsible charge, I ask the reader
Contrary to the impression the media gave, the Kansas decision
increased
its public schools emphasis on evolution. The old
science standards (in effect since 1995) devoted about 70 words to
biological evolution, whereas the new one increased that to about
390 words. While that is short of the approximately 640 words the
Kansas Science Education Standards Writing Committee wanted,
it is still a fivefold increase over what had been on the books before.
Word counts dont tell the whole story, of course, but the 390
words approved by the school board included many of the provi
sions the committee recommended. The board adopted verbatim
the committees summary of Darwins theory, which read:
Natural selection includes the following concepts: 1) Heritable
variation exists in every species; 2) some heritable traits are more
advantageous to reproduction and/or survival than are others; 3)
there is a finite supply of resources available for life; not all prog
THE TUNNELS ROOF
eny survive; 4) individuals with advantageous traits generally
survive; 5) the advantageous traits increase in the population
through time.
The board mandated that Kansas students be tested on this
summary of Darwins theory of natural selection„a summary that
it would be hard to improve on. It also required students to under
So what is so bad about Kansas, and why the uproar? The prob
lem lies in the school boards refusal to adopt two of the proposals
that its science committee would have liked to have had included.
First, it declined to require students to understand that micro
evolution leads to macroevolution„the origin of new structures
and new groups of organisms. And second, it did not require stu
dents to elevate biological evolution into a unifying conceptŽ of
science, on a par with such concepts as evidenceŽ and form and
function.Ž But it is hard to regard those declinations as votes for
ignorance when professional biologists themselves do not agree on
The presss bias in reporting the Kansas affair comes to light not
only in the way it covered the event, but also in the way it did not.
I refer to the symposium on the decision that Washburn University
in Topeka mounted in the wake of the uproar. As this was (to my
knowledge) the only responsible academic discussion of the case
that took place„responsible in that both sides of the controversy
were allotted equal time„one would have thought that journalists
would have seen it as an opportunity to add depth to the story, but
not so. As far as I have been able to discover, outside Topeka the
press ignored the event.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
In doing so it withheld from the nation a telling fact„that the
biology department at the Washburn University abstained from the
discussion. What does its abstention do to the image of science as
grounded in free and open discourse?
There is a scene near the end of
Inherit the Wind
present context as if it had been scripted to lead from the film itself
to the broader issue of the medias treatment of religion generally. A
character identified as Radio Man enters the courtroom carrying a
large microphone. He explains that the microphone is connected
by direct wire to Station
WGN
in Chicago. He then proceeds to
report to the nation at large what is happening in the courtroom.
William Jennings Bryan, famed as an orator with a huge voice,
attempts to speak into the microphone. He fumbles with the new
ever, the program director in Chicago decides that his speech has
aired long enough and Radio Man breaks in to announce that the
Phillip Johnson of the University of California Boalt School of
Law extracts from this scene an issue that he calls Who owns the
microphone?Ž The microphone (that is, the news media in general)
can cancel anything Bryan might say by simply turning off his
mike. Being himself a critic of Darwinisms exaggerated claims,
Johnson ties this point to his own experience. In todays media
THE TUNNELS ROOF
My own counterpart to his report comes from my field of world
religions. Several years back the religion reporter for one of the
nations leading newspapers flew to the Bay Area to interview me for
a profile she intended to write. After the usual questions concerning
my background, formative influences, human interest items, and
flicts. I told her that they tend to be more political than religious,
and that triggered a mini-lecture that ran roughly like this:
ring parties with their respective identities, but it does not follow
that the differences in those identities are the cause of the conflict
under review. In the way logicians put this point, multiple identi
ties are a
necessary
dition. The case is the same as it is with people. For there to be a
fight there must be distinct parties, but the plurality of the parties
does not require that they fight. It provides the conditions for
friendship as well as for hate.
That states the matter abstractly, I explained to the reporter, and
REPORTER
: Are there any Muslims in your village?
WOMAN
: No.
REPORTER
: What would you do if there was one?
WOMAN
: We would tell him to leave.
REPORTER
: And if he refused?
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
WOMAN
: We would kill him.
REPORTER
WOMAN
: Because thats what they did to us four hundred years ago.
Not always, to be sure. When a religion
history, its distinc
tive, defining beliefs are in conflict with those of its progenitors and
neighbors and are thus perceived as threats. Was Jesus the Messiah or
was he not? Was the Hindu caste system acceptable or, as the
The reporter heard me out and then said, I think I understand
very clearly what youve said, but my editor doesnt. What he wants
from me is terrorism and holy wars, preferably jihads
If it bleeds, it
leads.Ž And sure enough (I speak for myself now), that is predomi
nantly what the media give us when it comes to religion.
Having mentioned Bosnia, I will mention a second example in
the same vein that involved me personally. It occurred in the 1970s
when the Middle East was in flames. On the day that American
hostages were taken in Lebanon, Americans could think of nothing
THE TUNNELS ROOF
else, and in the afternoon„I was teaching at Syracuse University at
the time„I received a call from a colleague in political science. His
Collegiality led me to agree, but I can still remember my heavy
tread as I made my way across campus to his classroom, for I knew
Experience had taught me that he hoped I would be able to point
to doctrinal differences that could help to explain the conflicts in
That is where the matter begins, but not where it ends.
Reporters are taught as the art of their craft to keep their personal
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
opinions out of their stories„Nothing but the facts, maam;
nothing but the facts.Ž But the dictum does not apply when their
Dionne would not be telling that story if things had not tran
spired exactly as the rain doctor had predicted: the sun came out,
Whenever he tells this story to journalism students, Dionne asks
how they would have handled it. He finds the predictable consen
But what, he then asks, does that do to
public life is thoroughly secularized. The separation of church
nition of religion at all, is more deeply entrenched in America
than anywhere else. Religion has been relegated to the sidelines of
THE TUNNELS ROOF
the culture of criticism is understood to rule out religious com
mitments. The elites attitude to religion ranges from indifference
to active hostility. It rests on a caricature of religious fundamen
talism as a reactionary movement bent on reversing all the pro
gressive measures achieved over the last several decades.
Intellectuals typically present religion as comforting people with
the agreeable illusion that they are the center of the universe, the
object of Gods loving-kindness and rapt attention, Lasch contin
ues. But (in a paragraph that is not easy reading but is important
the most radical form of religious faith relentlessly attacks. Thus,
This view of God, Lasch concludes, bears no resemblance to
Freuds benign father figure conjured up by childlike human beings
out of their unconscious need for dependence. Freud (whom intel
that religion answers the need for dependence, whereas Edwards
extols those who self-confidently disclaim any such need. Indeed,
such persons find it galling to be reminded of their personal
dependence on a power beyond their own control.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
The line that runs from Christopher Laschs observations to the
media is not circuitous, and the object of this chapter is to point
out how straight it is. Before I close, however, I want to insert a few
paragraphs about advertising. They will be brief, because advertis
sary to take passing note of certain structural changes in the uni
versity (because their effects on students spirits have been so pro
nounced that not to mention them at all would have looked like an
oversight), so likewise here.
AYS THE
IPER
It is advertising that in large part governs the media, because it is
advertising that pays the medias bills. Insofar as it takes it upon
itself to inform people of products they are unaware of that could
enhance their lives, advertising performs a valuable service, but it
would be naive to assume that advertising agencies see that as their
mission. Persuasion rather than information is their object.
suaders, for technology has become so efficient at mass-production
that the problem has shifted from production to consumption„
moving products out of warehouses to forestall glut. This makes
That paragraph positions advertising in its social context, but
THE TUNNELS ROOF
Imagine three different scenarios that follow from finding a wal
The first step is to establish ourselves as moral agents. This
involves learning to captain our desires instead of being their slaves.
If we fail to achieve that upper hand, a Japanese adage reports the
consequence: First the man takes a drink, then a drink takes a
drink, and then drink takes the man.Ž As to which of our desires
should be reinforced, it is those that will benefit us in the long run
and will further the public good.
Advertising works against all of these moral needs. It presses for
ONCLUSION
It has been this chapters object to document the obvious„that the
minds of journalists have been forged in the academy and shaped
by its secular hammerings. Garry Wills calls journalists on that
point. In their eyes, he says, their secular outlook justifies them in
ignoring the 120 million people or so in America who regularly
practice their religion. It is careless,Ž Wills continues,
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
versity mounted on his arrival, one of the reporters asked him,
Mr. Bellow, you are a writer and we are writers. Whats the differ
cerned with news of the day. As a novelist, I am concerned with
I anticipate the second half of this book when I add to Mr.
Bellows remark the assertion that the third millennium will be well
T
rying to relate the human spirit to laws is tricky business. For
one thing, laws keep changing; every important decision adds
a precedent that future decisions must build on. Philosophers used
to say that to characterize Bertrand Russells philosophy you had to
look at your watch„when did he write the piece in question.
A second problem is that opinions differ as to what the consti
tutional doctrine of the separation of church and state primarily
intends. Is the intent to protect churches from governmental
interference or to protect politics from religious pressure groups?
Underlying both of these problems is the fact that there is no way
to keep church and state separate. They have always jostled each
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
LAGSHIP
For the final flagship book that I shall be using, I have chosen
Stephen Carters
The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and
Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion.
me begins (after a few minutes of hatha yoga) with the reading of a
passage from one of the worlds enduring scriptures. This morning
(just before sitting down to start this chapter on the law) I found
myself reading, in the Gospel According to Luke, Woe to you,
lawyers. For you load people with burdens hard to bear and you
yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them
.... You have
away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you
hindered those who were entering.Ž
Dismiss this as coincidence, see it as Carl Jungs synchronicity,
dent. Asked by an American reporter about his religious beliefs, he
am
superstitious.Ž
Back to business. If the denunciation of lawyers I quoted were
left unqualified, I would want no part of it. But as I noted, this
Carter, who teaches law at Yale University, explains that he
wrote his book because he had noticed an increase in the marginal
ization of religion in public life during the thirty years of his career
THE TUNNELS RIGHT WALL
and wanted to look into the laws role in the decline. As he told an
interviewer when his book was published,
in an earlier era, although there was never as healthy a respect
for religious pluralism as there should have been, I do think
there was a healthy respect for what counted as religion. People
might have been somewhat limited in their visions of what
counted as religion, but there was a respect for it, and I think
this was true right across the political spectrum and up and
down the social and economic ladder. That has changed. There
is less respect for religion, less of an appreciation of it as an
important force that can genuinely be the motive force in peoples
The legal systems contribution to that loss fits snugly into the
tury unfolded, the dominant, liberal-rationalist culture increasingly
ingly they arrogated to themselves the power to reinforce it. Carters
criticism of this is not shrill. For the most part he simply urges that
rulers treat religious concerns more respectfully than they have
taken to doing. But he does come down hard on a 1990 United
States Supreme Court decision,
Employment Division v. Smith
which stripped the Native American Church of its constitutional
rights. Because that decision claimed two years of my working life
(two of its most rewarding years but more on that later), I will use
it for the showpiece in this chapter, a role parallel to that played by
Inherit the Wind
in the chapter preceding.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
MPLOYMENT
For whatever reasons (perhaps because the issue was too hot to
handle), the framers of the U.S. Constitution left religious matters
to the states. This was the clear intent of the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of reli
gion or the free exercise thereof.Ž Two centuries later,
Employment
Division v. Smith
flew squarely in the face of this stipulation and
stood it on its head. The Oregon State Supreme Court had ruled
that one of its citizens, Alfred Leo Smith, was entitled to belong to
his Native American Church, and the U.S. Supreme Court over
ruled that decision. Since the story that produced that ruling is not
widely known outside legal circles, I will summarize it.
Born on the Klamath reservation, Alfred Smith was (at the age
of eight) taken from his parents and placed in a Catholic parochial
school. His entire formal education took place in boarding schools.
He talks of the consequences:
Those were difficult times for me. I was separated from my
family and stripped of my language, my culture, and my iden
tity,
and eventually I became an alcoholic. At the age of
thirty-six I
stopped drinking and began a life of recovery
through Alcoholics Anonymous. Fifteen years later I was intro
duced to my first sweat lodge ceremony. That was the beginning
of my introduction to the way my ancestors had lived, and to
this day I receive spiritual guidance through the Native
American Church.
After his recovery Smith developed Native American programs
for alcohol and drug abuse. His final job in that field was in
Roseburg, Oregon, where he was hired to help develop services for
Native American clientele. Things proceeded smoothly until one
Friday afternoon his superior called him into his office and asked
THE TUNNELS RIGHT WALL
him if he was a member of the Native American Church. When
Smith said that he was, his superior asked if he took that drugŽ
(i.e., peyote). No,Ž Smith replied, but I do partake of my churchs
sacrament.Ž His boss told him that peyote was illegal and that he
was unwilling to have a lawbreaker on his payroll. The following
Monday his boss summoned him back into his office and asked if
Smith had gone to his church over the weekend. When Smith said
that he had, the boss again asked if he had taken that drug.Ž
When Smith answered as before„No, but I did take my churchs
sacramentŽ„he was terminated (along with another member of
the church who worked in the same agency).
Native Americans are not well schooled in standing up for their
rights. (I once heard Daniel Inouye, chair of the Senate committee
on Indian Affairs, say in the course of a congressional hearing, It
does not please me to report that in the over eight hundred
treaties that the United States has signed with the Indians, the
United States has broken every one of them, while making sure
that the Indians lived up to their side of the agreements.Ž) Alfred
Smith, however, proved to be a notable exception. He did not ask
to be reinstated, but he did ask to receive the benefits he had
earned, and (when they were denied him) he carried his case
through the Oregon courts. These swung back and forth on the
issue until, six years later, the supreme court of the state vindi
cated his claim. But then Oregons attorney general referred the
decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned the
Oregon ruling.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Supreme Court singled out for oppressive action the weakest,
One of my students, James Botsford went into Native American
law, and the morning after the Smith decision he phoned me to ask
Because congressional representatives are sensitive to the wishes
of their constituents, the Native American coalition saw a need to
educate the public about the issue in question. After they produced
a documentary film,
The Peyote Road,
Reuben decided it needed a
THE TUNNELS RIGHT WALL
Act Amendments, which restored to the Native American Church
its constitutional rights. That turned the book into a celebratory
account of the Native Americans victory over the highest court of
the land. Co-edited by Reuben Snake and titled
One Nation Under
God: The Triumph of the Native American Church,
it tells a story to
inspire freedom-loving peoples everywhere.
With this autobiographical connection included, I go back now
to the agent that provoked the
Smith
decision, peyote. Peyote is
illegal in the United States at present. It is classified as a Schedule
One drug„right up there with heroin„and the mistake begins
right there, for peyote is a harmless cactus to which addiction is
Other churches have not fared as well.
ESTORATION
Employment Division v. Smith
sent shockwaves through the
churches of the land, for while the Native American Church was its
eral: If its them today, tomorrow it could be us.Ž So it was that,
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
the day after the U.S. Supreme Courts decision, the largest coali
tion of religious bodies ever to unite in a common cause„some
seventy-five in all„entered a brief asking the court to reconsider
its decision, which it refused to do.
The churches had reason to be concerned, for no one had expected
the provisions of
Smith
to be so far reaching. Through hundreds of
federal and state cases relating to American religious freedom in the
last two hundred years, the phrase compelling state interestŽ had
emerged as the test for state intervention. Unless the state could prove
that there was a compelling need to intervene, it was not entitled to
do so.
Smith
lowered that threshold to a rational basis.Ž
nal laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion.Ž (Put more
simply,
Smith
mandated Congress to disregard the First
Amendment if the law being considered is classed as a criminal
law.) Finally, the court suggested that the First Amendment does
not protect the free exercise of religion unless some other First
Amendment right, such as speech or association, is involved.
This, of course, makes religious freedom irrelevant, for those
other rights are independently protected. Milner Ball, professor
of constitutional law at the University of Georgia, said at the time
that after
Smith,
there is a real and troublesome question about
THE TUNNELS RIGHT WALL
there. Or at least, that is the way the
Smith
case has left the law.Ž
I have already referred to the consternation that the
Smith
sion awakened in the religious community, and it sprang into
action immediately. With the strong support of President Clinton,
pelling interestŽ phrase as the standard that government agencies
ARGINALIZING
Legal landscape is neither monochrome nor unchanging, so (as
would be expected) there have been deviations from the general
course that I have traced. But on balance the courts have been
transforming the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment
[which, to repeat, states that congress shall make no law respecting
an establishment of religion] from a guardian of religious liberty
Carter acknowledges the liberals point that the American ideal
is threatened when religious power mixes too intimately with polit
ical power. He argues, however, that the greater threat comes when
the church is no longer kept merely separate but is forced into a
position of utter subservience, its voice disregarded in the great
public discussions (or even disqualified from joining them). Ameri
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
can liberalism is showing toward religion an increasing hostility,
Carter argues, and the consequent culture of disbelief threatens
more than religious misfits„Moonies, Hutterites, and the like.
The real danger is that citizens in general will accept the cultures
assumption that religious faith has no real bearing on civic respon
sibility. Should that happen, prevailing cultural mores will have a
higher claim on us than do privately held convictions of con
science, however arrived at.
Our political discourse accommodates itself to this wall of sepa
ration. Civil religion (The Battle Hymn of the RepublicŽ at inau
gurations, In God We TrustŽ on our currency) reinforces rather
than refutes Carters point, for shallow deference to religious forms
works to trivialize and domesticateŽ authentic faith. Rather than
At their best,Ž Carter quotes David Tracy, religions always
bear extraordinary powers of resistance. When not domesticated
as sacred canopies for the status quo nor wasted by their own self
contradictory grasps at power, religions live by resisting.Ž And
(James Carroll adds) the state lives by being resisted. The genius
THE TUNNELS RIGHT WALL
Constitution weave this possibility into its very fabric. That is
why this country has for more than two centuries thrived by
Because religions perspective is rooted not only outside its insti
tutions and outside the national code, but also outside history and
time itself, citizens whose religion really matters to them provide an
inexhaustible source of the energy needed for human renewal.
How? By enacting, in Carters phrase, the role of external moral
critic, and an alternative source of values and meaning.Ž Without
mined opposition we would have had American troops in Guate
mala and El Salvador a decade later, Robert Bellah reminds us.
at root, is why Carter deplores the culture of disbelief and
laws contributions to it.
REATIONISM
This chapter began with a case study,
Employment Division v.
Smith,
Courts require that children attend school, and in public schools
only sciences answer to the question of human origins may be
taught. From Tennessee (1925), through Arkansas
ana (1987), attempts have been made to clear a space where
(implicitly if not explicitly) God might be brought into the picture,
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
but on alleged constitutional grounds the courts have consistently
denied God that space.
I do not argue that (given the way the cases alluded to were
framed) the courts ruled wrongly. My point, rather, is that we do
not have the pieces in this picture positioned aright. How they
Reduced to simplest terms, courts rightly assume that theism is
a religious position, while wrongly assuming that atheism is not. It
will be countered that atheism is not
which is true if teaching is taken to proceed explicitly only and not
implicitly as well, but no educational theorist thinks that the two
Specifically, when in 1987 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down
Louisianas statute requiring that creation-science be taught along
side evolution-science, Justice William Brennan argued for the m
Edwards v. Aguillard
tional establishment of religionŽ because the legislatures purpose
was clearly to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural
being created mankind.Ž The phrase
creation-science
izing. Religious claims are not squarely faced for their truth or fal
sity. Rather, they are eased out of the picture by classifications; in
this case, theism is religious, while its alternative is not. This is sup
posed to reflect a national policy of neutrality, but the move is any
THE TUNNELS RIGHT WALL
thing but neutral when the effect is to exclude important ideas and
public policies from national scrutiny and debate.
If the courts were to say that the naturalistic worldview is true
exposed as having scrapped the Establishment Clause. What it has
done instead is to create legal categories that
worldview, sealing it from public discussion and relegating it to the
private sphere. This is as if in a debate the judge were to decide for
the negative, not because its arguments were stronger but because
the affirmatives arguments were ruled out of order. The conse
quences are far-reaching. There is no doubt that in developed
ONCLUSION
tion is appropriate. Resistance does not presume radical separation
of church and state any more than does identification. It presumes
a dynamic interaction of the one realm with the other. But the last
like Republican convention of 1992, which sent out warning
signals by nailing into its platform planks lifted from the religious
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Neither side enters this fray from a position of superiority. If
faith properly enables religious citizens to resist the unjust policies
of government, it does so because it has first enabled those citizens
to resist the dark sides of themselves.
