Science, Religion and the Engagement of Mystery

Let’s be clear.  Humans made religion and not the other way around.  We created our myths.  We were not created by them.  And religion has been, is and will always be no more nor less than our myth making, our dialog with, our effort and yearning to address and connect in a meaningful way with mystical matters of spirit.

Science, on the other hand, and also a discipline of our making, casts ever new light on the physical horizon of mystery.  We learn, with the tool of science, about the material manifestation of something we can never fully name.  And we use what we learn, for better or worse, to fuel our own evolution.

We want to think that our religions have stood forever.  They have not.  They have grown from the seed of our awakening.  They have adjusted and adapted continually, if often reluctantly, to changes in knowledge and culture.  Heresies of only a few centuries ago, like the notion that the earth is a body moving around the sun, are now accepted as simply good science.  And archeological finds, like the complete Gospel of Thomas in the scrolls at Nag Hammadi, give us pause and reason to reflect anew on things we once thought certain, like what Jesus did or did not say.

But our view is too often reactionary, when it should be engaging and embracing, welcoming change while being ever in amazement and awe at the new mystery that unfolds continually before us.

Good science and true religion are never at odds.  They are simply independent disciplines serving completely different purposes.  Science observes and tells us – always provisionally – what and how.  I say provisionally because deeper and more complex discoveries constantly change our view and understanding of things.

Religion explores meaning and gives us – always provisionally – a sense of purpose in the void beyond our physical circumstances.  Again I say provisionally, because the edge of the void, the event horizon between the measured and mystery, is constantly moving.

This change need not be the threat it is so often perceived to be for religion.  We want the event horizon to stay fixed.  And so we focus on battles over the fault line.  We hold tight to ridiculous claims about the number of years since creation or our vision of a Creator that we, more likely than the other way around, made in our own image.

Religion locked in this backward view sets itself up for little more than an equally immature “told ya’ so” from those that claim the latest finding of science as total and ultimate truth, the undoing of dogmatic religion.  But true science is never ultimate and always only provisional.  It is just the next tiny discovery in the puzzle in the face of mystery beyond measure, words or imagination.

When we become stuck in scientism or religionism, we waste time heaving rotten eggs and tomatoes at each other across a false divide of our own imagining.  Respect and wonder are the appropriate positions as we journey relentlessly and together into our home in mystery.  Science pulls back the curtain on amazement at manifestation, things that can be seen and measured.  Let us continually appreciate each new discovery, each speck and marvel revealed on the emerging horizon.

Spiritual experience and exploration grant joy, gratitude, a sense of meaning and blind direction in the engagement of the unmanifest, the mystery within and beyond.

May all who go forward into exploration of the void bring back forever the gifts of knowledge and of the spirit, to be enjoyed in fullness, celebration, appreciation and humility, together, under the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact

Scientism and The Tree of Life

My son John called a few months back to tell me that he had spoken with my father.  That’s a sweet and common thing, right, for a child to speak with a grandparent?  And it was especially nice that he bothered to tell me.   The thing is, Dad died suddenly more than 27 years ago.  We adopted John, then just under three years of age, 26 years ago.  John never met Dad on this plane.  He just gets these kinds of visits.

There was no life-changing message in the conversation, at least yet revealed.  Mostly it contained well-wishes for all of Dad’s descendants, with a heartfelt sentiment about how much he loved them and was proud of each of them.  John received a distinct sense of each, including far-flung infant first cousins once removed that he truly did not even know.

There were other uniquely identifying memories in the exchange, a particular car, for instance, that Dad talked about.  John described it to me in detail, a car I had no photos of and would never have had reason to mention to my son.  I knew immediately which car it was and found a photo of one just like it on the Internet and sent it to John.  He recognized it with certainty as the car Dad was talking about.

And my Grandma Schertz was pushing some kind of greeting through in the background, too.  She would have done that, while she was busy busy minding her plants.

I am probably thinking about this today because my good friend Ki Johnson sent me Eben Alexander’s wonderful book, Proof of Heaven, last week.  If you are not familiar with it, Alexander is a neurosurgeon who experienced an extended and particularly deep NDE (near death experience) in 2008, an experience that has changed the course of his life and expanded his view of science and spirituality.

We have become, over the past four hundred years, so enamored with science that we have created a new religion, scientism.  Perhaps nothing in the world has greater allure and power to hold us under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and to blind us from the fullness of the Tree of Life.  Scientism would certainly dismiss or rationalize in some material way my son’s experience.

There is, of course, so much to be grateful for in the scientific method and its fruits.  In addition to the amazing advances in medicine, transportation, communications, daily comforts and understandings of the physical universe, there has been the very valuable checkmate of the abuses of religious dogma and the crushing power of the super-institutionalized church.

But scientism is no different than its religionist adversary.  Scientism turns an essentially useful tool into an abusive force when it claims ultimate and exclusive truth.  Scientism says that if science has not seen it, touched it or named it, it does not exist.  Scientism becomes especially queasy, if not downright dogmatic and fundamentalist, when spirituality enters the room.

Science, itself, in an interesting turn of events, may be approaching spirituality.  Or at least a perhaps necessary but over-exuberant burst of human pride at the discoveries and advances of the scientific method may be coming to a more balanced and humble correction.  We have been presented with the observations of astronauts as they view the earth from space, the photos of galaxies from the Hubble telescope, and, in another direction entirely, the almost infinite tininess of the Higgs boson.  And we learn that rocks and trees and skies and seas are all made of the same stuff – the tiniest of particles whirling and attaching in relationship with mostly space in between – just like the universe – just like us, the most sentient of beings on our speck of a planet.

And, of course, Hinduism, perhaps the oldest of the major religions, can point back to its roots and say “I told you so.”  Its philosophical underpinnings and observations of its sages reflect the kind of unitive creative force and energy to which physics now also points.

So as we consider our own spiritual path, what are the implications?

  • We begin to experience our old concept of God more as Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source than as an image of us, a human form, who lives and rules from somewhere in a direction that we have arbitrarily chosen to label up.
  • C/S/M/S is no less real or personal.  In fact, just the opposite.  C/S/M/S is in and through all of that creative space and energy, the stuff that you and I and everything are made of.
  • The immanence and transcendence of C/S/M/S begin to seem more like the realities of the physical universe and less like theories for discussion.   In fact the distinctions between physical and spiritual, immanence and transcendence, begin to blur, if not disappear altogether.
  • Our role clarifies.  Somehow, because we have been granted the gift of consciousness (insofar as we can say what that is and that we possess it in some unique and special way), we have both the power and the responsibility of co-creation, of participating in our own way in the ongoing act of creation and its care.  That is perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of being in the image of C/S/M/S.

Scientism and religionism duke it out in a futile and unending struggle of ego under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Science, the observation of what is, and spirituality, the willingness to be, rest and act comfortably in each other’s presence, without judgment, under the Tree of Life.  Let’s be there.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Quote as useful.  Please reference the source.