PART 2
THE LIGHT AT THE
TUNNELS END
Having devoted the first half of this book to describing the tunnel
that modernism shunted us into by mistaking scientism for sci
ence, I turn in this second half to the future. Is light appearing at
the tunnels end? Are we stalled on a siding? Are we„this I do not
think is the case„continuing to move deeper into the tunnel
These are important questions, and the chapters ahead take
them on if for no other reason than that our interest in the future
is part of what makes human beings interesting. Those questions
are not, however, the main object of this books remainder. After
they have been toyed with, the closing chapters of the book, begin
pare for the future, which is to be clear about features of the reli
gious landscape that do not change. History is unpredictable,„
crystal balls are always a mystery„but a map that registers
unchanging aspects of the terrain can orient us whatever comes our
way. In the process it will help to show us why religion matters.
cience can prove nothing about God, because God lies outside
its province. But as I devoted a chapter in my
Forgotten Truth
demonstrating, its resources for deepening religious insights and
religious thinking are inexhaustible.
stand (more profoundly than even the spiritual giants of the past
could do) why light is uniquely suited for that role. If Einstein
could say at one point in his career that he wanted for the rest of
his life to reflect on the nature of light, surely the question war
ferent. All three of these assertions hold for God, as does a fourth.
Light creates.
Uncanny as they are, the basic features of Einsteins Special Theory
of Relativity have worked their way into our common stock of
knowledge. The speed of light„186,000 miles a second„is an
unvarying constant, and everything else in the physical universe
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
adjusts to it. Seated in their stalled cars at a railroad crossing, impa
tient drivers see the train whizzing past them, while its passengers
windows in the opposite direction.
That relativity concerns space; but physics locks space, time, and
rated at all. Moreover, it would seem as if the world were pouring
out of you, you and your fellow photons, because light creates. It
pumps power into the spatio-temporal world. This is most obvious
in the process of photosynthesis, where the immaterial light flowing
tion. Plants absorb lights immaterial energy-flow and store it in the
form of chemically bonded energy. If we look beneath biochemistry
at natures foundations, we see that lights creativity comes to lightŽ
there through its early appearance in the sequence that produces
matter in its successive stages. (The phrase comes to lightŽ is not a
pun. Everywhere in recorded history light doubles for intelligibility,
comprehension, understanding, and„underlying all of these„con-
Everything that was compressed into that preceding paragraph is
strange, so it will not hurt to restate its content. Space? R
that seated on light„a photon„you are going nowhere. Time?
Time does not exact from photons the toll that it does elsewhere;
how could it when clocks stop at the speed of light? As for matter,
photons have neither the rest-mass nor the charge that material
If (in some such way as I have described) light produces the physi
cal universe, it is also responsible for its permutations. Quantum
mechanics tells us that the essence of every interaction in the universe
is the exchange of quanta of energy. A single quantum is the smallest
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
What this all comes down to is that the two great epochal
If you suspect that I am leading up to saying that physics tells us
that light is God, you are wrong, for I began this chapter by saying
that science cannot touch that subject. But the boost that physics
has given to light as a
zling. If (and I emphasize the conditional here) God were to create
a physical universe, what physicists describe sounds like how God
might have gone about that job.
This section has approached light
objectively,
as a feature of the
external world. Now we move to the way we
subjectively
UBJECTIVELY
XPERIENCED
It stands to reason that if light symbolizes clarity, lucidity, and
comprehension, darkness stands for their opposites. How could it
be otherwise when in the dark we grope, stagger, stumble, and fall?
Our disorientation erupts into our feelings. Nobody feels good at
four in the morning,Ž a contemporary poem begins, and there is
Gerald Manley Hopkinss memorable, I wake and feel the fell of
night, not day; / Self-yeast of the spirit, a dull dough sours.Ž
Lusseyrans life must surely be numbered among the most
vivors of a shipment of two thousand men who were on their way
to Buchenwald. Stunned by their deliverance, Lusseyran tells us,
the men could not at first even rejoice in their freedom.
ernment barring invalids.Ž For you see, Lusseyran had been
totally blind since the age of eight. While roughhousing during
a school recess, one of his friends had accidentally knocked
Lusseyran over, slamming the back of his head into a sharp corner
of the teachers desk. The force of the blow drove a broken rim of
his spectacles into his eyes, leaving him to live out his life in total
darkness.
Or so we would suppose. I would not be telling this story here
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Not at first, he admits. For a time he tried to use his eyes in
their usual way and direct his attention outward, but then some
instinct made him change course. In his own words,
I began to look from an inner place to one further within,
whereupon the universe redefined itself and peopled itself anew.
I was aware of a radiance emanating from a place I knew noth
ing about, a place which might as well have been outside me as
within. But radiance was there, or more precisely, light. I bathed
in it as an element which blindness had suddenly brought much
closer. I could feel light rising, spreading, resting on objects, giv
ing them form, then leaving them. Or rather withdrawing or
diminishing, for the opposite of light was never present. With
out my eyes, light was much more stable than it had been with
Arthur Zajoncs
Catching the Light: The Entwined History of
Mind and Life
provides a splendid, comprehensive survey of the
subject of this chapter, but Lusseyrans account is the closest I have
seen to a description of what Einsteins and Plancks light might
feel like if we human beings could experience it directly. To what
Lusseyran has already told us, I shall add only his report of the two
virtues that invariably accompanied the light that reconstituted
The first of these was joy. I found light and joy at the same
moment,Ž he writes. The light that shone in my head was like joy
distilled, and from the time of my discovery, light and joy have
never been separated in my experience.Ž The connection was two
way. When negative emotions intruded on joy, his light became
harsh, broken, jagged, and grating. In this sense, fear, anger and
impatience made me blind. The minute before I knew just where
everything in the world was, but if I got angry, things got angrier
than I. They mixed themselves up, turned turtle, muttered like
crazy men and looked wild. I no longer knew where to put hand or
foot, and everything hurt me.Ž
The second virtue was that his intuitive powers were enhanced.
My sighted companions were nimble in bodily movements over
which I hesitated. But as soon as it was a question of intangibles, it
It was this quantum leap in intuitive judgment that catapulted
Lusseyran to leadership in the resistance movement. His ability to
size up peoples character and see through their dissembling was so
dangerous job of recruiting, and everyone who applied to join the
underground was sent to him for acceptance or rejection. His deci
sions were infallible, or (as he confesses) nearly so, for there was
one man he admitted to the movement of whom he was not
Lusseyran protested his being debarred from the
Ecole Normale
Supérieure
on grounds of his blindness and he was admitted. After
graduating with honors, he taught in France and in the United
States at Hollins College, Case Western Reserve University, and the
University of Hawaii. He was tragically killed in an automobile
ONCLUSION
I close this chapter as I began it: God cannot be proved. There are
proofs,
the same holds for phenomenological reports such as Lusseyrans.
But the power in these sermons is remarkable. Because color with
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
physical ear) can recite the Nicene Creed„God from God, Light
from Light, very God from very GodŽ„without new comprehen
sion after reflecting on the things that this chapter has touched on?
For myself, I add to the above what Reuben Snake once told me:
When we Indians first step out-of-doors in the morning, we raise
rediction,Ž Niels Bohr told us, is very difficult, especially
about the future.Ž When I first came upon his remark I
thought it was a quip, but then I realized that he was probably sepa
rating predictions about the future from those about the outcomes
of laboratory experiments. In any case, his point is incontestable:
predicting the future is difficult to the point of being foolhardy.
Even limiting prediction to the concern of this book„the human
spirit„helps very little. Still, to look before and aft, and pine for
what is not,Ž is built into the human makeup, so we have no choice.
The first part of this book looked aft; this part looks ahead.
Accuracy is in the lap of the gods, notably Chronos. Time will tell.
Taking my cue from weather reports, I lay out in this chapter
two conflicting reports that we pick up from different stations. The
first tells us that the skies are clearing after a major storm and the
future of religion looks bright, even assured. (Atmosphere clear,
visibility unlimited,Ž is a report that is seldom heard from air
traffic control towers, but it is on the books.) Meanwhile, from
another weather station we hear the opposite. A tornado is
approaching that could level religion forever. Beginning with the
storm warning, I shall spell out these two reports and then align
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
nology created the modern
world.
The citizens of these new physi
cal and conceptual environments constitute a new human breed
whose beliefs correspond to very little in the human heritage. As a
consequence, religion„the carrier of the traditional heritage„has
been marginalized, both intellectually and politically.
First, politically. Easier travel and mass migrations have intro
duced a new phenomenon in history: cultural pluralism. The result
has been to displace religion from public life, for religion divides
whereas politics works for common ground on which citizens can
adjudicate their differences. Concurrently, religion has been margin
alized intellectually. Science has no place for revelation as a source of
knowledge, and as modernists tend to think with science on matters
of truth, confidence in revelation has declined. Marx considered
religion the sob of an oppressed humanity,Ž and Freud saw it as a
symptom of immaturity. Children who cannot accept the limita
tions of their actual parents dream of a Father in heaven who is free
of those limitations. Theism is wish fulfillment, a pandering to the
oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind,Ž and religious
experience (the oceanic feelingŽ) is regression into the womb.
For religion to be marginalized socially and forced to the wall
intellectually is no small event. Some see it as substantial enough to
warrant the pronouncement that God is dead. Sociologists compile
statistics on the change, but for the intellectual historian two devel
opments suffice. First, on the question of Gods existence, the burden
of proof has shifted to the theists; and as proofs of the supernatural
are difficult in any case, the classic proofs for Gods existence have
Such has become the common lot of most intellectuals. Their
How, in the face of these seemingly irrefutable signs of faiths
decline, is it possible to argue that the future of religion is promising?
One of the interesting recent developments in physics has been the
realization that the observer must be included in experiments at that
fields micro-frontiers. It is not just that we cannot know where a
particle is until we perform an experiment to locate it. The particle is
This lifes dim windows of the soul
Distorts the heavens from pole to pole
And leads you to believe a lie
When you see with, not thro, the Eye.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
How does this affect the question of religions future? The death-
of-God prediction of religions demise was reported through eyes
that register data that is available to everyone. Religion, though,
sees through the eyes of faith, and in doing so sees a different
In this new light things look different in ways that are over
whelmingly convincing. Arguments are irrelevant here, as they are
when a rope that was mistaken for a snake is recognized for what it
actually is. The sacred world is the truer, more veridical world, in
part because it
including it, it redeems that world by situating it in a context that
is meaningful throughout. As the Zen master Haquin put it, This
ground on which I stand / Is the shining lotus land, / And this
body is the body of the Buddha.Ž
Seen through the eyes of faith, religions future is secure. As long
as there are human beings, there will be religion for the sufficient
reason that the self is a theomorphic creature„one whose
God encased within it. Having been created in the
imago Dei,
the image of God, all human beings have a God-shaped
vacuum built into their hearts. Since nature abhors a vacuum, peo
ple keep trying to fill the one inside them. Searching for an image
of the divine that will fit, they paw over various options as if they
were pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, matching them successively to the
gaping hole at the puzzles center. (We are back to Chapter Two
and the women pawing over mountains of lingerie. Calvin likened
the human heart to an idol factory.) They keep doing this until the
right pieceŽ is found. When it slips into place, lifes jigsaw puzzle
is solved.
How so? Because the sight of the picture that then emerges is so
commanding that it swings attention from the self who is viewing
the picture to the picture itself. This epiphany, with its attendant
ego-reduction, is
salvation
in the West and
uating from the human condition, but the achievement in no way
threatens the human future. Other generations await in the wings,
eager to have a go at lifes curriculum.
The gulf that separates this faith-oriented projection of religions
future from the worldly one that was described is vast; but we live
-verse, so in some way we must try to bring the two
ment tells the tale. Those who have religious sensibilities, however,
have a problem. The religious forecast carries weight, but so does
the secular one. This is where binocular vision enters. How does
the future of religion look when we take into account both what
social analysts tell us„the first scenario„and what the eyes of
faith register?
ROUND
Those signs come to light when we see that none of the secular jig
Go back to the point with which I began this chapter„the scien
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
ability to winnow true from false hypotheses yielded
proven knowl
and proven knowledge can snowball. The eighteenth centurys
Industrial Revolution established those points historically, for by
applying the assured knowledge that was ballooning, industrial
That third revolution included several heady dreams that coa
lesced to form the Enlightenment: (1) thanks to sciences reliable
way of knowing,
ignorance
would be sent packing; (2) the reliable
knowledge of nature that science afforded would send
scarcity
ing; and (3) the scientific worldview would send
ing. The superstitions that the Enlightenment had in mind were
primarily those of the church, and with the churchs back against
the wall, it seemed that mankind was ready to advance into the Age
of Reason. This Reason spelled Progress, the hope that has powered
As for Eastern Europe and subsequently China, its version of
increasing consciousness and freedom.) Support for this heady sce
nario was welcomed from every quarter, and Darwin emerged to
supply it from science. Inspired by Hegel, he painted the natural
history of life on earth in strokes that fitted perfectly into Hegels
version of an evolution that is cosmic in sweep.
So far so good. But when we come to human history, Darwins
engine for advancement„natural selection working on chance
variations„chugs too slowly to explain. A principle was needed to
account for advancement in centuries, not eons, and Marx sup
plied it with his theory of class struggle. Just as Darwin discovered
the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the
law of development in human history,Ž Engels intoned by Marxs
One last step was needed, and though Marx assumed it, Engels
(with Lenins assistance) articulated it explicitly. To inspire not just
hope but conviction, Communisms happy ending„the classless
Peoples Republic of China). With its jigsaw pieceŽ (Communism)
placed beside the piece the West reached for (Progress), we can pro
ceed to the point for which I introduced them. Neither filled the
spiritual hollow in the human makeup.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
cover that not only are we no wiser (as distinct from being more
knowledgeable) than our forebears were; we may be less wise for
having neglected value questions while bringing nature to heel.
That possibility is frightening, for our vastly increased power over
nature calls for more wisdom in its use, not less. The Enlighten-
ments second hope, of eliminating poverty, must face the fact that
more people are hungry today than ever before. As for the belief
that the Age of Reason would make people sane, that reads today
like a cruel joke. In the Nazi myth of a super-race (which produced
the Holocaust) and the Marxist myth of a classless utopia (which
produced the Stalinist Terror and Maos Cultural Revolution), the
With this last point we have already moved to the Eastern half
tably; and (5) in Communist countries, the state shows no signs
whatever of withering away.
Faced with this miserable predictive record, apologists regularly
Modernitys coming to see the gods it worshiped for what they
were„idols that failed„was the most important religious event of
IGNS OF THE
t least we can say that religion has weathered the storm. On
his seventy-fifth birthday, Malcolm Muggeridge looked back
over his long worldwatch as editor of the
Manchester Guardian
concluded that the most important single
fact of the twen
I can add to Muggeridges observation the survival of the
Christian Church in China under similar circumstances. When my
missionary parents left China in 1951 after nine months of house
arrest under the Communists, they thought that their lifework had
hood haunts, the ban against organized religion had just been
lifted, and the vitality that the church had maintained in its under
ground years surprised everybody. To make sure I could locate the
large church we used to attend when we were passing through
Shanghai, I reached it forty minutes before the Sunday morning
service was to begin and found standing room only. Sixteen Sunday
school rooms that were wired for sound were likewise packed, and
during the announcement period in the service the pastor pleaded
with the congregation not to attend church more than once each
DISCERNING THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Sunday, for that deprived others of the opportunity. (It has been a
while since I have heard that plea in my church.) After the service,
Such resilience has brought even those who are not themselves
believers to respectful recognition of religions durability. Having
table, we are told. Having authored
The Joy of Sex,
the gerontolo
gist Alex Comfort stands in no danger of being charged with exces
sive piousness, but his verdict is similar to the one just given:
Religious behaviors are an important integrator of mans whole
self-view in relation to the world.Ž Carl Jung reached his conclu
sion, which he stated categorically, from his analytic practice:
Human beings have an in-built religious need.Ž Philip Rieff, a
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
dictum is to the effect that the twenty-first century will be religious
or there will be none.
These quotations are clear indication that thinkers are again tak
ing religion seriously. That, though, does not touch the question of
religions truth. Informed thinkers now believe in
religion;
believe in
God?
Some do and some do not, of course. What follows
TRAWS IN THE
Several years ago the
New York Review of Books
noted that a revival
of theism seems to be taking place among intellectuals.Ž One
important bit of evidence of this trend is the founding of the
lier, I noted that the philosophy of religion (to say nothing of
Christian philosophy) is not in good standing in the eyes of the
philosophical establishment; still, the very emergence of such a
tion, most of them younger members, it publishes a first-rate jour
Faith and Philosophy,
which carries Tertullians dictum, faith
seeking understanding,Ž on its masthead. Even philosophers such
as Levinas, Heidegger, and Derrida (who not only are not
Philosophy occupies a special place in a book on worldviews,
which is why I gave it this initial glance. Having done that, I now
DISCERNING THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Item
. In titling his influential book
A History of the Warfare
league in the humanities department at
) wrote that it was
beyond reasonable doubt that the warfare model continues
to remain solidly entrenched as the dominant one.Ž That has
increases for a peaceful coexistence.
Item.
A breakthrough book in the academic study of religion
has appeared. Contrasting sharply with the antipathy toward
Ritual and Religion in the
Making of Humanity
that religion has been central to evolu
tion since the human species appeared, and will continue to
be central to any cultural advance we may achieve from this
time forward.
Item
. Chancellor David K. Scott of the University of
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Scott envisions an integrative universityŽ in which spiritual
to be engaged citizens in an enlightened democracy. The
Constitution is no obstacle, he thinks. The university has
been using it as a convenient barrierŽ against taking religion
seriously.
Item.
Sales of religious books have risen spectacularly (by 50
percent in the last ten years), and religion is entering into the
deep grain of some our most respected writers. Flannery
OConnor and Walker Percy carried the torch through the
lean years following T. S. Eliot, Graham Greene, and W. H.
Auden; and Saul Bellow, Tom Wolfe, and John Updike are
only three notable writers who are sensitive to thin places on
the line that separates this world from another. Updike char
acterized Tom Wolfes
A Man in Full
as all about religion.Ž
Unlike the other two writers named, Updike is explicit about
his religious views: If this physical world is all, then it is a
closed hell in which we are confined like prisoners in chains,
Item.
nalists to distance themselves from what they report, but it is
not lost on them that religion now sells. Every journalist
worth his or her salt, Bill Moyers has said, knows that the
towering question of our time is, What is the human spirit?
And the question is being addressed on many fronts.
News-
week
s 1998 cover story (which carried the interesting-if-true
banner Science Finds GodŽ) was quickly emulated by its
Item
DISCERNING THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
ers will remember the
New Yorker
cartoon that pictured an
Item
. Secular humanism is no longer the confident battle
cry that it was when, in 1933, intellectuals gathered around
John Dewey to hammer out the Humanist Manifesto. That
initial manifesto was solidly mainstream. Beginning with
Dewey himself, its signatories included recognized names in
every field of culture. The second, updated manifesto
(1973) already sounded more defensive than confident, and
the third (1999) comes close to reading (dully) like a shut
down. Not a single recognized name appears among its
Item
. The resources of spirituality for mental health are being
seriously explored. Five times in the last three months, from
Seattle to the University of Florida, I have been asked to
address audiences consisting exclusively of psychologists, psy
chiatrists, and psychiatric social workers on the interface
How many robins does it take to make a spring? The above list
could be extended, but a list of counterexamples, equally long,
could easily be compiled to place alongside it. Readers would have
to decide for themselves which list they found more telling.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
OUNTERCULTURE AND THE
OVEMENT
I think it was Nathan Pusey who characterized Harvard University
as an assemblage of autonomous departments united by a central
heating plant, and it is a telling quip. Communities of scholars are
a thing of the past, but I have witnessed one exception. During two
years the miracle happened. Chaplains at the Institute
I mention this for the one program in the series that I remem
ber. I cannot recall who the speaker was, but I clearly recall how
he began his presentation. Holding aloft Theodore Roszaks
Making of a Counter Culture
(which had recently been published),
I pricked up my ears, for I had just written an article (rather
archly titled Tao NowŽ) in which I argued that the Asian and
Western views of nature had collided in a single phoneme. TaoŽ
and DowŽ are pronounced identically, and we were at the height
Needless to say, the speaker of the afternoon came down hard on
DISCERNING THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
for myself ) the underlying fact in the situation will not go away.
Because (1) science has given us unforeseen power over nature, and
human beings do not have the wisdom and virtue to keep from
using that power for private gains that work against the common
good, science is no longer seen as the messiah that will save us.
Roszaks counterculture was enraged primarily by the destructive
uses of technology, whereas its successor, the New Age Movement,
picks up the other side of the science story: its worldview and the
strictures it places on our full humanity. The advocates of that lat
ter counterculture want out„out from the prison of that outlook.
Because they lack seasoned guides, their unbridled enthusiasm for
the Aquarian Age careens crazily, and conceptually the movement
restrials, near-death experiences, the archaic revival, channeling,
one another promiscuously. And brooding over them all is Gaia„
Gaia and the goddesses (both within and without). Flaky at the
fringes and credulous to the point of gullibility„an open mind is
salutary, but one whose hinge is off ?„the New Age Movement is
so problematic that I would gladly leave it alone were it not for the
fact that it has two things exactly right. First, it is optimistic, and
IANTS
EVISITED
After Kant and Hegel, the principal architects of the modern mind
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
has not threatened religion. Asked if he believed in God, he
answered, Yes, Spinozas GodŽ; and while that is not the God of
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it qualifies. The other four, however,
have given religion a hard time. Reduced to slogans, their respective
charges„religion is opiate, illusion, slave-mentality, and surplus
Charles Darwin
ery that natural selection working on chance variations plays a part
in the process. But even when chance and other observable causes
(such as historical contingencies and changing environments) are
added to the picture, natural selection is not turning out to have as
much explanatory power its author expected that it would. Taken as
culty is encountered, another epicycle is added to salvage the theory.
Are transitional forms conspicuously lacking at certain points in the
fossil record? Punctuated equilibrium comes forward to account for
the gap: it happened too fast (only thirty million years or so) to
leave enough deposits to be noticed. The debates rage like wildfire,
but (to all but those who have made up their minds) one point
emerges clearly: Darwinism has not edged God out of the evolu
tionary process as Darwin thought it would.
DISCERNING THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
I continue anecdotally. In the summer of 1997 I was invited to
give a week-long series of lectures at the Chautauqua Institution in
upstate New York. For one of the lectures I chose the topic of evo
ping two inflammatory words from its official definition of evolu
tion, which definition I then quoted: Evolution [is] an
Seizing the opportunity to vent the ham in me that I share with
all born teachers, I had brought with me a stamped, addressed
ter with a resounding clank of the lid.
Ten days later, back at home, I received a reply from the execu
tive director of the
NABT
. It began by thanking me for the civil tone
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
I found this interesting and alerted the Religious News Service
to what was up. The story it released at the close of the episode
The board of the National Association of Biology Teachers
ever. In elevators and corridors, during cocktail hours and in indi
vidual encounters throughout the week, members of the board
So those two words are gone from the official
NABT
evolution„but the story does not end there. Remember, I am
using this anecdote to indicate what in Darwinism needs to be left
behind, and my tilt with the windmill entered a second round two
years later.
Flushed with my initial success, when the Kansas evolution
brouhaha erupted in 1999, I decided to press my luck and sent a
NABT
. This time I proposed that its board
This is a course in science, and as your instructor it is my
responsibility to teach you what science has empirically discov
ered about the mechanisms by which life emerged and has
However, there is so much that we still do not know that
DISCERNING THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
plenty of room remains for you to fill in the gaps with your own
philosophic or religious convictions.
accepted. That was the last I heard of the matter.
Looking back on this second try, I freely grant that the tactic I
proposed may not have been the right one, but I fail to see why an
olive branch of this sort would not (without harming science in
any way) do us all good. Evolution will come up again in the next
chapter, but for here I have made my point. As (to date) a partial
explanation for how we got here, Darwinism should be taught, and
efforts to fill in the gaps in the theory should continue. But claims
to the effect that Darwinism is so much on top of the story that it
is unreasonable to think that other causes (some of which might
not be empirical) could have played a part„that proscription
should be dropped.
Karl Marx
Marxs compassion for the downtrodden, especially as it comes
through in his early writings, should never be forgotten, for it rivals
ing his vision is another matter.
The preceding chapter has already pointed out that none of
Marxs predictions came true, but I am certainly in no position to
fault him for that, given that my book too plays with the future.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
What must be faulted is Marxs deep mistake in placing his faith in
social engineering. If the oppressed masses were sobbingŽ (Marxs
moving word) before the Russian revolution, they were writhing in
able) or a mereŽ ten million (which is implausible), the eighty years
of terror is unforgivable. It will be objected that Marxs vision was
Those who knew Karl Popper tell us that his dictatorial ways did
conceived ideology can lead only to totalitarianism, for history is
too unmanageable to conform to our conceptual designs. Instead of
attempting holistic engineeringŽ (Poppers phrase), we should
approach things gradually„cautiously and incrementally„as we
keep close watch on the signals our initiatives send back to us. Pull
out the stops on policies that prove effective, while being wary of
formulas that assume that we understand how history works. Above
Marx was right, though, in documenting the extent to which
class interests skew the ways people see the world. (He would not
have been surprised by the finding that when poor children are
asked to draw a nickel, they draw it larger than do children of the
well-to-do. It looms larger in their world.) Reinhold Niebuhr was
strongly influenced by Marx in this, and in his classic
Moral Man
DISCERNING THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Guevara were reading concurrently) documented the outworkings
On the latter point, Niebuhrs book preceded Poppers (though
there is no evidence that Popper read Niebuhr) and gave the issue
of social engineering a theological overlay that Poppers did not. To
think that we can circumvent the human heart and, in the face of
its unregenerated clamorings, achieve the kingdom of heaven by
revamping social institutions is to overlook the fact that that king
dom is first and foremost an interior affair. Short of the
(end of history), its arrival in the world will be in proportion to its
arrival in human hearts.
This does not counter the importance of social action. (Niebuhr
was an all-out activist. To oppose the Communist-controlled
united frontŽ after World War II, he joined with Eleanor
Roosevelt to found Americans for Democratic Action.) But it does
insist that if such action is to be productive, it must proceed in the
understanding that there never was a war that was not inwardŽ
(Marianne Moore).
What about religion as the opiate of the people? That condem
nation is a useful reminder of a danger that religion can (and
repeatedly does) succumb to, but it is a half-truth. Religion has, on
occasions, been a conservative force, and on others it has been rev
olutionary in intent and achievement. It has been an opiate, and
also a stimulant. It has identified too closely with particular cul
tures, and it has challenged the status quo. It preoccupies itself with
Finally, there is the adage that Marx found Hegel standing on
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Many people will resonate to that answer, for there are few who
The close of this students story does not provide an encourag
DISCERNING THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
concern here„namely, his depiction of Christianity. Here, as is so
Bonhoeffer merits a further word. As professors have been the
tance), whereas the universities did not. If Bonhoeffer symbolizes
the first camp, Heidegger tokens the second.
What has recently become clear (through the publication of
me solace and fulfillment. I dared to say it: the idea of God con
tained too little reality for me. Deeply moved, he answered:
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
You are saying this only to come to my aid; never give up this
idea! You have it unconsciously. One great thought dominates
your life: the idea of God.Ž He swallowed painfully. His features
thing new, I will not and must not go back. I will perish from
my passions, they will cast me back and forth; I am constantly
falling apart.Ž These are his own words from the fall of 1882.
For as long into the future as we can see, critics will continue to
Sigmund Freud
Like Freud and other psychologists, Suttie believed that people
DISCERNING THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
(through his research) that our major repression is not of sexual or
aggressive impulses, but of affection and openness. These repres
sions in individuals add up to a collective taboo against tenderness
in our culture.
Beginning at the beginning, Suttie saw infants as born with two
independent propensities. The one that is primary is a desire for
the social give-and-take and responsive relationship that we call
love
. Sexuality, in his theory, exists as a separate and independent
drive.
This is a radical departure from Freud, who likewise posited two
independent drives, one of which was sex (the libido) and the other
aggression (the death instinct). Freud described the infants earliest
state of consciousness as auto-erotic and narcissistic. In contrast,
Suttie describes the earliest state (before an infant distinguishes self
from others) as a state of symbiotic communion.
In the Freudian view the infant believes itself to be omnipotent,
able to summon the mother magically with its cries. It cathects to
the mother because she relieves its bodily tensions. To Suttie this
was as preposterous as saying that the mother loves the baby
because it is a breast-reliever who drains her swollen mammary
In his years of careful scrutiny, Suttie became impressed by the
early overtures that a baby makes to evoke a response from its
mother. It fixes its gaze raptly on her face while nursing, and this
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
A critical period comes when the infant is able to differentiate
itself from its mother, and its mother from other persons. It is only
then that the baby can know separation from its mother, and this
donment. At about the same time acceptance is no longer uncondi
tional. Some of the babys bodily functions and activities may not
be welcomed and approved.
In baby or adult, hell hath no fury like rejected love. Here we
have Sutties understanding of the origin of anger, which he saw as
a babys desperate effort to reclaim a lost harmony. Depending on
the degree of pain and hopelessness the small child goes through,
intimacy may be renounced, and a quest for self-sufficiency (or
power) may take its place„the typical route in our individualistic
West, Suttie believed.
ers, offers this bit of documentation. In one of his discussion
It is as Suttie says: tenderness is a cultural repression. Suttie cites
obsessive, compulsive sex as another possible outcome of repressed
ture denies, Suttie argues) is emotional closeness. Not sex, nor
food, nor power, nor any other surrogate can satisfy that need.
I have almost exhausted my allotted space for Freud and I have
scarcely mentioned his theories. P. B. Medawar may have gone too
DISCERNING THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
tury, but if Adolph Grunbaum and Frederick Crews have not
shown how little there is by way of reason and hard evidence to
require us to accept his self-admittedly loveless view of human
nature, I am not going to accomplish that task here. The American
Psychoanalytic Association is always ready in the wings to come
What we need is an alternative. My strategy„to present an
alternative to Freuds theories rather than argue against them„
occurred to me through remembering one of my all-time favorite
ous procedure, but the driver said he must divert their attention
from the danger of the road. The sting of his whip gave them
It is no different with human beings, Chalmers sermon went on
to explain. People do not shake off familiar habits by dint of reason
CIENCES AND THE
OAD
he scientific worldview presents itself as a stupendous story. I
entunneled outlook, that is the best sign we could have that the
outdoors is drawing closer.
It is starting to look as if physics is out of the tunnel already. I say
(Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen) experi
ment, which establishes that the universe is nonlocal. Separated parts
of it„how widely they are separated makes no difference; it could be
from here to the rim of the universe„are simultaneously in touch
with one another. In lay language, what the
strates is that if you separate two interacting particles and give one of
them a downspin, instantly the other will spin upward.
THREE SCIENCES AND THE ROAD AHEAD
Everything we perceive with our senses (and analyze and classify
into laws and relationships) has to do with the relative world, a kind
of phantom play of names and forces flowing temporally in the
stream of space and time. In this relative world there are no
absolutes; time and change govern everything. Nowhere are there
fixed frames of reference, nowhere objects that can be considered
independent of their observing subjects. No event can be perceived
in exactly the same way by all observers, and there is an irreducible
uncertainty that precludes the possibility of our ever knowing all the
fundamental properties of the phenomena that we experience and
investigate. This uncertainty is built into the very fabric of the uni
manence. Maya reigns, and Shivas tireless dance continues.
But that is only half the picture. What puts post-
ment opens a rift in the cloud of unknowing through which physi
cists catch sight of another world, or at least another reality. Again
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
itly when (during a dinner party at which I seized the opportunity
to sit next to him) he said to me, If you begin with matter as a
given, youre lost.Ž
New Age enthusiasts are quick to jump in here with the
announcement that physicists have discovered God, which of
course is not the case. All physicists have found is that what runs
the show (runs the spatio-temporal-material universe) lies outside
tinue their discussions. For God too resides outside those three
There are some who will think that if I stop with nonlocality
and do not add to it Intelligent Design I will be overlooking an
important second reason for saying that physics is out of the tun
More and more, scientists are finding that if the mathematical
ratios in nature had been the slightest bit different, life could not
have evolved. Were the force of gravity the tiniest bit stronger, all
stars would be blue giants, while if it were slightly weaker, all would
be red dwarfs, neither of which come close to being habitable. Or
again, had the earth spun in an orbit 5 percent closer to the sun, it
would have experienced a runaway greenhouse effect, creating un
bearable surface temperatures and evaporating the oceans; while on
THREE SCIENCES AND THE ROAD AHEAD
the other hand, if it had been positioned just 1 percent farther out,
it would have experienced runaway glaciation that locked earths
Physicists of the stature of John Polkinghorne
to believe that such fine-tuning (and the appar
ent frequency with
which it occurs) could have resulted from chance. They toss
around improbability figures in the range of one in ten followed by
forty zeros. For them, improbabilities of this order all but require
us to think that the universe was designed to make human life
intentional designer. They do not laugh when a fellow scientist,
Dale Kohler, writes, We have been scraping away at physical
reality all these centuries, and now the layer of the remaining little
that we dont understand is so thin that Gods face is staring right
I am not myself a scientist, but I naturally favor the Design
hypothesis. At sea with numbers higher than the ten thousand
thingsŽ (the archaic Chinese phrase for heaven and earth, the uni
However, that is me„me in the company of ranking scientists
who share my spiritual sensibilities. The problem with citing a
must-have-been-designed universe as an added indication that
physicists„Stephen Hawking, for one„disagree with this reading
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
ously discussed, and no one can fault believers for finding in
Intelligent Design a resource for their faith. But that is the most
While I am backing off, I should go back to nonlocality and
admit that physicists disagree over its implications too. When I
icks all right, but our number is increasing every year.Ž What leads
me to declare that physics is all but out of the tunnel is my faith
that the increase will continue.
IOLOGY
I shall not be dealing with molecular biology here„
Writing a book under a deadline renders one illiterate for the
interval, so David Walshs book on
The Third Millennium
me by until my eye fell on an ad for it as I was sitting down to write
this chapter. Once again (as in the chapter on law), I can only credit
Providence with the timing, be that superstition or not. Walshs take
on Darwinism is so insightful that I shall quote it in full:
It is always a warning indicator when a scientific theory plays a
greater role outside its field of application than within it.
Fascinating as Darwins account of
The Origin of Species
THREE SCIENCES AND THE ROAD AHEAD
was, its real contribution lay beyond the explicit reference of the
study. More important than understanding the stratification of
the emergence of species, and even than the evolutionary mech
anism propounded to explain the emergence, was the function
of Darwins theory in constituting a worldview. It was welcomed
and repulsed for the exact same reason. Darwin had shown how
creation could dispense with a creator. A world of chance devel
opments could, over a sufficiently long period of time, evolve
into a world of order. It was not the suggestion that men were
descended from apes that was the most shattering realization,
but that everything had originated through the survival of the
best adapted random mutations. The most compelling natural
indication of a supreme intelligence„the argument from design„
had been decisively undermined. With such large theological
reverberations, it was no wonder that Darwins theory of biologi
cal evolution should receive scant attention on its own merits. It
is a situation that prevails virtually up to the present.
Darwinian evolutionism functions to such an extent as the
overarching worldview of modernity that even its subjection to
scientific analysis is treated with deep misgivings. Everyone is
more comfortable if its examination is reduced to the stylized
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
ultimately the only conclusive indication, is the weakest source
of support. We have neither experience nor evidence of interme
diate forms. It is clear that different species emerged and disap
peared at different times, just as it is clear that chemical and
munity. One wonders what force holds such regressive formal
ism in place. The only suggestion is that the anti-theological
significance of evolutionism as a worldview continues to out
weigh its scientific value. By calling into question the Darwinian
universe, we would at the same time be restoring the openness
to the transcendent creator. It is in other words the fear of God
that prevents the biological community from too openly dis
carding a theory they have long ceased to honor in practice.
Commentary could only diminish the wisdom of Walshs words,
In a book that cuts as wide a swath as mine does, it is important
to have hotlines to specialists in the fields touched on, and my line
to Darwinism connects with Jonathan Wells. Wells earned a Ph.D.
in theology at Yale University, writing his doctoral dissertation on
guided natural process.
THREE SCIENCES AND THE ROAD AHEAD
Not content with merely pinpointing the source of the conflict,
Wells decided to pursue graduate study in biology. He earned a sec
ond Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, specializing in
embryology and evolution. Having examined the evidence on
which Darwinism is based, he has become an outspoken critic of
it. As a result, he has been coming under increasing attack by
Darwinists. Wells, though, is used to controversy. In the 1960s, he
spent a year and a half in prison for refusing to cooperate with the
Concerned that standards in science and biology be maintained,
Wells has written a book,
Icons of Evolution,
that conflict with published evidence that biologists have known
for years, with students given no indication that the icons are
One of those icons is the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment, which
used a simulated primitive atmosphere to produce some of the
molecular building-blocks of life. But geochemists have been con
vinced for decades that the earths primitive atmosphere was nothing
like the Miller-Urey simulation and that the experiments findings
have little or no bearing on the origin of life.
Another famous image is the Darwinian tree of life, according to
which all modern species evolved gradually from a universal com
mon ancestor. But the fossil record shows that the major groups of
mon ancestry„a pattern exactly opposite to Darwins prediction.
ing similarities in vertebrate embryos that supposedly point to
common ancestry. But biologists have known for over a century
that Haeckel faked the similarities and that early vertebrate embry
os are quite different from each other.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
These and other textbook misrepresentations cast serious doubt
on what Darwinists claim as evidence for their theory. Wells
acknowledges that Darwinian evolution works at some levels, such
as antibiotic resistance in bacteria and minor changes in finch
beaks. But he notes that evidence is lacking for the theorys larger
claims. In particular, Wells insists that the Darwinian claim that
humans are by-products of unguided natural processes is not a sci
entific inference, but a philosophical doctrine.
SYCHOLOGY
If physics is the fundamental and oldest science, cognitive psychol
ogy is the youngest. At first glance it looks like a throwback to
crude materialism, for neuroscience (the cornerstone of cognitive
psychology) is in its adolescence, and the field is drunk with its
dizzying growth and the prospect of limitless horizons. (On the day
that I wrote these words an alumni couple announced that they
were giving
sixty-five million dollars for brain research!) This
What makes cognitive psychology interesting is what is happen
ing on another flank, the mind-body problem. Colin McGinns
The Mysterious Flame
presents most engagingly what I shall
describe, so I will use him and his book as reference points.
The mind-body problem was foisted on the world by René
Descartes, who split the world into mind and matter. He used God
to bridge the two halves, but that resource is not available to scien
tists (or philosophers) anymore, and the residual bridgeless gap
The problem itself is easily described. We have minds (con
THREE SCIENCES AND THE ROAD AHEAD
sciousness) and we have bodies (in this context, brains), neither of
which can be converted into the other. Equally obvious is the two
ings? And vice versa.
The scientists and philosophers I am considering„to McGinns
name I should add those of Thomas Nagel at New York University
and Stephen Pinker, who heads the cognitive science program at
„give their position on the mind-body problem the awkward
That label reflects the frank admission that in
Theyre made out of meat.Ž
Meat?Ž . . .
Theres no doubt about it. We picked several from different
They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals dont come
from them. The signals come from machines.Ž
So who made the machines? Thats what we want to contact.Ž
They made the machines. Thats what Im trying to tell you.
Meat made the machines.Ž
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Thats ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? Youre
asking me to believe in sentient meat.Ž
Im not asking you, Im telling you. These creatures are the
only sentient race in the sector and theyre made out of meat.Ž
Maybe theyre like the Orfolei. You know, a carbon-based
intelligence that goes through a meat stage.Ž
Nope. Theyre born meat and they die meat. We studied
them for several of their lifespans, which didnt take too long.
Do you have any idea of the life span of meat?Ž
Spare me. Okay, maybe theyre only part meat. You know,
like the Weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain
Nope, we thought of that, since they do have meat heads
like the Weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. Theyre meat
all the way through.Ž
No brain?Ž
Oh, theres a brain all right. Its just that the brain is made
So . . . what does the thinking?Ž
Youre not understanding, are you? The brain does the
thinking. The meat.Ž
Thinking meat! Youre asking me to believe in thinking
Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dream
ing meat! The meat is the whole deal!Ž
The mysterians, having gotten us where they want us„which is
to see that science has made no progress at all in allaying the
absurdity of the concept that squishy gray matter in our heads
(thinking meatŽ) can cause mental life whereas similar-appearing
liver meat cannot„they then unload on us their surprise: we may
be stuck with this problem for as long as we human beings are
around to ponder it. For what do we think we are, they ask„
THREE SCIENCES AND THE ROAD AHEAD
omniscient? Every day we discover anew that the world is more
strange, more complicated, and more mysterious than we had sus
pected. This leads mysterians to speculate that the mind-body
This is a new note to hear from science. It gives us not just a
novel answer to a problem, but a novel
of answer„one that is
refreshingly different from the standard Give us time and money
and well deliver the goods.Ž I must not press the difference too far.
McGinn and company are not throwing up their hands in despair.
What they are intent on doing is uncovering the deep reasons for
our bafflement regarding the problem at stake.
When I first encountered McGinns line of thought, I realized
others.) No other living species has the endowment for language
that human beings have, Chomsky said, but every species seems to
have comparably distinctive ways of understanding the world and
managing to relate to it. Birds are born with an instinctive talent
for knowing how to build nests, one that we could not match if we
gave our entire lives to the project. Ants have a knack for working
ence. No other species can rival us on those fronts. The downside
of all this is that while being good at some things, every species is
poor at others. Years later, the mysterians are continuing this point.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
conclusion that a radical conceptual innovation is a prerequisite
for solving the mind-body problem.
...It r
equires two new con
cepts, one for the mind and one for the brain.Ž To which I will
myself add that (given the way that parts reflect the wholes they are
parts of ) those two new concepts require a new worldview„which
is to say, one that differs from the scientific one we now have.
Thomas Nagel himself said as much in his contribution to the
conference that the
Foundation convened in London in 1992.
The apparent impossibility of discovering a transparent connec
ness. Now that it is doing so, the effort will transform science
radically.
My inclination is to turn this around. How would things look if
We shall hear more of this possibility in my final chapter. Here I
want only to raise a second possibility that seems not to have
occurred to the mysterians: If the human mind is mysteriously
endowed with an innate talent for science (the mysterians field),
what rules out the possibility that it is equally mysteriously
endowed with a talent for knowing the Big Picture (my field)? That
picture is the topic of Chapter Fourteen.
ERMS FOR THE
hinking back over the past two decades, it occurs to me that I
have had the extraordinary opportunity of sharing the plat
form with four world-class scientists: David Bohm in quantum
mechanics, Carl Sagan in cosmology, Ilya Prigogene in chemistry,
and Karl Pribram in neuroscience. None of the four (not even
This is the kind of misreading of science that got us into the tun
nel in the first place, for it belittles art, religion, love, and the bulk of
the life we directly live by denying that those elements yield insights
that are needed to complement what science tells us. This is like say
ence share the knowledge project equitably with other ways of know-
ing„notably (in this book) the ways of God-seekers.
means here is the question for this chapter, and I
begin with the premise that science must move over. Eventually the
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
ago my physician discovered that my
count was off the charts,
a sure sign of prostate cancer. (When I reported this to my family,
stood for Pacific Southwest
Airlines, now defunct, a daughter who was visiting told me, not for
Father, you are more innocent than anyone your age
is entitled to be.Ž But on with my story.) A urologist teamed up
with an oncologist, and already their joint ministrations have given
me five more years of life than I would otherwise have enjoyed. If I
did not sincerely thank and honor science for this gift, I would be a
That said, to understand how far (and in what ways) science
must move over requires that we understand what science is. I
defined the word provisionally in the chapter on scientism, but the
time has come to be more precise.
Semanticists tell us that we can use words in any way we please
as long as we are clear about our definitions and stick to them.
Nowhere in this scientistic age is that liberty more exploited than
in the case of science.Ž Truly bizarre claims are made in the name
of this god, but those claims make perfect (logical) sense if science
is what their authors say it is. David Bohm, whom I just men
tioned, provides me with a good example of this. When he sur
prised me by denying that science is limited and I asked how he
defined the word
he answered, Openness to evidence.Ž
Perhaps you are.Ž Language breaks down with such an answer.
I do not want to leave David Bohm saddled with what I just
said, for he is one of my heroes and was a personal friend as well,
for I brought him to Syracuse University for three weeks while I
was there and (during those weeks) served as his host. If it were
only to explain how his inclusion of me as a scientist is less bizarre
than it sounds, I would not devote the following section to the
TERMS FOR THE DÉTENTE
man; but in accomplishing that purpose, the story I am about to
tell will advance in additional ways this chapters search for what
AVID
At one point during my decade at Syracuse University the adminis
guished visiting professor of humanities. I was appointed to chair
the search committee, which consisted of one member from each
of the divisions five departments.
Saul Bellow for the English Department was an easy choice, as
was Noam Chomsky for the philosophers. Next it was the religion
departments turn, and (as its representative) I put forward the
name of David Bohm. Pandemonium! You know that the adminis
tration gave us this sop to salve its conscience for shortchanging the
humanities, and you propose that we give the plum to a
they protested. When the hubbub died down to the point where I
could be heard, I admitted that I was indeed doing that, but that I
had my reasons. Bohms doctrine of the implicate order that tran
scends space and time housed more important implications for reli
gion than anything any religious studies professor we could think of
was saying. The committee was not mollified, but I had voted for
their candidates, so they had no choice but to vote for mine.
Academic protocol requires that if you officially invite to your
campus someone in another field, you clear the invitation with the
department in question, so before we invited Bohm I went to the
chairman of our physics department to secure his approval. He was
ecstatic at the prospect. Everyone in our department cut his quan
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
all be overjoyed to have him on campus. Could they have him for
one of their departmental colloquia? As I was leaving his office, the
chairman followed me into the hall to assure me that if I needed
Bohm accepted our invitation, and in due time he arrived for his
visit. His three-week stay opened with a Monday evening lecture for
the general public. The physics department was out in force.
The physics colloquium took place two days later. When Bohm
and I arrived at the departmental office, the chairman welcomed
him and then turned him over to several senior professors in order
When it was time to proceed to the colloquium, we found our
way blocked by mobs of faculty and students in the corridors. A
backup was in place, and word was circulated that we would pro
ceed to room such-and-such. It too proved inadequate, and what
was to have been a colloquium ended as a lecture in the largest hall
in the physics building. Even so, some students had to stand
throughout the event.
Once introduced, David Bohm mounted the large stage and
(without glancing at a note the entire time) talked nonstop for an
hour and a quarter as he paced back and forth, covering the three
section, three-tier blackboard with incomprehensible equations.
Glancing around the hall, I suspected that within ten minutes he
had lost everyone but a handful of senior professors, but he kept on
talking. And the audience kept on listening, if for no other reason
than to remember for the rest of their lives the experience of watch
ing the workings of the mind of the man who had worked closely
with Einstein and whose Hidden-Variable Theory continued to
TERMS FOR THE DÉTENTE
hold out a (minority) hope that Einstein was right in thinking that
God does not play dice.
When finally, as abruptly as he had begun, Bohm stopped talk
ing and sat down, the chairman called for questions. Instantly the
arm of a senior professor in the front row shot up. Professor
Bohm,Ž the questioner said, this is all very interesting philosophy.
But what does it have to do with physics?Ž I glanced at the solid
bank of equations that stared out at us from the blackboards, with
word
in sight. Without batting an eye, Bohm replied,
A pall fell over the hall. One or two polite questions brought the
I said that I was including this recollection on David Bohm in
IGHTLY
In the chapter on scientism I offered my definition of science,
which (forgoing frills) is this: Science is what replaced traditional
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
from those facts, and the added things that scientific instruments
enable us to see with our own eyes.
Regularly I find this definition faulted for defining science in its
narrowest, most hard-nosed sense„which is precisely my intent,
for any looser definition points toward the tunnel. Only thus nar
rowly defined does science tell us what we
believe. Every
enlargement of the definition produces cracks into which philoso
phy can seep to weaken the claims put forward. Because philoso
phy always allows for reasonable differences, the claim that a scien
tific hypothesis makes on us weakens in direct proportion to the
increase of philosophy in the mix.
This leaves us with a choice. Either we restrict the word
be believed (which requires my narrow definition), or
we relax the way we define it and demote its truth-claims to sug
gestions backed by sliding scales of reasonableness. Because the
second option„science as suggestions„contravenes our public
right track, for suggestions could not have created our technologi
encourage the reader go back and reread it.
IMITS OF
The television program that the British Broadcasting Company
mounted for the centennial of Einsteins birth was brilliant through
out, but nothing matched its two opening sentences: Einstein
would have wanted us to say it in the simplest possible way. Space
tells matter how to move; matter tells space how to warp.Ž That is
more than just brilliant. In the way it cuts through technicalities to
TERMS FOR THE DÉTENTE
ism and empiricism will be the coming centurys version of the
struggle for mens minds.Ž) If we had our choice, we would prefer
the traditional worldview; and we do have that choice, because nei
ther of them can be proved to be truer than the other.
The support for that last assertion lies in understanding sciences
limitations, for only if we have those clearly in mind can we see
that science has no lien on the traditional outlook. Science obvi
These bare bones of the matter were laid out in Chapter Three,
but because our culture nods (in the dual sense of agreeing to
. Imagine yourself in a bungalow in North India. You
are standing before a picture window that commands a breathtak
ing view of the Himalayan Mountains. What modernity has done,
in effect, is to lower the shade of that window to within two inches
of its sill. With our eyes angled downward, all that we can now see
of the outdoors is the ground on which the bungalow stands. In
this analogy, the ground represents the material world„and to give
credit where credit is richly due, science has shown that world to be
awesome beyond belief. Still, it is not Mount Everest.
. In his
Guide for the Perplexed,
E. F. Schumacher
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Stalinist era. As he was puzzling over his map, an Intourist guide
approached him and pointed on his map to where they were stand
ing. But these large churches around us,Ž Schumacher protested;
theyre not on the map.Ž We dont show churches on our maps,Ž
the guide responded crustily. But that cant be,Ž Schumacher per
sisted. The church on
corner is on the map.Ž Oh, that,Ž said
the guide. That
to be a church. Now its a museum.Ž
Precisely, Schumacher goes on to say. Most of the things that
most of mankind has most believed in did not show on the map of
reality that his Oxford education gave him. Or if they did, they
appeared as museum pieces„things that people believed in during
the childhood of the human race but believe in no more.
That anecdote and the image that preceded it are intended to
drive home the fact that (in the process of showering us with mate
rial benefits and awesome knowledge of the physical universe) sci
ence has erased transcendence from our reality map. (Remember
the blunt statement quoted in Chapter Two from the
Chronicle of
Higher Education:
If anything characterizes modernity, it is the
loss of faith in transcendence, in a reality that encompasses but sur
passes our quotidian affairs.Ž) I proceed now to how such erasure
takes place. This requires moving from allusions to arguments.
The Analysis.
I shall present my argument regarding sciences
limitations here in two forms. Each contains six numbered propo
sitions that give the appearance of elongated syllogisms. The first
form runs like this:
Science (as I have already quoted Alex Comfort as saying) is
our sacralŽ mode of knowing. As the court of final appeal for what
is true, it occupies today, quite isomorphically, the place revelation
enjoyed in the Middle Ages. An intellectual historian has written
that already a hundred years ago, Westerners had come to believe
more in the periodic table of chemical elements than they believed
TERMS FOR THE DÉTENTE
in any of the distinctive things the Bible speaks of„angels, mira
The crux of modern science is the controlled experiment.
This explains our confidence in science (as noted in Point 1), for
such experiments winnow true from false hypotheses and thereby
proof
Now watch this next point, for in the context of the two that pre
cede it, it is one of the few original ideas in this book. (That, at least,
is how it looks to me. Most of the book deals with things we already
We can control only what is inferior to us. To make this point
clear, I need to sharpen my terms a bit. I mean
control,
for if I locked myself out of my house, its walls would thwart my
wish to enter without their being my superior. And I am speaking of
control
across special lines,
for within the same species variables can
produce exceptions. (The Nazis controlled the Jews but were not
superior to them.) By
I mean to invoke every
criterion of worth we know, and perhaps some we do not know.
Galaxies are bigger than we are and earthquakes pack more power,
but we know of nothing (empirically speaking) that is more intelli
gent and free than we are or more compassionate than we can be. It
seems apparent that human beings have controlled the American
With these three points in place, the fourth follows automatically.
Science can register only what is inferior to us. Ask yourself if, in
any science course you have taken or any science textbook you have
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Because the resistance to this point is in proportion to its impor-
tance„the point being, to repeat, that science can disclose only what
is inferior to us„I shall dwell on it for another couple of paragraphs.
riages break down, why war occurs, why economies fall into
depression, or why governments cannot eradicate corruption.
TERMS FOR THE DÉTENTE
As for psychology, it can tell us a few things about people in the
aggregate, but individuals in their existential uniqueness (to say
ences that in experiments that involve human subjects, the subjects
must be kept in the dark about the experimental design, which of
course places them in an inferior position respecting the experi
menter, who knows what is going on.
tom of the casing and the light blacks out. This, of course, does not
prove that there
are
things in the sky. But it does argue that
there
are, science will not discover them.
ceded to prepare the stage for the arguments conclusion.
Because we take our clues from science as to what exists
(Point 1), and science can disclose only what is inferior to us (Point
3), it follows that:
We are trying to live superior lives (the best we can make
them) in an inferior world. Or, if you prefer,
That first argument brought to light one limitation of science
and the consequence if we give in to it. This second one enters the
Values in their final and proper sense.
Close friends at the start,
Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein ended at opposite ends
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
of the philosophical spectrum, but on one point they remained in
full agreement: science cannot deal with values. Russell proposed
one exception„except insofar as science consists in the pursuit of
knowledge„but that is not really an exception, for although that
value is assumed by scientists, it is not itself scientifically derived.
instrumental
values, but not
health is valued over immediate somatic gratification, smoking is
bad, but the intrinsic values that conflict (health versus pleasure)
science cannot weigh. Again, science can deal with
descriptive
val
normative
the supreme good.
Existential and global meanings.
Science itself is meaningful
throughout, but on existential and global meanings it is silent.
Existential
meanings are ones that concern us; they relate to what
we find meaning-full. Scientists can spread before us their richest
wares; but if the viewer is depressed and buries his head in his
arms, scientists cannot compel his interest. (Prozac only muddies
Final causes.
TERMS FOR THE DÉTENTE
teleology
aration of primary from secondary qualities„which is to say, the
separation of natures
quantitative
from its
qualitatively experienced
ence, Francis Bacon stated this with characteristic vividness. He
God: barren of empirical fruit for the good of man.Ž
Invisibles.
Here too a qualification must be inserted. Science
can deal with invisibles that can be logically inferred from observ
able effects. In the early 1800s, Michael Faraday discovered mag
Quality.
Unlike the preceding four, this fifth exclusion does
itative ingredient in values, meanings, purposes, and noninferable
invisibles that gives them their power. Certain qualities (such as
colors) are connected to quantitative substrates (light waves of
given lengths), but the quality itself is not measurable.
Our superiors.
This was covered in the initial six-point argu
ings, final causes, invisibles, qualities, and our superiors„we see
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
that science leaves much of the world untouched. A division of
labor suggests itself. Science deals with the natural world and reli
Religion
All there is
universe
Figure 1.
That religion is represented by the larger of the two circles seems
to give it the advantage, but that impression is corrected when we
note that science works more effectively with its part than does reli
gion with its. Science houses precise calculations, knockdown
proofs, and technological wonders, whereas religion speaks in gen
eralities, such as In the beginning God created the heavens and
the earth
Ž or The heavens declare the glory of God,Ž or All
things are the Buddha-nature,Ž or The world is maya
Ž or Only
heaven is great.Ž Oliver Wendell Holmess way of establishing par
ity is appealing: Science gives us major answers to minor ques
tions, while religion gives us minor answers to major questions.Ž
If this way of slicing the pie is accepted, it follows that both par
TERMS FOR THE DÉTENTE
ments on, they should make it clear that they are expressing their
personal opinions like everybody else and not claim the authority
of science for what they say. From the other side, religionists
and not larded with philosophical opinions to which everyone has
rights. All responsible citizens have a right to oppose harmful out
comes that some scientific research could lead to„germ warfare,
I am not so naive as to think that even if my proposal were
accepted it would make for a just and durable peace. I do believe,
however, that it points in the right direction. What is most right
about it is that it allots religion an ontological domain of its own.
It proposes respect for religions concern to posit and work with
things that exist objectively in the world but which science cannot
logians too often accept sciences inventory of the world as exhaus
tive and content themselves with discerning the meaning and
significance of what science reports.
HAT
TANDS ON
In the California Bay Area, I sit alongside a tripod of three insti
tutions dedicated to the science-religion issue. At the Graduate
Theological Union in Berkeley there is Robert Russells Center for
Theology and the Natural Sciences; at the California Institute for
Integral Studies in San Francisco there is Brian Swimmes Center
for the Story of the Universe; and in Sausalito there is the (recently
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
The situation makes me think of Hinduisms theory of the four
four steadily declining ages that occur in every cosmic
cycle. India likens the decline to a cow, which in the first age stands
solidly on all four legs, in the second limps on three, in the third
lapsing, whereupon the cycle starts all over again. Living within a
stones throw of the three above institutions makes me feel as if I
am living in the three-legged
The Center for the Story of the Universe wants to awaken people
to how mind-bogglingly stupendous, glorious, awesome, and pre
entists to discover ways in which each can learn from the other.
All three are important projects, so what could be so bad? Why
am I so irritable? Because three well-functioning legs do not make
for a robust cow.
If I am right in thinking that
greatest problem the human
spirit faces in our time is having to live in the procrustean, scientis
tic worldview that dominates our culture, there is an urgent need
for a fourth center that would dedicate itself to extricating the spirit
from that cage. Named, perhaps, the Equal Opportunity Center for
Science and Religion (
), it would have two main departments.
The first would act as a watchdog on scientism. Keeping its eye
peeled for places where science modulates into scientism, this
depart
TERMS FOR THE DÉTENTE
ment would flag those unwarranted movements in a monthly,
provided for rejoinders from the accused.Ž When, for example,
Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker teamed up recently to mount
a discussion on Has Science Killed Spirit?Ž and concluded that the
answer is no if
means zest and yes if it refers to a homunculus
The other arm of the Equal Opportunity Center for Science and
Religion would mount an ongoing series of monthly discussions on
issues where scientific and religious understandings appear to con
flict, the obvious ones at present being Darwinism and intelligent
design. These are already being vigorously discussed, so what the
would offer here is a different format. Technical papers (if
speakers brought them) would be available on a table for anyone
who wished to take one home, but the programs would take the
form of discussions chaired by a hardboiled, fair-minded judge
who would hold the speakers (not more than two in any given
evening) to alternating ten-minute statements until, after forty
minutes, the floor would be opened to the audience. The speakers
their own positions. If the discussion wandered, the chair would
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
bring it back by asking, What is the issue?Ž The full spectrum of
positions on the issue in question would be allowed a hearing, even
short-term creationism on the evolution front. The emphasis
throughout would be on effective communication aimed toward
educating the interested public. Fancy footwork to prove how
knowledgeable the speaker is would be scathingly dealt with.
It would be good if the
seminary, for nothing is more important for the future of the
church than that its servants be solidly grounded in the issue„sci-
ence versus religion„that holds the fate of the church in its hand.
erception, as we now know, is a two-way process. The world
comes to us, and we go to it„with inbuilt sensors, concepts,
beliefs, and desires that filter its incoming signals in ways that dif
fer in every species, every social class, and every individual. In a
way, we share the same world with birds, and speak blithely of a
birds-eye view of it, but what such a view would look like we have
What concerns us here is the way our concepts, beliefs, and
desires affect worldviews. As the title of this chapter announces, the
world is ambiguous. It does not come tagged This is my Fathers
worldŽ or Life is a tale told by an idiot.Ž It comes to us as a giant
Rorschach inkblot. Psychologists use such blots to fish in the sub
terranean waters of their patients minds. The meanings latent in
the shapes of the blots on the ten cards are not inscribed on them.
The blots approach the patient as invitations:
Come. What do you
see here? What do you make of these contours?
NKBLOT
The sweep of philosophy, written and unwritten, supports this
inkblot theory of the world conclusively. People have never agreed
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
on the worlds meaning, and (it seems safe to say) never will.
Anthropologists tell us that even in tribes so small and isolated that
turns up. He may keep his dissident views to himself and sit out
the rituals or move through them perfunctorily. But he is there,
part to Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.Ž
tions in lifes answer-book and apply them mechanically to our
problems.
Our actual condition is the opposite of this. Instead of flunkies,
we are free agents. In the most arresting phrase in his writings,
Kierkegaard tells us that we have been given the freedom to
choose ourselves.Ž Buddhists are adamant in insisting that of the
six kinds of beings (gods, jealous gods, hungry ghosts, hell-beings,
animals, and humans), humans are the most fortunate of the lot,
for only they possess the one thing that can release creatures from
the relative,
world„namely, free will. An answer-book
would deprive us of the greatest power we have in life„the power
to decide what we want to do with our lives, what we want to give
THIS AMBIGUOUS WORLD
Wow he died as wow he lived,
Going whop to the office and blooie home to sleep and
biff got married and bam had children and oof got fired,
zowie did he live and zowie did he die.
Along with multiculturalism, which has faiths rubbing shoulders
as never before
this recognition of the worlds ambiguity could
help to reduce the friction that has so bedeviled religious relation
ships in the past. (Cardinal Newmans anguished lament, O how
we hate one another for the love of God,Ž echoes repeatedly in our
ears.) My China background provides me with a window onto this
possibility.
Quantitatively speaking, the Chinese Empire is the most impres
sive social organization human beings have ever created. When we
multiply its duration (more than two thousand years) by the num
ber of people this most populous nation on earth gathered under a
single umbrella in an average year, it makes the empires of
Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon look episodic. (The Buddhist
, or monastic order, boasts a longer lifespan„twenty-five
centuries compared with the twenty of the (now defunct) Chinese
Empire„but its population is minuscule by comparison.) Part of
the reason for Chinas success may lie in the way she positioned her
religions as partners rather than antagonists. In the China I knew,
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
if you asked people what church they belonged to, the typical
answer would be, The great church
of courseŽ„a fed
That was my childhood. In my early years of teaching world
religions, a student one morning turned up with a Dear AbbyŽ
column from the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The column had appeared
on the day of our previous class session, in which I had presented
Chinas distinctive way of positioning her religions. The column
illustrated my point so vividly that I reused it every time the sub
ject surfaced in my courses.
Dear Abby,
I am young, attractive, interested in religion and would like to
Ida
Abbys reply:
Dear Ida,
You seem to have the bases covered. I do not see how you can
belong to all of those churches
THIS AMBIGUOUS WORLD
ple affiliations, for she was a Westerner. A Chinese would have had
no difficulty.
I include this exchange not to suggest that the third millennium
tion went into making the East Asian formula work, and the
Wests Choose ye this day whom ye shall serveŽ has its own merits
which the next section of this chapter will touch on. But if we
derive from the East Asian example not multiple affiliation but
mutual respect, it seems quite possible that the new millennium
could move in that direction.
IDEWISE
LANCE AT THE
I am trying to keep this book focused on the Big Picture, for if I
wander too far from that aim the book could easily degenerate into
a gaggle of opinions on all manner of things. However, the human
spirit is, correlatively, also the books subject, and already at several
points I have run into social developments that affect spirit so pro
nouncedly that it would seem contrived to skirt them. The glaring
example at this point is the way that liberalism and conservatism
have polarized religious America. The Islamic world is polarized
too, but along different lines which I will not go into.
Generally speaking, religious conservatives regard the Truth by
which they live as absolute and therefore appropriately capitalized,
whereas liberals are more sensitive to its relativities„to the ways
different points of view splinter the single, all-encompassing Truth
and leave us with myriad lower-case truths. Both positions have
their virtues and their limitations.
The downside of Truth is the danger of fanaticism. Because
absolutes brook no alternatives, conservatives are tempted to
invade their neighbors autonomy and try to force Truth down
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
their throats. Liberals face the opposite problem, for the danger
that stalks relativism is that it will bottom out into nihilism. At
ter than anything else. This is an unlivable philosophy, but the
Tolerance used to mean that people of strong convictions would
willingly bear the burden of putting up peacefully with people
they regarded as plainly in error. Now it means that people of
weak convictions facilely agree that others are also right, and
anyway the truth of things doesnt make much difference as long
as everyone is nice.Ž I dont know if judgmentaphobicŽ is a
word, but it ought to be. This republic crawls with judgmenta
phobes. Where conscience used to raise an eyebrow at our slips
In the absence of judgment, however, freedom cannot thrive.
If nothing matters, freedom is pointless. If one choice is as good
as another, choice is merely preference. A glandular reflex would
do as well. Without standards, no one is free, but only a slave of
impulses coming from who knows where.
That said, I turn to the happier side of the picture. Both liberals
and conservatives also have their virtues. The virtue of liberalism is
tolerance (in the valid, former sense of the word just indicated),
and the virtue of conservatism (when likewise well handled) is the
energy it can infuse into life through the feeling of certainty that
the universe is on ones side.
THIS AMBIGUOUS WORLD
matically, which is not the case. Absolutism and dogmatism lie on
different axes. The first relates to belief, whereas the second is a c
acter disorder. The opposite of absolutism is not open-mindedness
but relativism, and the opposite of dogmatism is not relativism but
open-mindedness. There can be, and are, dogmatic relativists and
tives at recognizing the dangers of fanaticism and the virtues of tol
Both the strengths and the dangers of liberalism pertain to lifes
horizontal dimension, which encompasses human relationships
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
nature of things. James Russell Lowells familiar lines are dedicated
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong
forever on the throne, „
ing watch above his own.
I repeat this important point. The issue is not over compassion
and an alternative of whatever sort, but over the status of compas
sion in the nature of things. Is compassion rooted in ultimate
reality, or is it only an admirable human virtue? That is a vertical
question pertaining to worldviews. Liberals inherited their exem
plary passion for social justice from parents and grandparents who
(for all their social concern) nailed the horizontal arm of the
Christian cross to its vertical arm which (in standard rendition) is
longer to symbolize its priority. In their declining concern for the
ology and worldviews, liberal Christians have in effect turned the
cross on its side and made its horizontal arm the longer of the two.
he cosmic Rorschach inkblot includes everything. And, be
cause backgrounds influence foregrounds, what we attend to
focally is influenced by our background
of everything, of the
sense
of the wholeŽ because backgrounds are not in
direct view. To become conscious of them we have to redirect our
gaze and turn them into foregrounds.
The remainder of this book does that„turns background into
foreground with the traditional Big Picture, the background
against which human life was lived until the scientific backdrop
replaced it. I will remind the reader that I used the opening chapter
of this book to suggest that a sensible way to enter the third millen
nium would be to pass a strainer through the three periods of the
human past and carry forward the best in each while leaving the
dead to bury the dead with respect to the remainder. The best
the traditional age was/is its worldview.
Wanting first to establish the reasons for my interest in the tradi
tional period, I have delayed until this chapter my full description
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
for I have devoted an entire book to that matter. Darrol Bryant took
the two initial essays that I wrote on the subject„Accents of the
Worlds PhilosophiesŽ and Accents of the Worlds ReligionsŽ„and
added to them my fourteen subsequent essays on the subject to edit
Huston Smith: Essays on World
Religion.
Differences having been dealt with there, I am free here to
focus on the conceptual spine that underlies those differences. A
Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the
Worlds Religions,
Think of this chapter, if you will, as the generative grammarŽ
that gave rise to the manifold natural languages of the human spirit,
the worlds religious outlooks. The language of science is not a natu
Lingua franca
an artificial language that cannot accommodate the human spirit.
REAT
this-world
Other-world.
Other animals do not make this
division, and early on human beings may not have done so either,
the Garden of Eden story in some form or other„turns up repeat
edly. Be that as it may, the earliest human mentality that has sur
The aborigines call their Other-world the DreamingŽ and con
trast it with the everyday world because of its immunity to time.
Things in the ordinary world come and go, but time does not
THE BIG PICTURE
touch the Dreaming. It is peopled with legendary figures who are
much like ourselves while at the same time being larger than life.
The exceptional status of those mythic figures derives from the fact
that they originated lifes basic activities. One primordial hero
Outsiders would suppose that when an aborigine engages in a
given act he thinks of himself as
the hero who originated
tality, for as was just said, time has no purchase on the Dreaming.
The goal of aboriginal life is to live as fully as possible in the
Dreaming, for that (as the slang expression has it) is really living.Ž
When we proceed from this earliest this-world/Other-world
divide to recorded history, we find the division continuing. Platos
allegory of the cave provided Western civilization with its presiding
ditional philosophy as well, for traditionally the two were insepara-
ble„turns on this distinction however conceptualized, to the point
that its presence can be said to be what makes a worldview reli
gious. Mircea Eliade took this for granted in titling his survey of
religious history
The Sacred and the Profane,
A Separate Reality.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Each of the two halves of the traditional worldview then subdi
vides, which gives us four domains in all. Before turning to the
As we saw earlier, the standard terms for designating the two
halves of the world are
Transcendence,
For definitional clarity, I have thus far referred to this-world
and the Other-world as if they were halves of an apple, but that is
misleading. The truth of the matter is contained in the diagram
shown in Figure 1 (see Chapter Twelve), which has the physical
universe as the smaller circle within a larger one that includes it
and more besides. Situating it thus allows the attributes of the
larger circle to wash through the smaller one„the circumference of
the smaller circle is perforated to allow for this„but religious sen
When the Buddha awakened under the bo tree, his first excla
mation was, Wonder of wonders; all things intrinsically
are
Buddha-nature.Ž The refrain that resounds through
The Heart
Sutra
like a rhythmic gong-beat is: Form is emptiness, emptiness
is form; there is no form without emptiness, there is no emptiness
without form.Ž The psalmist proclaims that heaven and earth are
full of Thy glory.Ž Finally, St. Paul assures us that in Him we live,
and move, and have our being.Ž
THE BIG PICTURE
tion, not geography. What are we able to
with what Plato called
the eye of the soul and Sufis refer to as the eye of the heart? In
Blakes formulation, If the doors of perception were cleansed, we
would see everything as it is: infinite.Ž
consists of this-world only. I repeat for a final time the telling line
from the
Chronicle of Higher Education
: If anything characterizes
modernity, it is a loss of faith in transcendence, in a reality that
All the while, science preaches two worlds of its own that par
allel those of religion with the difference that the other-world of
science is quantitative whereas that of religion is qualitative. Like
religions Other-world, the quantum world is invisible to human
Coming now to the subdivisions in the two halves of the Big Picture,
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
the Other-world into its knowable and ineffable aspects. I begin
The Two Halves of This-World
Prior to the invention of the magnifying glass, the visible world
consisted of what our physical senses report, but modes of amplifi
cation have extended our senses deeper into nature. This makes it
Turning to the invisible, immaterial half of this-world, we
encounter it directly in our thoughts and feelings, but the tradi
tional and modern views differ categorically as to how far into
nature immaterial things extend. Traditionalists consider discar-
nates„angels, demons, patron saints, shamanic allies, and their
likes„to be as much a part of the worlds furniture as are moun
tains and rivers, but modernity has withdrawn consciousness (or
more broadly,
) from the world at large by making it an
epiphenomenon of biological organisms at some level of their com
My object in this chapter is to describe the Big Picture, not to argue
for it, but as someone who was raised in a traditional culture and has
spent most of his career teaching the Big Picture as impounded in the
worlds great religions, I find modernitys withdrawal of sentience
from the world at large so arbitrary that I shall sandwich in the sin
gle firsthand experience I have had that tugs against it.
THE BIG PICTURE
It was 1957, and I was serving as visiting professor at Stephens
College in Columbia, Missouri. My television course on world reli
gions had premiered in St. Louis the preceding spring, and that
made me a bit of a celebrity in Columbia that semester. So it was
pared to discuss Black Elk, only to find him so obsessed with a recent
event that his book scarcely entered our conversation. The story that
poured from him and his wife was this.
The preceding week the Neihardts had been involved in a minor
automobile accident. Nothing serious„scraped fenders, a few
Dog? What dog?Ž the Neihardts wanted to know.
Oh, you know. That little black spaniel.Ž He glanced under the
table and, seeing nothing, added, He must have gone out.Ž
The Neihardts looked at each other in astonishment. They had
had a black spaniel who had been the joy of their lives, but he had
died of old age the week before.
That was where the story from them ended, but years later I
learned of its conclusion. I referred to the incident in a newspaper
interview that came to the eyes of a couple who had been personal
friends of the Neihardts, and they wrote me to fill me in on the
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
is not conclusive. It does not require the conclusion that the
spaniels soul continued after he died and continued to impact the
telepathically on the Neihardts remembrances of their dog. Still,
telepathy too is not a part of the standard scientific worldview, so
in either case the reported facts seem to challenge that view in one
way or another. I will leave matters there and proceed to the
Other-world.
The Two Halves of the Other-World
Everywhere it subdivides into Gods knowable aspects, on the one
hand, and on the other, Gods unfathomable depths, which Jacob
Boehme called the Divine Abyss and Meister Eckhart christened
the Godhead. (Asian equivalents will be entered in due course.)
The distinction can also be described philosophically (as Neopla
tonists and Vedantists do), but I will limit myself here to the theis
tic expressions. I shall use
God
Godhead
for the division in the Other-world, but there are other pairs of
three: God as knowable and unknowable, God as manifest and
hidden, and God as personal and transpersonal.
God as knowable and unknowable
. Insofar as
unknowable
ignorance, it is misleading here, for we are not totally ignorant of
the Godhead. Only left-brain conceptual knowledge„knowledge
that can be put into words„is decommissioned. The Godhead
cannot be rationally described, but (in a way that resembles seeing
cerned.
Jobs climactic testament is paradigmatic here: I had heard
of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee.Ž We
THE BIG PICTURE
Everest: The West Ridge:
The stone grows old,
Eternity is not for stones.
But I shall go down from this airy space, this swift white
And time will close about me, and my soul stir to the
rhythm of the daily round.
Manifest and hidden.
tives are privy to our inner lives in their inscrutable depths.
Personal and transpersonal
. Montesquieu quipped that if trian
gles had gods, those gods would have three sides. He intended his
remark as satire, but it contains an important truth. We best under
stand things that resemble us. Enter the personal God, decked out
in attributes like ours (though they exceed ours infinitely in nobil
The logical complement to the personal God is the transper
sonal God, but we must be careful here. The obvious mistake
transpersonal
God cannot be. Transpersonal is
more
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
that outdistance us. If one restricts
center of self-awareness,Ž it is applicable, because God is never
without that; but the primary meaning of the word derives from
persons, and as such persons are radically
is a tricky adjective to attach to God. People who
have trouble with the notion of a personal God„their number
seems to be increasing„are put off because the concept cloys for
sounding anthropomorphic. (That is how Spinoza and his disci
ple Einstein saw the matter.) They have a point. To be religiously
available, God must resemble us in some ways or we could not
erence and awe that are required for worship. Likeness and differ-
Having delineated
God
from
Godhead,
it remains only to indi
Making due allowance not only for differences in terminology
but for differences in nuances, in East Asia we find Confucianisms
the supreme ancestor, and beyond him
Tien,
or Heaven.
In Taoism, there is the
Tao
In South Asia, Hinduism presents us with
saguna brahman„
God with attributes or qualities, among which
(infinite being, awareness, and bliss) are primary„and
Nirguna
Brahman,
THE BIG PICTURE
his morning congregation, In the morning you feel your heart
touch the Buddhas heart, and Buddhas heart is so happy, so full of
kindness.Ž The transpersonal God is, of course, solidly ensconced
in Buddhisms
Nirvana.
Finally (and reversing the situation in Buddhism), the Western,
Abrahamic family of religions pulls out the stops on the personal
God„the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of our
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
CHINESE
CHINESE RELIGIOUS
infinite
10,000
Things
demons
(unmanifested)
body
subtle
body
body
(subtle mind)
hsin
ling
shen
soul
body
nafs
jinn
Tien (Heaven);
speakable Tao
JEW
ISLAM
CHRISTIANITY
COMPLEX
knowable
OTHER-WORLD
Unspeakable
Tao
Heaven/Earth
shen/kwei
THIS-WORLD
TRANSCENDENTAL
EMPIRICAL SELF
Godhead
World of
Emanation
World of
Creation
World of
Formation
World of
Action
God
nature
izzah (sovereign
power)
Malakut
(Dominion)
Jabbarut
(Domination)
Mulk
Turiya
(Atman)
Buddha-
Nature
gross
(gross mind)
five vijnanas
(five senses)
Sefiroth
Maya
Spirit
psyche
qalb (heart);
(primordial
nature)
ruh
Nirguna
Brahman
Saguna
Brahman
Devas in
Prakritti
Shunyata
Nirvana
Dharmakaya
Bodhisattvas;
Sambhogakaya
Nirmanakaya
LEVELS OF REALITY
LEVELS OF SELFHOOD
Figure 2.
Graphic layout courtesy of Brad Reynolds.
THE BIG PICTURE
IERARCHICAL
EALITY
With the four regions of reality elaborated, I turn now to their rela
tionships. The central point has been implied throughout this chap
ter, but it needs to be stated explicitly. The four domains are not
identical in worth. We caught sight of this in our glance at the abo
riginal Dreaming, which is incomparably more worth-filled than is
mundane existence, and when we fan out the world into its four
Etymologically,
hierarchy
comes close to being a perfect word
for joining the two virtues„holiness,
heiros,
and sovereign power,
arkhes„
which, conjoined, announce religions central claim. For as
William James stated that claim, Religion says that the best things
less assaults on the word from what Frederick Crews has called the
eclectic left have all but ruined it by building oppression into its
very definition. By definitional fiat, this turns empowering hierar
chyŽ into an oxymoron and leaves the general public without a
word for chains of command that are legitimate and enabling.
That there are such chains is obvious once the matter is given a
moments thought, however. A loving family with small children is
an empowering hierarchy, as is a well-run classroom. The definitive
example of a benevolent hierarchy is Gods relation to the world,
which Christians compress into the formula that was mentioned in
Chapter Two: God became man that man might become God.Ž
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
That said, I now proceed to the traditional hierarchical world
view. Every virtue increases as we mount from this-world (its two
sciousness, and bliss; the creativity and compassion that Yahweh so
In us the virtues are distinct„knowledge is not the same as
beauty, and neither of those is synonymous with power. In God the
virtues overlap while remaining distinguishable, but in the mathe
matical point of the Godhead at the top of the diagram, the
tures of the others. The Godhead knows lovingly and loves know
ingly, and so on, until all the virtues smelt down into a singularity
that the Scholastics called the divine simplicity.Ž
OPDOWN
AUSATION AND THE
ULTIPLE
EALITY
In direct opposition to the scientific worldview, where causation
proceeds upward from simple to complex, in the traditional world
The ineffable Godhead
Virtues
rew
Fingers pointing
The knowable God
The cloud of unknowing
Gods
Knowable
Attributes
Figure 3.
of Japans creation myth) creating the world, or of its emanating
from the Transpersonal One (as Neoplatonists, Vedantists, and
philosophical Taoists prefer to do), effects never equal their causes.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
gradations. (Speculating, Freeman Dyson calls this the principle of
maximum diversity,Ž which would make the universe as interesting
as possible.) Only a single veil hides the fullness of the Infinite
from what approximates it most closely„namely, the personal
God„but veils are progressively added to produce all the grades of
finitude until eventually we reach the meagerest kind of exis-
tence„the strings in physics string theory?„where the Infinite is
The phrase degrees of finitudeŽ is worth thinking about, espe
cially when it is stated positively, as degrees of reality.Ž And thereon
A decade or so ago at an international conference in Seoul, South
Korea, participants were treated to a tour of the famed Palace
THE BIG PICTURE
meaningful. How could a state of affairs be anything other than
simply a state of affairs? they wanted to know.
As the reader is gathering, I found the experience rather unnerv
ing. For starters, it was two against one, besides which Oxford
English makes me feel inferior before ideas even enter. I will, there
fore, characterize the outcome minimally by saying that our discus
sionŽ did not end in a smashing victory for degrees of reality.
Still, win one, lose one„or, in this case, lose one, win one.
While I was at Syracuse University the religion department had
a practice of mounting departmental colloquia to celebrate the
publication of books by its faculty. Three colleagues would com
ment on the book and a discussion followed. When my
Forgotten
Truth
appeared, it fell to my lot to have my departmental chairman
as one of the three respondents.
I cannot remember anything else that was said on the afternoon in
question, but I remember as if it were yesterday my chairmans report
of his reaction to my book. He confessed that departmental duties
had forced him to put off reading it until the last minute, but he had
blocked off the preceding evening and the morning of the colloquium
to prepare. As things turned out, he needed the morning only to
catch up on his sleep, for by the end of the books first chapter he had
found himself so agitated that he read the book straight through
hierarchical,
no less!„worldview as being supe
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
I have no memory of how that afternoon ended except that we
both phoned our wives to say we would not be home for dinner
and hied ourselves to a nearby restaurant to continue the discus
sion,Ž to put what followed politely. Degrees of reality remained
central, and I come now to my reason for telling this second story.
We were making no progress and had descended into recycling
ting killed right and left. In a voice that bordered on genuine fright,
his son had turned to him and asked, Dad, is this real?Ž
Out of the mouths of babes. These are curious times, when a
six-year-old can understand that realŽ has degrees, while his philo
sophically trained father cannot. Add hucksters to the sons com
pany, for a cereal box that recently caught my eye assured me that
I would not have devoted this much space to this reality issue if
THE BIG PICTURE
where there is no Transcendence, capitalizing
Reality
does not give
the word a distinctive referent; all it does is to pump enthusiasm
into the word. As one British analytic philosopher (I have forgotten
his name) put the matter, Reality when capitalized means nothing
more than reality, loud cheers.Ž
I am having trouble putting this particular issue behind me, but
this final entry should do the trick. My church has picked up the
lowed by Committed to Social Justice and Spiritual Growth.Ž
Fancifully (but only partly so) I have found myself playing with an
alternative wording that would read, Committed to Making
People Real,Ž for that is not a bad way of describing the religious
project: the effort to transcend phoniness. The whole object of reli
ble to Gods infinite reality. That should be easy, because God is so
Stating matters in the simplest way I can manage, I have presented
the conceptual spine of the traditional worldview. To modern ears
it is likely to sound archaic if not arcane, as when we find E. O.
Wilson saying in his
that prescientific opinions about
the world are wrong, always wrong.Ž But I have already stated the
decisive point, which is that science has discovered nothing in the
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Wilson cites no such facts because he does not understand the
Wilsons quoted assertion is wrong, but that does not make the
traditional worldview right. There will be no backing away from
the conclusion of the preceding chapter, which was that world
views are unprovable. There are, however, ideas that are worth pon
dering as we decide which outlook we want to live by, and I shall
mention three.
ditional worldview does not. Life from non-life, sentience from
insentience, intelligence from what lacks it„for science it is more-
deriving-from-less at every step.
Three chapters back I cited Colin McGinns
The Mysterious
Flame,
ent for the Big Picture, as well as for language and science. If the
multiplicity of such Pictures„the variations in religion from cul
ture to culture„is put forward as counting against the second tal
I will repeat what I have said several times: that the multiplicity
comes through to us as variations on a common theme. For as Ken
Wilber has written, the concept of a hierarchical worldview (along
the lines I have outlined in this chapter) is so overwhelmingly
widespread that it is either the single greatest intellectual error ever
THE BIG PICTURE
to appear in human history„an error so colossally widespread as
to literally stagger the mind„or it is the most accurate reflection
of reality to have appeared.Ž
To this I will myself add that at minimum this view of reality
emerges as the view that conforms most closely to the full range of
human intuitions. As I put the matter in my
Forgotten Truth:
Constituting until recently, through both rumored and recorded
history, what we have ventured to call the human unanimity„
the phrase overstates the case slightly, but not much„it presents
itself as the natural human outlook, the view that is normal to
We fully understand physical objects such as cars when we
can ourselves build them. Elsewhere explanationŽ becomes a tricky
tion satisfies us. To this, Archbishop and theologian William
Temple adds that the sought-for satisfaction arrives when the
explanation shows that what is being explained is found to be as we
view is transparently intelligible. The scientific worldview is not.
Final causes being categorically excluded from it, it necessarily
deadends in questions that have no answer.
PIRITUAL
ERSONALITY
YPES
used to think that the most important religious differences are
ism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and their likes
(including tribal religions among Native Americans and others).
Increasingly, however, I have become convinced that there is a
These four ways of slicing the religious pie (if this expression
may be excused) are not explicitly articulated in the way theologies
are. For the most part they pass unnoticed, for they leave no foot
prints in history and do not create headlines, as religions do when
ity types (as I am calling them) run deeper than theological differ
ences, for they are grounded in human nature, whereas theological
differences, being historical, come and go.
What demarcates the four types is the size of the world each
inhabits. Beginning with the smallest, the atheists world houses
nothing but matter and the subjective experiences of biological
organisms. Polytheists add spirits to the foregoing„this is the
SPIRITUAL PERSONALITY TYPES
realm of folk religion, which is much the same the world over.
Monotheists place all of the above under the aegis of a supreme
being who creates and orchestrates everything. Having nothing fur
ther to add to the foregoing, mystics double back over the terrain
to find God everywhere.
This way of putting things seems to give each successive type the
advantage over its predecessors for having a more commodious
way-stations. For Polytheists, for example, the idea of a single, all
accountable God may be assented to, but it has little direct bearing
on the lives they actually live.
If we visualize the four worlds in the way they are diagrammed in
Figure 2, Chapter Fourteen, and mount a vertical axis that extends
from the circles center upward, we can think of the lines that sepa
rate the four levels of reality as one-way mirrors. For someone look
ing upward from the center, the lines are mirrors. One sees nothing
above them; what one sees in looking at them is reflections of things
on ones own plane. From the other side, however, they are plate
glass. Things on the levels below the glass are in plain view.
This analogy will be developed in later pages, but here at the
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
HARACTEROLOGY
Know your type, we are told, and innumerable people give large
chunks of their lives to trying to do just that. In the ritual of the
Sunday morning newspaper, readers who turn first to their horo
It has deep roots. Astrology is universal and goes back as far as we
can see, with numerous cultural overlays. Psychologically obsessed
India has not one but three complementing ways of classifying
people„by their
yoga
(most effective way of approaching God),
varnas
(predominant psycho
logical dispositions). The Wests longest-standing classification,
which dates from Empedocles, Hippocrates, and Galen, links four
melancholic) to their respective natural elements (air, water, fire,
and earth) and bodily humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and
black bile). We still speak of unemotional persons as phlegmatic
(phlegm-ridden); cheerful, unflappable ones as sanguine (blood
dominated); hot-headed ones as choleric (from the Greek
bile); and sullen, depressed ones as melancholic (from
My object in this chapter is to add to the worlds storehouse of
typologies one that takes the human spirit as its chief concern. The
next and final chapter of this book will argue that Spirit is what ties
us directly to the Big Picture, and spiritual personality types are
SPIRITUAL PERSONALITY TYPES
from the cosmic Rorschach blot. The four spiritual personality types
are defined by which of these worlds each type believes exists.
BIQUITY
The four types turn up not only everywhere but everywhen, for we
can track them as far back as historians can see. Instead of cata
loguing this claim (which would prove tedious), I will simply do a
headcount in places where we might expect one of them to be
missing. In discussing the ways in which the cosmic inkblot can be
When Robert Graves was at
for three weeks, departments
were invited to host him for dinners, and we philosophers gladly
availed ourselves of that opportunity. When the table had been
cleared for after-dinner drinks, Graves lit a cigar, leaned back in his
chair, and, addressing us squarely, asked, What do you gentlemen
have against ghosts?Ž I thought that our chairman, Hilary Putnam,
would choke on his brandy before he recovered himself and turned
It was surprising to find disembodied spirits turning up in an
faculty gathering„students are a different population„but I have
already pointed out that in the New Age Movement gods and god
desses are everywhere. Monotheism is officially absent from early and
southern Buddhism„I say
officially,
because I have had taxi drivers
in Sri Lanka stop before commencing long drives to light josh-sticks
before images of the Buddha„but it enters torrentially in the
Mahayana
. (This too has been previously noted.) In my graduate
SPIRITUAL PERSONALITY TYPES
for mysticism in the severely monotheistic
Abrahamic religions, but today those who otherwise have no use for
religion generally make an exception for mystics. One thinks of the
respect accorded to Jalal ad-Din al-Rumi. In passing, we all have all
four types within us; the differences are in degree.
As the label indicates, atheism is a negative stance. (In Greek, the
prefix
announces negation: the gnostic knows; the agnostic does
not know.) It is important to make clear that in the present typol
ogy the negativity pertains only to disbelief in worldviews that
house God. It has nothing to do with the atheists stance toward
life (which is as likely to be as life-affirming as the next mans), or
with character traits of any sort. This needs to be clearly stated,
because mention of the word
ments, both positive and negative, in the way carcasses draw flies.
During the McCarthy era, when the Cold War was at its height,
atheism was associated so strongly with Communism that atheis
tic CommunismŽ began to sound like a single word. Today some
thing of the reverse pertains. The bad name that modernity has
given religion has (in the knowledge culture) moved virtues from
the theistic to the atheistic side of the ledger. To support his athe
ism, Albert Camus told us that early in his life he resolved to live
without lying, the implication being that religious people live by
lies. In the same vein, Einstein said that in their struggle for the
A major virtue of my typology is that it steers clear of
SPIRITUAL PERSONALITY TYPES
that personality types subscribe to. The atheists world stops with
the inner circle in Figure 2, Chapter 14, with sentience added as an
epiphenomenon of biological organisms. The physical universe as
conceived by science and common sense is what exists. This comes
to fifteen billion light-years of dead matter with the subjective
OLYTHEIST
The Polytheists world consists of this-world in its traditional full
ness. In that fullness, gods, spirits, and discarnates are taken for
granted as much as chairs and tables. They are fully as real, and for
all we know are equally numerous. As recently as a century or two
ago, angels, demons, and patron saints were thought to be every
where, actively engaged in the human drama. Today when we
goblins, ghosts, and the elves and little peopleŽ of the Irish, we
assume that we are into folklore. Earlier, such things were at the
heart of folk
religion
. Shamans dealt with spirits directly, as did
mediums with their occult guides and controls.Ž Belief in these
spirits was in no wise confined to lower classes. In the eighteenth
Spirits are not necessarily good. In the Chinese town where I
grew up, evil spirits predominated; indeed, warding them off
seemed to be the towns operative religion. Bottles over doorways
(their nozzles pointed outward to fool spirits into thinking that
they were cannons), disappeared with the science-addicted
Communist takeover, but curiously the towns main monument to
evil spirits still survives. The story is this:
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
esting that with all the Communists talk about eradicating super
Spirits are normally invisible. Angels do show themselves occa-
sionally„in the Abrahamic tradition, Gabriel displays that talent
repeatedly„but the talent itself is unusual. Invisibility usually
implies immateriality, but not entirely here, for references to spirits
having bodies are widespread. To cite but two examples: in
Mahayana Buddhism we have the three bodies
Buddha, only one of which was protoplasmic (the body of
Siddhartha Gautama in his earthly incarnations); and in Christianity
we have Christs glorified body, which„following his resurrection„
slid through closed doors before it ascended to heaven.
What this comes down to is that discarnates are exempt from
gross
matter and the matrices of space, time, and matter that govern
it. Ghosts glide through walls in the way lasers move through lead
plates, and angels are said to change locations simply by
do so. Presumably the Taoist priests who imprisoned the evil spirits
SPIRITUAL PERSONALITY TYPES
things more clearly than we do, or that they are happier and more
benevolent. One thinks of the hungry ghosts and hell-beings in
Buddhisms Six Realms of Existence.
pens when it collides with science? Very little, actually. There is a
to change the flag, and the saying fits quite well here. Modernists
no longer turn to spirits for healings and rainfall, now that technol
ogy has proved itself more dependable
But that
does not mean the death of polytheism, for there is more to the poly
theist than interest in magical technology.
Polytheists protest that banishment. Consider the following:
For a sizable proportion of the population, even in the mod
ern West, this fascination phases subtly into belief. How
many of our associates who present themselves in the worka
day world as no-nonsense meat-and-potatoes types have
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
(hidden well out of sight) firsthand accounts of a close brush
One of the appeals of Jungianism is that it allows people to
indulge their polytheistic proclivities while remaining cultur
ally respectable. It accomplishes this by transplanting gods
and goddesses from the external world into the collective
unconscious. My Jungian colleague at Syracuse University,
David Miller, put this viewpoint into a book he titled
New Polytheism.
Polytheists are found within institutionalized churches
(whose theology is almost invariably monotheistic) as well as
outside them. Sociological studies of religion in the small
towns of southern Italy provide us with a typical example.
The people of these towns take it for granted that they are
ference, which this time I am approaching from a different
angle. The polytheist is interested in the supernatural not for
its own sake but for its involvements with this world. And
it is long and because it is vivid enough to make the point by itself.
It is from Michael Ondaatjes
The English Patient.
World War II, and inch by inch the Allies are liberating Italy. For
those who are not familiar with the word
SPIRITUAL PERSONALITY TYPES
came upon this book„it refers to an advance scout charged with
When the Eighth Army got to Gabicce on the east coast, the sap
per was head of night patrol. On the second night he received a
signal over the shortwave that there was enemy movement in the
water. The patrol sent out a shell and the water erupted, a rough
warning shot. They did not hit anything, but in the white spray
of the explosion he picked up a dark outline of movement. He
raised the rifle and held the drifting shadow in his sights for a full
minute, deciding not to shoot in order to see if there would be
another movement nearby. The enemy was still camped up
north, in Rimini, on the edge of the city. He had the shadow in
his sights when the halo was suddenly illuminated around the
head of the Virgin Mary. She was coming out of the sea.
She was standing in a boat. Two men rowed. Two other men
the town began to applaud from their dark and opened widows.
The sapper could see the cream-colored face and the halo of
forms had also emerged. The band would not play and break the
rules of curfew, but the instruments were still part of the cere
mony, immaculately polished.
He slid from the darkness, the mortar tube strapped to his
back, carrying the rifle in his hands. In his turban [he was a
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Sikh] and with the weapons he was a shock to them. They did
not expect him to emerge too out of the no-mans land of the
He raised his rifle and picked up her face in the gun sight„
ageless, without sexuality, the foreground of the mens dark
hands reaching into her light, the gracious nod of the twenty
small light bulbs. The figure wore a pale blue cloak, her left knee
raised slightly to suggest drapery.
These were not romantic people. They had survived the
Fascists, the English, Gauls, Goths and Germans. They had been
owned so often it meant nothing. But this blue and cream plas
ter figure had come out of the sea, was placed in a grape truck
full of flowers, while the band marched ahead of her in silence.
Whatever protection he was supposed to provide for the town
was meaningless. He couldnt walk among their children in
white dresses with these guns.
Her face was still lit. The four men who had brought her
by boat sat in a square around her like sentries. The battery
attached to her back began to fade; it died at about four-thirty
in the morning. He glanced at his watch then. He picked up the
men with the rifle telescope. Two were asleep. He swung the
sights up to her face and studied her again. A different look in
the fading light around her. A face which in the darkness looked
more like someone he knew. A sister. Someday a daughter. If he
SPIRITUAL PERSONALITY TYPES
I myself once experienced a display that in its resolute focus on
an icon approximated the one just described. I had just checked
I thought that two hours would suffice for me to find an appro
priately aligned position in the temple, but I soon realized that my
ber of bodies that had been trampled to death. This was the one
My fear was unfounded. As so often happens in India, someone
emerged out of nowhere and, seizing me by my hand, somehow
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
managed to drag me out of the surging, hysterical mob. He led me
down an alley for several blocks and then we doubled back toward
the temples farther side, where I found myself sitting on a rooftop
with the veiled goddess in direct view. There we sat in silence (he
spoke no English) awaiting the epiphany. On the stroke of twelve
IRRORS
Halfway through my description of the four types seems like a
good time to take a breath and dub in the principle of one-way
mirrors, which I anticipated in the opening pages of this chapter.
Polytheism leads into the subject particularly nicely because (as I
have mentioned) the Monotheists God often turns up in the back
ground of the Polytheists world.
The Polytheist accepts everything that the Atheist takes to be
real and adds spirits to it. It is as if the Polytheist were to say to the
Atheist, I see everything you tell me you see. It is only what I see
in addition and you do not see that divides us.Ž To which the
Atheist responds, You mean what you
you see,Ž for to the
Atheist the Polytheists additions are fictions. All of the disputes
SPIRITUAL PERSONALITY TYPES
the far side of the glass, for glass itself is invisible. To repeat: those
who look downward see what is on both sides, whereas those who
look upward see only what is below.
theists obviously do not discount the Polytheists spirits; they merely
baptize them, so to speak, converting them into angels and demons.
Each successive echelon includes what is in the preceding ones and
places it in a larger landscape. In the last resort, spiritual personal
ity types are functions of how much each type perceives.
ONOTHEIST
Anthropologists often contrast Great Traditions with little tradi
tions. Great Traditions are the historical, institutional religions that
form the backbones of civilizations„Islam in the Middle East,
tic. Invariably they are ringed with little traditions that are in many
ways their opposites. Little traditions have no history. They have
no buildings or institutionalized structure. Typically they center in
a charismatic leader who appears to have remarkable powers, and
they generally have difficulty outlasting her. (Women are conspicu
ous in little traditions, which is another way the latter differ from
Great Traditions.) We are invited to think of oak trees surrounded
by mushrooms at their base„and indeed, the ephemerality of little
traditions has caused them to be nicknamed mushroom sects.Ž
Polytheism having already been covered, it is now monothe-
isms turn. The treatment can be brief because (sufficient for our
purposes) the Monotheists God„knowable and personal„was
described in the preceding chapter. This frees us to attend here
to the Monotheists
relation
to that God. That it is an intimate,
personal relationship goes without saying; Monotheists have no
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
trouble at all in thinking of God as richly endowed with the finest
qualities that human beings exemplify: wisdom, tenderness, mercy,
compassion, creativity, love, and the like, which, elevated in degree,
add up to glory. Love figures especially among these qualities. In
the idiom of Hinduisms four
yogas
karma yoga
are the
natural routes to Ishwara or Bhagavan, two prominent names of
the personal God in that tradition.
Krishnas love for the gopis (cow-herdesses), which was ardently
ing character: illicit love„
love,
mind you, not sexual adventure„is
uncomplicated and therefore wholehearted. This contrasts with
married love, which always comes with obligations„to support a
family, to remain faithful after time has tamped the flames of the
novelty, and so on. Requited or not, illicit love„again, not crude
illicit sex„is nothing if not romantic. We speak of being lovesick,
of swooning with love. Our love of God should have that same pas
sionate intensity that characterizes head-over-heels romance. One
thinks of Dante and Beatrice, and Rumi and Shams of Tabriz.
Ethics enters as a corollary of passionate love when it is directed
to God the creator, who has the whole world in his hands.Ž God
loves the creatures she creates as if they were her children, so if we
love God we will love them too. Ethics is absent from polytheism.
It is inseparable from monotheism.
I have had occasion to remark that the idea of a personal God
seems to give people more trouble now than it used to, so I will
SPIRITUAL PERSONALITY TYPES
devote the remainder of this section to several glimpses of that con
cept at work.
Novelist Anne Lamott says that her two favorite prayers are
Help me, help me, help meŽ and Thank you, thank you,
thank you.Ž
Malcolm Boyd, an Episcopal priest, wrote a book titled
Are
You Running with Me, Jesus?
I have been surprised to find that
myself under stress.
Several years ago when the American Academy of Religion
fered a stroke, but she was still at the piano, playing with her
left hand while her right arm hung limply from her shoulder.
There was standing room only, and we stood. The number
that has stayed with me most clearly was this spiritual:
O for a closer walk with Thee,
Jesus, grant it if you please;
Daily walking close to Thee:
You have to know that spirituals melody to know what I
am talking about here, and you have to hear the trombone
laying down its melody with the suffering of three centuries
of slavery behind the sound to understand the fervor in its
supplication. When the last strains had died away and a
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
thundering applause took over, my friend (whom I do not
think of as particularly religious) turned to me and said,
They werent
that. They were
praying
The last instance that I shall mention also involves a personal
anecdote, but one that runs deeper than the others that relate
I barely remember my maternal grandfather, who in the
sulate in Shanghai that the Americans must evacuate the city
immediately, but the escape routes were themselves dangerous.
Just before they left their house (not knowing if they would
NLY
Value increases as we mount the four levels of existence. The atheists
world contains very little value, for value is an aspect of experience,
and experience is in short supply in our fifteen-billion-light-years-
across universe if organisms are its only seat. In sharp contrast, the
polytheists world teems with value. That increase is a mixed blessing,
however, for it includes the value-opposites about evenly divided:
SPIRITUAL PERSONALITY TYPES
pain as well as pleasure, evil as well as good, and the host of other
dualities. In the monotheists world these dualities remain, but good
has the upper hand. In the mystics world evil drops from the picture
and only good remains. There is only God.
This is a difficult notion to accept. Regularly it squares poorly
with the morning news. (Once while Aldous Huxley was a visiting
professor at
, I drove him to an evening lecture at Springfield
One helpful approach is to think of the value that can come to
parts through their inclusion in larger wholes. Consider a magnifi
cent painting. Block out all but a square inch of the canvas and the
inch by itself does not amount to much. However, because the
painting would not be what it is without it, the glory of the paint
It is the same with music. Taken in isolation, one tone is much
like another. In the context of a great symphony, on the other
hand, a given note acquires grandeur for being exactly the right
note in the right place. The symphonys perfection depends on it,
(if this is not speaking too fancifully). Thank you very much, B-flat
from the oboe. You were needed. In The Red Wheelbarrow,Ž
William Carlos Williams transfers this point to the visual field.
A red wheelbarrow
Glazed in rain water
Beside the white chickens . . .
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
There is a second step in this line of thinking„a step that Plato
develops in his
Phaedrus,
where he describes the ascent from loving
beautiful bodies, through loving beautiful souls, to loving beauty
itself. To continue with music, think of the most memorable con
cert you ever attended, so flawless that it climaxed in what critics
I witnessed this once during a Sufi gathering in Tehran. The
hour had grown late. For the climax of the ritual the few candles
that had dimly lit the hall were extinguished, and a hypnotic,
pounding chanting took over. Gradually I became aware of a man
who was sitting opposite me in the swaying circle, his form dimly
SPIRITUAL PERSONALITY TYPES
them later, because of their hefty size) appeared behind him,
smothered him in their embrace, and held him pinioned until his
seizures subsided. In ecstatic moments such as that, it could be lit
erally the case that there was only God in what that
dervish
enced. Allah could very well have filled his entire mental horizon.
Sufis respect their ecstatics, referring to them affectionately as
spiritual drunkards who hang out in Gods tavern; but they hold in
higher regard those who can see God everywhere while they are
sober„which is to say, see God everywhere in daily life. This
soning. Reasoning brings indirect knowledge (knowledge
whereas intuition brings direct knowledge (knowledge
). The lat
ter causes thoughts to circle their objects, spiraling around them con
Here the circlings take the form of the reflections that I pre
sented while discussing the Godhead in the preceding chapter. To
be infinite, God must include all possibilities. Finitude is possi-
ble„here we are as witnesses„so finitude must be included in
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
and that his seeming absence is required if he is to share his infinity
while remaining in himself the absolute perfection that he is. That
perfection prevails. God is all in all.
Ram Dass tells of walking with his guru, Neem Haroli Baba, in
Bangladesh. The suffering around them was so heart-wrenching
that he could hardly stand it. His guru kept saying, Can you see
how perfect it is?Ž
As was just suggested, the great problem for mystics is the corol
lary that attends Gods being all in all, which is that there is no evil.
Theodicy, which wrestles with the problem of evil, is the Gibraltar
on which every rationalistic system eventually founders, so I must
deal with it here, though briefly. I shall limit myself to two short
If a two-year-old drops her ice-cream cone, that tragedy is the
end of the world for her. Her mother knows that this is not the
case. Can there be an understanding of life so staggering in its
immensity that, in comparison to it, even gulags and the Holocaust
seem like dropped ice-cream cones?
ball player who played linebacker for several professional football
teams, including the Los Angeles Dons, during the 1940s. One
PIRIT
t one point in Barbara Walterss two-hour-long interview with
Monica Lewinsky, Walters quoted President Clinton as con
fessing that he had sinned in his relationship with Lewinsky, and
she asked if Lewinsky thought she too had sinned. Lewinsky
appeared taken aback. She hesitated, shifted in her chair, and then
answered, Im not very religious. Im more spiritual.Ž
That answer points to a problem in our collective thinking about
religion: a cloud has descended over the very word itself. (The case
parallels the previously discussed case of the word
hierarchy
Uncontaminated,
religion
is a noble word; deriving as it does from
religio,
tially about. But because it challenges the prevailing worldview, it
has lost some of its respectability. Mention the word in public and
its sins are what jump first to mind. Still, it is difficult to argue that
religion has nothing to be said for it, which leaves us with Tontos
remark when, on entering a barn with the Lone Ranger, he took
several good sniffs and pronounced, Theres got to be a horse in
here somewhere.Ž Enter the word
specification) what is good about religion. Being no more than a
human attribute, spirituality is not institutionalized, and this
exempts it from the problems that inevitably attend institutions„
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
notably (in religious institutions) the in-group/out-group tensions
they tend to breed.
so I need add only a single point to what was said there. It is a bad
ity,
for this has a dog chasing its own tail. Grammatically,
its adjective.
Spirituality
has no refer
ent in sciences world, and without grounding there, we are left
unsure as to what the word denotes.
This chapter seeks to resolve that uncertainty, and I will phase
into the task by way of the
New Yorker
One of the
pleasing features of that magazine over the years has been its run
ning lampoon of religiosity through cartoons and squibs that
puncture piosity. The item I have in mind reported a sermon title
As was noted in Chapter 11, ever since Descartes split the world
entists have tried to bridge the chasm without success. I will con
fine myself to a single example, the psychology of perception.
If we try to connect an animal in the wild to its environment via
what textbooks say about the physiology of perception„breaking
the act down into neural components that must then be hooked
SPIRIT
With that running start toward Spirit, I advance from animals
ACIT
NOWING
gists had suspected. These students of learning are finding that
when faced with exceptionally subtle tasks, people who feelŽ their
way through them are more creative than those who consciously
try to think their way through.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
This explains why computer programmers no less than psychol
late the rules they follow. The experts do not follow rules. This
bears crucially on artificial intelligence, whose theorists are reluc
tantly coming to see that machines can never replicate human
intelligence because we are not ourselves thinking machines. Each
of us has, and uses in every moment of the day, a power of intuitive
skillfully with our everyday environment. Somehow that intuition
summarizes everything we have ever experienced and done, and
enables that summary to shape our present decisions.
That states the matter, but abstractly, so we need an example to
give it force. Japanese chicken-sexers are able to decide with 99 per
cent accuracy the sex of a newborn chick, even though the genitalia
are not visually distinguishable. No analytic approach to learning
the art could ever approach such accuracy. Aspiring chicken-sexers
learn only by looking over the shoulders of experienced workers,
who cannot explain how they themselves do it. Exposed to the art,
Talking parrots provide an even more startling instance of the
obscure talent I am tracking. What goes on when a parrot imitates
the voice of its owner, or the bark of a dog, or human laughter?
Presumably, the parrot has some sort of conscious life. It hears the
voice, it hears the bark or the laughter, and presumably it wishes
(in a way that rudimentarily corresponds to our desire to do some
But then what happens? When you think of it, it is one of the
SPIRIT
rot talking is the person herself making the utterance. The more we
reflect on this, the stranger it becomes, for in the course of evolu
tionary history parrots have not been imitating human beings from
time immemorial; people arrived after the parrots adaptive mecha
nisms were in place. We have here an
action, carried by some form of intelligence within the parrot, that
cannot be explained by evolutionary conditioning.
We find these examples astonishing, but the talent it jolts us into
one that directs every step of our lives. What we
prudence
provides an everyday example. Functioning in some
thing of the manner of a hidden gyroscope, it monitors our inclina
tions and comes up with a yes or a no, the two magical words of the
will. To do this, it spins no theories. Instead, it synthesizes all we
have learned and brings this synthesis to every decision we make. In
doing so it provides dozens of answers to dozens of questions,
and„because it gives no evidence of caring about their mutual
agreement„conveys the impression that each particular answer is
giously married. The integral truth of our being, from which it
springs, envelops and inspires everything we consciously and uncon
sciously do, giving our lives their form and style, and seeing to it
that each action and decision reflects that style.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Nothing I have thus far said is new. For some time chemist-
turned-philosopher-Michael Polanyi, evolutionary biologists, and
developmental psychologists have been talking about tacit knowl-
edge„cognitive underpinnings that are indispensable to our
knowing but that operate unconsciously. All of these investigators,
however, assume that mental operations that we cannot explain
ride the waves of simpler operations that are rationally intelligible.
In short, they assume that the
more
derives from the
Traditionalists assume the opposite, and from this single difference
the two worldviews that this book has been juggling separate as day
from night.
Defiantly I have taken my stand with the traditionalists, and in
this closing chapter, as I said, I am taking the initiative. I want to
try to drag modern investigators kicking and screaming toward the
bage in, garbage out. Smashed to smithereens, Humpty Dumpty
Approaching the matter from this direction will not lessen the
mystery of the progressions involved and may not hold many sug
gestions for scientific research, though maverick biologist Rupert
Sheldrake is toying with some possibilities here. It might, however,
carry suggestions for how we should live. That would be no small
benefit, given Richard Rortys observation that the legacy of
Descartess dualism has been to cause philosophers to replace the
search for wisdom with the search for certainty, and to turn toward
science rather than toward helping people attain peace of mind.
SPIRIT
PIRIT AND
UTWORKINGS
The wholeness with which traditionalists begin is God: Hear O
Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.Ž When capitalized,
Spirit is a synonym for God, and I am using it as such here with
emphasis directed toward Gods presence and agency in the world,
as when in Genesis the Spirit of God moved on the face of the
watersŽ and in human beings the Holy Spirit is Gods workings
within them. Spirit in this chapter is the
of Jews and
Atman
of the Hindus, the Buddha-nature of the
Buddhists, the Uncarved Block of East Asia, and the best statureŽ
in which the Koran tells us human beings have been made„
ceived, is identical with God or Gods mirror image is negotiable.
Mystics champion identity; monotheists insist that a distinction
remains.
Having in this chapter approached Spirit through the back
door„by way of the difficulties that we face in trying to under
stand in its absence how human knowing works„I turn now to
indicating how things might look when Spirit is taken to be funda
mental to the world. (Is there any
reason
sciousness, or sentience, or awareness„all of these being names for
the point where Spirit first comes to human attention„is less fun
damental than matter? That we can lay our hands on matter but
not consciousness is not a reason.)
I begin with what Plato would have called a likely tale. What if,
in the Big Bang, it was Infinite Omniscience that exploded?
According to the traditional law of inversion, what is logically prior
arrives last in point of time. Here that translates into Gods being
both the causal beginning of things and their temporal end. From
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Chronologically, the sequence begins with the meagerest possible
existences that become increasingly complex as time proceeds. But
note that in this scenario intelligence is present in those microscopic
entities at the very start„there is a Buddha in every grain of sand. In
the early scientific view atoms were governed by laws they had no part
phorically; though not all scientists, for Freeman Dyson writes that it
appears that mind, as manifest by the capacity to make choices, is to
some extent inherent in every atom.Ž His opinion hasnt entered the
textbooks, but it agrees with tradition where sentience pervades.
And though in the smallest things Gods omnipresent omnis
cience is veiled under the thickest conceivable veil, the tiniest bit of
sentience that surfaces in those things is
and is backed by it. Why do not particles content themselves with
being just what they are„particles? Whence comes this drive toward
tion of the omniscience that orchestrates everything) are up to some
sion, a skilled engineer and manager, a chief executive officer, the
head of the whole place. I never thought before that I possessed such
SPIRIT
a tenant. Or perhaps more accurately, such a landlord, since I would
be, if this is in fact the situation, nothing more than a lodger.Ž Lewis
Thomass
is my Spirit, causing ingredient elements everywhere
to reenforce one another in ways that make senseŽ in the literal
meaning of manufacturing sense where previously there was none.
As for the self/world divide, it is a Cartesian conceit. Self-con
atoms in the void that must collide to connect went out with
Greek proto-science long ago; field theory now reigns.
Pratitya
nation that is more intelligible than its alternative. When an adult
solves a riddle or laughs at a joke, it is no surprise, for the
The issue in question„more from less or less from more„hits
us in the face when we consider how we got here. Darwinists con
sider it a proven fact that novel qualities„life, sentience, and self-
consciousness„can derive from the rearrangement of elements
that themselves lack those qualities. The explanation that is offered
for how these rabbits appear out of hats is to say that they emerge.
What that explanation overlooks is that emergenceŽ is a descrip
tive, not an explanatory, concept. It explains nothing.
From Shankara, Ramanuja, the Abhidharma, and the Madhyamika
in Asia, to the magisterial writings of Augustine, Plotinus, Thomas
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Aquinas, Avicenna, Averroes, and Ibn Arabi in the West, the less-
from-more worldview has been worked out with a precision and
phers did not work from the premise of a subject-object split, but
given the importance of the point it might be well to provide at
least one example. Hilary Armstrong tells us that for Plotinus, the
Intellect (a technical term) is the level of intuitive thought that is
We should not conclude from the identity they worked from
that traditional philosophers were blind to distinctions. Obviously,
ter. This section tracks their relationship.
If consciousness is not simply an emergent property of life, as
science assumes, but is instead the initial glimpse we have of Spirit,
we ought to stop wasting our time trying to explain how it derives
from matter and turn our attention to consciousness itself. The
image on a television screen provides an analogy for what we then
find. The television lights up its screen, and the film in the video
we are watching modifies that light so as to produce any one of an
SPIRIT
infinite number of images. These images are like the perceptions,
sensations, dreams, memories, thoughts, and feelings that we con
sciously experience„we might think of them as the
consciousness. The light itself, without which no images would be
possible, corresponds to pure consciousness. We know that the
images on the screen are composed of this light, but we are not
usually aware of the light itself. Our attention is caught up in the
images that appear and the stories they tell. In much the same way,
we know we are conscious, but normally we are aware only of the
many different experiences, thoughts, and feelings that conscious
ness presents us with. Consciousness proper„pure consciousness,
rience is identical with what you experience in that state. And iden
tical with what God too experiences, not in degree but in kind. For
at that level, we are down to what consciousness
potential„receptive to any content that might be imposed on it.
consciousness is only potential whereas Gods
consciousness is actual„God experiences every possibility time-
lessly„but the point here is that our consciousnesses themselves
are in fact identical.
That is the left, subjective, arm of the inverted V. The right
descending arm represents Spirit branching out to create the physi
cal universe. Its instrumentality for doing this is light, or as scien
tists say, photons. (If I try to move to what might be beyond or
no-mans-land opens up where nobody really knows what goes on.)
Photons are transitional from Spirit to matter, because (as we saw
in the chapter on LightŽ) they are only quasi-material while pro
ducing things that are fully material. Scientists would give their
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Notice the parallel with consciousness here. All that we typically
see, optically, is light that is overlaid with images of one sort or
another. The photons that strike the optic nerve of the eye are
known only through the energy they release, which energy produces
for to repeat, we never see photons, which is to say light in the form
in which it pervades the objective world. But the light that we see
and the photons in the objective world derive from the same source
and carry the trace of that source„Spirit„within them.
In some such way as this, traditionalists see physics affirming
Genesis
that in the beginning there was light. And (as again we
saw in the chapter on Light) there continues to be light, for light
underlies every process of nature, wherever and whenever. Every
tons. Every interaction in the material world is mediated by light;
ally, until the time came when I had wholly become that light.Ž
SPIRIT
In contrasting the great outdoors with the tunnel in the first half of
this book, I noted that the religious worldview conforms to the
most successful plot device ever conceived„namely, a happy end
ing that blossoms from difficulties necessarily confronted and over
come. Thus far I have not given content to that ending, but the
time has come to do so.
In the scientific worldview, matter„its foundation„cannot be
destroyed; it changes its form but never disappears. The same holds
for consciousness when it replaces matter as foundational. How
consciousness changes when it drops the body,Ž as Indians say, is
the great unknown, but Ruth Ann in Barbara Kingsolvers
Poisonwood Bible
points toward the religious answer. Having died
keeping with Congolese beliefs, and as a green snake lying on a tree
limb she is watching her mother and sisters who after many years
Charles Tart, professor of psychology at the University of
California, Davis, agrees with Ruth Ann. Tart is one of the two
academics I know who has devoted his career to studying para
telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis, seances, and
the like„and I heard someone ask him if he thought his con
sciousness would survive his bodily death. He said he was certain
Religions teach that after death one
aware of who one has been
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
The alternative to reincarnation locates what remains to be done
on a different plane of existence. The Abrahamic religions stand
ple, we find Rumi saying, I died as mineral and became a veg
As for what the remaining business
must be accomplished before the soul can enter an abode of total
purity, variously designated as the Pure Land, Happy Hunting
Grounds, Heaven, the Western Paradise, and others. Fire is typi
cally cited as the cleansing agent. Some accounts take the word lit
SPIRIT
ties with which it armored itself become like flames, and the life it
there led like a shirt of Nessus.
It was 1964 and I was using a semesters leave to continue my
researches in India. At the moment to be described, I was convers
ing with one of a number of gurus whose reputations had taken me
to the foothills of the Himalayas, when suddenly there appeared in
the doorway of the bungalow I was in a figure so striking that for a
moment I thought I might be seeing an apparition. Tall, dressed in
a white gown, and with a full beard, it was a man I came to know
as Father Lazarus, a missionary of the Eastern Orthodox Church
who had spent the last twenty years in India. Ten minutes after I
The reason I am relating this is for one particular exchange in
the weeks conversation. I had told him that I found myself
strongly attracted to Hinduism because of its doctrine of universal
Father Lazarus responded by telling me his views on that matter.
They took off from the passage in Second Corinthians where Saint
Paul tells of knowing someone who twelve years earlier had been
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
on to say that in that heaven the man heard things that were not
to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.Ž Father Lazarus
quoted the passages verbatim. Paul was speaking of himself, Father
That exegesis solved my problem and has stayed in place ever
since. A number of years later I was pleased to find it confirmed by
Having allowed himself the right to his own opinion on one
important theological doctrine, Father Lazarus would not likely
deny me my right to exercise
private conscience on another. It
After I shed my body, I will continue to be conscious of the life
I have lived and the people who remain on earth. Sooner or later,
however, there will come a time when no one alive will have heard
SPIRIT
EP IL OGUE
idway through his book
Gandhis Truth,
Erik Erikson inter
rupts his psychoanalytic study of Mahatma Gandhi with a
very different kind of chapter„a short chapter that he titles A
The sensitivity with which Erikson leads into his approaching
Respected scientists, and by extension keepers of the high cul-
treat religion with respect, just as the great majority of religious
people belong to moderate denominations that treat science with
respect. Dogmatic scientific materialists are as exceptional as dog
matic religious fanatics, but because they stir things up and the
cal zeal what they lack in numbers. With that correction I shall
start over and try to say it right this time.
Respected adversaries, I should like to suggest what is required
of militant scientists if the two great shaping forces of history are to
join hands in the coming century. Like a dysfunctional family try
toward it, I suggest that you try to understand where we believers
are coming from.
The polemical among you are not good at doing that. My shelf
of books on science-for-the-laity is as long as my shelves on each of
the major world religions, but I will be very much surprised if you
can say as much from your side. Your standard criticisms of reli
gion sound so much like satires of third-grade Sunday school
teachings that they make me want to ask when you last read a the
ological treatise and what its title was.
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Heisenberg and Arthur Compton were the leading lights in the
conference on Science and Human Responsibility that Washington
University mounted in the 1950s, and its program reserved Sunday
morning for divine worship.
What I feel that you do not understand is why we, your poten
tial partners, are so persistent in pressing our case. You know by
heart the pathological reasons for our doing so, but the first
requirement in conflict resolution is to try to understand the per
At our best, we seem to possess a sensibility that you lack, and I
shall try to describe it.
Most simply stated, to be religiously musicalŽ (as Max Weber
confessed he was not) is to possess a distinctive sensibility that I
The religious sense recognizes instinctively that the ultimate
Why are there pain and death? Why, in the end, is life worth living?
What does reality consist of and what is its object?„are the defin
ing essence of our humanity. They are not just speculative impon
ality leads him to ask ultimate questions of the sort just mentioned.
It is the intrusion of these questions into our consciousness that tells
us most precisely and definitively the kind of creature we are. Our
humanness flourishes to the extent that we steep ourselves in these
questions„ponder them, circle them, obsess over them, and in the
end allow the obsession to consume us.
Following on the heels of the above, the religious sense is vis
ited by a desperate, at times frightening, realization of the distance
have
answers never wavers,
however, and this keeps us from giving up on them. Though final
answers are unattainable, we can advance toward them as we
advance toward horizons that recede with our every step. In our
dered the ultimate questions before us. You scientists learn from
your precursors too; Isaac Newton expressed this nobly when he
said that the reason he saw further than his predecessors was
because he stood on their shoulders. But it is easier in science to
gion was entirely a social affair, a reification of the shared values of
WHY RELIGION MATTERS
Taylor criticizes William Jamess
As I try to describe the religious sense, my mind goes back to a
night when I felt it working in me with exceptional force. My wife
and I were spending a week in the dead of winter in Death Valley,
California, and on the full-moon night that we were there I awoke
around two
. to a call that seemed to come from the night
itself, a call so compelling that it was almost audible. Hurrying into
some clothes, I answered it. Stepping out of doors, I found that not
a breath of air was stirring. The sky held no clouds to conceal the
panoply of stars ascending from the circling horizon. It was one of
For half an hour or so I walked the road, without (as I remem
ber the epiphany) a thought in my head. It may have been as close
as I have ever come to the empty mind that Buddhists work toward
for years.
There my powers of description shut down, so I was happy a
year or two later to come upon this poem by Giacomo Leopardi
which, on reading, I recognized as giving words to the night in
question. In that poem, a nomadic shepherd in Asia is posing ques
tions to a moon that seems to dominate the infinity of earth and
heaven„questions whose horizons are themselves infinite:
And when I gaze upon you,
Who mutely stand above the desert plains
Which heaven with its far circle but confines,
Or often, when I see you
Following step by step my flock and me,
Or watch the stars that shine there in the sky,
Musing, I say within me:
Wherefore those many lights,
That boundless atmosphere,
And infinite calm sky? And what the meaning
Of this vast solitude? And what am I?
Abrahamic tradition, 35, 223, 237,
see also specific religions
Adams, Henry, 93
advertising, moral consequences of, 48,
Age of Reason, 150, 152
Allen, Lewis,
Only Yesterday,
ambiguity, the worlds, 205…12
Advancement of Science, 68
American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU), 104, 106
American Indian Religious Freedom
American Medical Association, 70
American Philosophical Association, 156
American Psychoanalytic Association,
American Scholar,
Appleyard, Bryan,
Understanding the
Present: Science and the Soul of
Modern Man,
Aquinas, Thomas, 92, 263…64
Arendt, Hannah, 8…9
Armstrong, Hilary, 264
Arnold, Matthew, 55
religions
Asimov, Isaac, 159
astrology, 236
astronomy, 13, 15
Auden, W. H., 158;
The Age of
Bacon, Francis, 14, 199
Ball, Milner, 128…29
bardo,
Barth, Karl, 74, 275
Barthes, Roland, 53
Becker, Carl,
The Heavenly City of the
Eighteenth Century Philosophers,
Godot,
belief, consequences of, 43…45
Bellah, Robert, 84…86, 91, 131
Bellow, Saul, 120, 158, 189
Bergson, Henri, 46
Berlin, Irving, 2…3
Bhagavad Gita, 58, 273
Bible, 30, 80, 95…96, 105, 108, 113,
Big Picture, 12, 25…27, 43, 49…50,
visions of, 214…23; levels of reality
physics; worldviews
biology, 14…15; evolution, 34, 41,
178…82; road ahead and, 178…82
Bisson, Terry, 183
Blake, William, 55, 147, 217
blindness, puzzling character of,
Boehme, Jacob, 29, 220
Bohm, David, 187, 188, 189…91, 263
Bohr, Niels, 14, 145, 273
bondedness in traditional worldview,
Borg, Marcus, 95
Born, Max, 14
Botsford, James, 126
Boyd, Malcolm,
Are You Running with
Me, Jesus?,
Brecht, Bertolt, To Those Born
Later,Ž 56
Brennan, Justice William, 132
Bryan, William Jennings, 104…9, 112
Bryant, Darrol,
Huston Smith: Essays
on World Religion,
Buddhism, 14, 18, 29, 31, 32, 35…36,
Business Week,
Camus, Albert, 38, 55, 238
Capps, Walter, 32…33
Carson, David,
Sight: Grafik design
90
Carter, Stephen,
The Culture of
Disbelief: How American Law and
Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion,
A Separate Reality,
causation, downward, 226…31
Center for Theology and the Natural
Sciences, Graduate Theological
Union, Berkeley, 75…77, 201, 202
Center for the Story of the Universe,
Christianity in, 154…55; Cultural
Revolution, 152, 155
Chomsky, Noam, 185, 189
Christianity, 18, 29, 31, 35, 36, 58,
Darwinism vs., 103…12, 180…82;
Chronicle of Higher Education,
Chrysostom, John, 271
churchgoers, lifespan of, 44
Ciardi, John, 159
civil rights movement, 17, 131
clinical psychology, 86, 87…88
Clinton, Bill, 129, 255
cognition, as active, 147…49
cognitive psychology, 87; cognitive
Comfort, Alex, 19, 155, 194
compassion, as anchored in God,
Compton, Arthur, 274
Comte, Auguste, 94, 97
Spinozas, 68…70
Congress, U.S., 124; on religious
consciousness: and light, 263…66;
pure, 265
conservatism, religious, 209, 211
constitutional law, 124…33, 158
controlled experiment, as crux of
Coomaraswamy, A. K., 102
Copernicus, Nicolaus, 14
cosmology, 12, 20, 42, 49, 85, 232;
see also
science
counterculture, 160…61
creationism, 71…72; law and, 131…33;
creation-science (term), 132
Crews, Frederick, 88, 173, 225
Dante, 248
Darrow, Clarence, 104…9, 112
Darwin, Charles, 46, 150…51, 161,
The Origin of
Species,
178…79; revisioned, 162
Darwinism, 46, 72, 75…78, 103…12,
203, 263; and the law, 131…33;
revisioned, 162; Scopes trial and,
Davies, Robertson, 241
Dawkins, Richard, 72, 203
Dear AbbyŽ column, 208…9
view, 54;
Death of Nature,
de Chirico, Giorgio,
Nostalgia for the
Infinite,
deconstruction, 89…90
Cities,
Dillard, Annie, 74
Dionne, E. J., 116
direction, God conceived as, 2, 3…4
disbelief, culture of, 122…34
disqualified universe, 50…55
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 155
Dreaming, as Other-World of
Australian aborigines, 214…15, 225
Eckhart, Meister, 220, 223
eco-niche, worldview as the minds, 26
Edwards, Jonathan, 117
Einstein, Albert, 14, 38, 60, 137, 141,
Eisengrim, Magnus, 241
Profane,
Eliot, T. S., 158;
The Hollow Men,
The Waste Land,
Emergence, 263
Empedocles, 236
Employment Division v. Smith,
enchanted garden, traditional world as
Engels, Friedrich, 151
Enlightenment, 20, 28, 89, 95, 150,
EPR (Einstein, Podolsky, Rosen)
Equal Opportunity Center for Science
evolution, 34, 41, 71…72, 75…78, 131,
Kansas Board of Education decisions
experimental psychology, 86…87
faith, eyes of, 147…49
Faraday, Michael, 199
Ferris, Timothy, 62…63, 67
First Amendment, 124…29;
Forster, E. M., 51
Foucault, Michel, 64, 91
Francis, Saint, 29
Frankfurt School, 70
French Revolution, 18
Freud, Sigmund, 38, 60, 87…88, 91,
revisioned, 170…73
Frost, Robert, 24
future, anticipating the, chapters 9…11
Gabriel, (angel), 240
Dropping,
Galen, 236
Galileo, 14, 199
Gandhi, Mahatma, 130, 272
Gascoyne, David, 41
Gass, William, 170;
The Tunnel,
Gauguin, Paul,
Who Are We? Where
Did We Come From? Where Are We
Going?,
Gellner, Ernest, 8
Germany, Nazi, 152, 195; its universi
Gibson, J. J.,
The Ecological Approach
to Visual Perception,
Gilman (Sander) and Parent (David),
God, 220, 225, 226, 231, 261; -is
dead prediction, 146…47, 148,
sonal, manifest and hidden, know
Spirit related to, 255…71; spiritual
Godhead, 222, 225, 226, 253
Goleman, Daniel, 87
Goodenough, Ursula,
The Sacred
Depths of Nature,
Gore, Albert, 56
Gould, Stephen Jay, 100, 165;
Rocks of
Ages,
70…72; A Visit to Dayton,Ž
government, religion and, 122…34
Graves, Robert, 237
Green, Arthur, 95
Greene, Graham, 158
Grunbaum, Adolph, 88, 173
Guevara, Che, 166…67
Habermas, Jürgen, 70
Haeckel, Ernst, 26, 181
Haquin, 148
Harman, Willis, 201
Hartshorne, Charles, 74
Harvard Divinity School, 120
Harvard Magazine,
Harvard University, 80, 81, 91, 160
Has Science Killed SpiritŽ (discus
Hawking, Stephen, 14, 177
Heart Sutra, The,
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 92,
Heidegger, Martin, 156
Heisenberg, Werner, 14, 262, 273…74
hierarchical reality, 225…33
256; humanities, 88…92; new pro
fessionalism and, 101; philosophy,
92…93; psychology, 86…88; reli
gion, 79…102, 157…58; religious
studies, 93…96, 157; social devel
sciences, 86…88; students world
views shaped by, 79…102
Hinduism, 29, 35, 58, 76, 114, 202,
Hippocrates, 236
Hofstadter, Richard, 108
Holmes, Oliver Wendell, 200
Holocaust, 53, 152, 169, 254
Hopkins, Gerald Manley, 140
Housman, A. E., The Shropshire
Hoyle, Fred, 14, 77
humanistic psychology, 87
Humanist Manifesto, 159
Hume, David, 19, 92
Hutterites, 130
Huxley, Aldous, 170, 251;
Brave New
World,
Huxley, Julian, 72
Ibn Arabi, 264
ideal types, Max Webers, 27, 33
Ignatius, Saint, 29
India, 35, 102, 103, 193, 202, 206,
Industrial Revolution, 150
Inherit the Wind
inkblot theory of the world, 205…9,
Inouye, Daniel, 125
Isaiah, 29
Islam, 35, 113…14, 115, 155, 209,
Jacob, François, 63;
Of Flies, Mice, and
Men,
Jakata Tales, in Buddhism, 58
James, William, 25, 225;
Religious Experience,
Japan, creation myth, 51, 227
Jung, C. G., 87, 122, 155, 242
Kafka, Franz, 55, 260
Kansas Board of Education, 1999 deci
sions on evolution, 110…12, 164
Kant, Immanuel, 8, 161
Kennedy, John F., 166
Kepler, Johannes, 199
Kierkegaard, Soren, 206, 273
King, Martin Luther, Jr., 130, 169
Kingsolver, Barbara,
The Poisonwood
Bible,
Scientific Revolutions,
Land, Edwin, 39
Laplace, Pierre, 77
Larson, Edward J.:
Summer for the
Gods: The Scopes Trial and Americas
Continuing Debate over Science and
Religion,
Trial and Error:
The American Legal Controversy over
Creation and Evolution,
Lasch, Christopher,
The Revolt of the
Elites,
law, 121…34; creationism and,
Employment Division v.
Smith
decision, 123, 124…29; reli
Lazarus, Father, 269…70
Leopardi, Giacomo, 276
Levinas, Emmanuel, 156
Levi-Strauss, Claude, 25
Lewinsky, Monica, 255
Lewis, C. S.,
The Abolition of Man,
liberalism, religious, 209…12
liberation, theology of, 17
263…66; physics of, 137…40; sub
jective experience of, 140…43
Lings, Martin, 133
Li Po, 14
Locke, John, 72
Ian Suttie on, 171…172; in
Lowell, James Russell, 212
Luke, 122
Lundberg, George,
Can Science Save
Us?,
Lusseyran, Jacques,
Malraux, André, 155…56
Mannheim, Karl, 94
Maoism, 152, 155
Marcuse, Herbert,
One Dimensional
Man,
Maritain, Jacques, 49
Marsden, George M.,
American University: From Protest
ant Establishment to Established
Nonbelief,
Marx, Karl, 146, 151…52, 161,
Marxism, 91, 122, 146, 149, 150…53,
151, 168, 182, 200; defined, 20
Mazlish, Bruce, 157
McCarthy era, 64, 108, 238
McGinn, Colin,
The Mysterious Flame,
meanings, cognitive, existential, global,
Medawar, P. B., 37, 172
media, 103…20; advertising and,
118…19; on Kansas Board of
Education evolution decisions,
110…12; religion and, 103…20,
Mencken, H. L., 106, 107
Mennonites, 130
Merchant, Carolyn,
The Death of
Nature,
Middles Ages, 92, 96, 194
Miller, David,
The New Polytheism,
Miller-Urey experiment (1953), 181
Milosz, Czeslaw, 24, 38
modernity, 7…134;
Nagel, Thomas, 183, 186
National Association of Biology
Teachers (NABT), 163…64
National Science Foundation, 77
Native American Church, constitu
tional rights of, 123, 124…29
Native American Religious Freedom
Project, 126…27
Native Americans, 19, 37…38, 51…52,
Employment
Division v. Smith
83; higher education taken over by,
natural philosophy, 80
Darwinism
nature, 11, 12…16, 19, 51…52; death
of, 51…52; depths of, 38…39;
fundamental process of, outside
Nature,
Nazism, 141, 152, 168…69, 195
Neem Haroli Baba, 254
Neihardt, John, 219…20;
Black Elk
Speaks,
New Age Movement, 160…61, 176, 237
Newsweek,
New Testament, 95
Newton, Isaac, 14, 63, 375
New Yorker,
New York Review of Books,
New York Times,
Niebuhr, Reinhold, 74, 166;
Moral
Nixon, Richard, 17
Norman, Edward,
World Order,
Novak, Michael, 210
Nuri, Abul-Hosain al-, 266
OConnor, Flannery, 158
Ondaatje, Michael,
The English
Patient,
One Nation Under God: The Triumph
of the Native American Church
one-way mirrors, principle of, 246…47
Oppenheimer, Robert, 273
Origen, 30
The Origin of Animal Body Plans
and the Fossil RecordŽ (1999 con
ference, China), 78
origins, religious vs. scientific views of
Pallis, Marco, 48
papacy, 17, 116
parapsychology, 219…20
Paul, Saint, 51, 216, 269…70
religion, 92…93; currently material
Pinker, Stephen, 183, 203
Planck, Max, 14, 139, 142
Plato, 5, 55, 80, 169, 215, 217, 261;
Phaedrus,
Pliny, 51
Plotinus, 37, 263, 264
politics, religion and, 121…34; role in
marginalizing religion, 146
Polkinghorne, John, 65…66, 177
Popper, Karl,
American University, 97…98;
passim;
Pound, Ezra, 53
prediction, 5, 145
Pribram, Karl, 187, 196
Prigogene, Ilya, 187
Principle of Analogical Predication,
Principle of Maximum Meaning, 30
Principle of One-way Mirrors, 246…47
process theology, 74…75
professionalism, new, 101
progress, modernitys faith in, 149,
Protestantism, American colleges
founded by, 80; Douglas Sloan on,
Provine, William, 37
prudence, 259
psychology, 86…88, 159, 170…73, 197;
cognitive, 87, 182…86, 257; experi
purgatory, 268, 269
Pusey, Nathan, 160
Quakers, 130
199
Ram Dass, 254
Rappaport, Roy,
Ritual and Religion in
the Making of Humanity,
reality (as Big Picture): hierarchical,
225…33; levels and degrees of,
reductionism, 84, 85
reincarnation, 267…68
relativism, 16, 84, 85, 210
relativity theory, 15, 137, 140
Religious Freedom Restoration Act
Religious News Service, 164
religious sense, the, 274…76
religious studies, 93…96, 157
Rieff, Philip, 92, 155
Rilke, Rainer Maria, 3
romanticism, 55, 92
Roosevelt, Eleanor, 167
Roosevelt, Franklin D., 98…99
Rorty, Richard, 49, 93, 260
Rosenthal, Robert, Pygmalion in the
classroomŽ experiments, 44
Roszak, Theodore,
The Making of a
Counter Culture,
Roy, Rustum, 77
Rumi, 144, 238, 248, 268
Ruse, Michael, 77
Ruskin, John, 39
Russell, Bertrand, 92, 93, 121,
Sagan, Carl, 187;
San Francisco Chronicle, The,
Sartre, Jean-Paul, 46, 93
Schleiermacher, Friedrich,
On Religion
lectures, 97
Scholes, Robert, 88…89
Schrödinger, Erwin, 14, 273
Schumacher, E. F.,
Guide for the
Perplexed,
Spinozas
ogy, 12…16, 42, 49; defined, 59…78,
188…92; as dis-qualified,Ž 50; evo
lution controversies, 104…12, 164,
80…102; limits of, 192…99; miscon
strual of, 5; and religion, dialogue
Scientific American,
passim;
defined,
59…78, 84; tracking, 63…68, 202…3
Scott, David K., 157…58
Searle, John, 49, 92
Seattle, Chief, 272
Second Corinthians, 269
selfhood, levels of, 223, 224
sensibility, religious, 274…76
sexuality, Suttie vs. Freud on, 171, 172
Shapiro, Dean, 87
Sheldon, William, 26
Sheldrake, Rupert, 260
Skinner, B. F., 87, 159
slavery, 19, 53, 249
Sloan, Douglas,
Faith and Knowledge:
Mainline Protestantism and
American Higher Education,
Smith, Alfred Leo, 124…29
Smith, Huston, 66, 271; Accents of
the Worlds Philosophies,Ž 214;
Accents of the Worlds Religions,Ž
Essays on World Religion,
Forgotten Truth,
Smith, Page,
Killing the Spirit: Higher
Education in America,
Smith, Wilfred Cantwell, 91
Snake, Reuben, 126…27, 144
Snow, C. P., 67
ness revolution, 16…18; liberalism,
sociology, 84…86, 94, 146
Socratess
Spinoza, Baruch, 68, 222;
Spirit, 255…71;
outworkings of,
261…63; implicit in tacit knowl
atheism, 238…39; monotheism,
247…50; mystic, 250…54;
Stanley, Manfred, 7…8
Stapp, Henry, 175, 176, 178
Stein, Gertrude, 52…53
Stephens College, 219
Stern, Isaac, 2…3
Stone, Irving, 105
Sufism, 217, 223, 252…53, 268, 270
Supreme Court, U.S.:
Edwards v.
Aguillard,
Employment
Division v. Smith
Suttie, Ian,
The Origins of Love and
Hate,
Swimme, Brian, 201
Syracuse University, 7, 120, 188, 189,
tacit knowledge, 257…60, 262
Taoism, 14, 208, 222, 224, 227, 240
Tart, Charles, 267
Taylor, Charles, 276
technology, 4, 53, 54, 59, 81, 88, 118,
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, 37;
Phenomenon of Man,
Temple, William, 233
Religion, 73, 77
Tertullian, 156
theodicy, 254
theology, 73…78, 92, 97; science as
tion and, 99…100; process, 74…75
this-world, 214…17; two halves of,
Thomas, Lewis, 262…63
Thomas, Saint, 65…66
Thoreau, Henry David, 14, 130
Thorndike, Edward Lee, 87
Tillich, Paul, 223
Times Literary Review,
Today
show, 2
tolerance, appropriate and
inappropriate, 210
Torah, 95…96
Tracy, David, 130
cosmology, 13; its social shortcom
ings, 18; its unrivaled worldview,
Transcendence, 30…31, 60, 216, 231;
transpersonal psychology, 87
tribal religions, 35, 234, 237
truth, 31, 40; absolute, 209; capital
ized vs. lower case, 209…210;
double theory of, 99…100;
objective, not applicable to
worldviews, 42; reduced to power
Tukano people (Colombia), 35
Turner, Victor, 2
University of California, Davis, 71
University of Chicago, 49; Divinity
School, 74; Zygon Center, 75…77
University of Notre Dame, 61, 65
Unshackled,
Upanishads, 273
Updike, John, 158
values, normative, inaccessible to
veiling, in theodicy, 228; to account
for degrees of reality, 228
Wald, George, 177
Walsh, David,
The Third Millennium,
Walsh, Roger, 87
Walters, Barbara, 255
Washburn University, 111…12
Washington University, St. Louis, 168,
170; Science and Human
Responsibility conference (1950s),
Watson, J. B., 87
Weber, Max, 8, 27…28, 33, 94, 274
Weinberg, Steven, 14, 30, 37, 39, 90
Wells, Jonathan, 78, 180…82;
Icons of
Evolution,
West, Rebecca, 53
Wheeler, John, 14
White, Andrew Dickson,
A History of
Religion,
Whitehead, Alfred North, 73, 74
Wieman, Henry Nelson, 74
Wilber, Ken, 232
Wilde, Oscar, 64
will, (Spinozas
Williams, William Carlos, The Red
Wheelbarrow,Ž 251
Wills, Garry, 119…20
Wilson, E. O., 72, 193;
Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 197…98
Wolfe, Tom,
A Man in Full,
Woodring, Carl, 89
wooing of a man by God, 31
Wordsworth, William, 14, 27, 64
World War I, 107
worldviews, 25…27; importance of,
25…27; inescapability of, 21; chal
lenged by postmodernism, 20;
modernitys, 13, 19; traditional,
modern compared, 27…38; as
See also
Big
World War II, 141, 167, 242
Yale University, 122, 180
Yeats, W. B., 46, 52
Yeltsin, Boris, 122
Zajonc, Arthur,
Catching the Light: The
Entwined History of Mind and Life,
Zygon,
Zygon Center, University of Chicago,
is widely regarded as the most eloquent and
accessible contemporary authority on the history of religions.
He has taught at Washington University, M.I.T., Syracuse
Visit www.AuthorTracker.com for exclusive information on your
Also by Huston Smith
DUCATION
EARCH FOR
The Religions of Man)
ONDEMNED TO
ORGOTTEN
RUTH
The Common Vision of the Worlds Religions
EYOND THE
RUTH AND
HEOLOGY
(with David Griffin)
USTON
SSAYS ON
LLUSTRATED
ATION
The Triumph of the Native American Church
(edited with Reuben Snake)
ERCEPTION
The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemicals
WHY RELIGION MATTERS:
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