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Right Questions, Wrong Places

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

Jeffrey Kluger, Time Magazine, November 10, 2014 – Review of the move Interstellar

It’s huge, it’s cold, it’s soulless. It’s possessed of forces that would rip you to ribbons the second you dared to step off the tiny planetary beachhead it has permitted us. What’s more, it completely defies understanding, at least for anyone who’s not fluent in the language of singularities and space-time and wormholes and all the rest. But never mind, because we believe in it all—and oh, how we love it. Big cosmology has become our secular religion, a church even atheists can join. It addresses many of the same questions religion does: Why are we here? How did it all begin? What comes next? And even if you can barely understand the answers when you get them, well, you’ve heard of a thing called faith, right? Like religion, cosmology has its high priests: Einstein and Hawking—people who, like Muhammad and Jesus, don’t even need second names. It has lesser priests as well: Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson—the great communicators. It has its storytellers too, none more powerful than those in Hollywood.

Interstellar will unavoidably help us look at the cosmos more as cathedral than void—a place to contemplate the riddles of space and time, yes, but life, death and love too. That’s explicit in the movie.

 

Sunday Assembly

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

In the third post in this series, I included a quote from Dr. Carolyn Parco in which she lamented science’s lack of ecclesiastical benefits. It looks like her prayers wishes might be answered. The Associated Press recently published an article detailing the spread of Atheist “mega-churches” called “Sunday Assemblies.”

Sunday Assembly co-founder and comedian Sanderson Jones is quoted in the article. His perspective is an unintended but stinging indictment of American church priorities.

If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships.

It is sobering to think that our churches have become so socially conscious in their behavior that leaving God out hardly changes the experience. Is it possible that God is subtly being treated as a “bad part”?

The article continues,

The inaugural Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles attracted several hundred people bound by their belief in non-belief.

Notice the implied contradiction in the phrase “belief in non-belief.” This is a key point in my series on natural humanism as religion: everybody has a faith-based belief about the supernatural, even if it’s the belief that no supernatural exists.

Similar gatherings… have drawn hundreds of atheists seeking the camaraderie of a congregation without religion or ritual.

While numerous humanists have commented on personal satisfaction with the scale and grandeur of the universe and their being a part of it, the attendees of “Sunday Assembly” can tell that something is missing. This missing element is worship. Humans are created to worship, but the universe is a cold, vacuous, and uncomprehending deity. These congregationalist seek ritual as a substitute for worship. The author of the article writes that they seek camaraderie without religion or ritual, but he is mistaken. In the same article he quotes a sociology professor who contradicts him.

‘There’s something not OK with appropriating all of this religious language, imagery and ritual for atheism,’ said Michael Luciano, a self-described atheist.

Luciano understands that ritual and religion is exactly what these people are seeking. He’s also right that it won’t help them. Religious ritual is empty without a worthy subject to worship. Without God, it becomes exactly what they accuse it of being; habits for emotional stabilization, devoid of personality. Like an infant’s pacifier, it may give them a temporary sense of comfort, but there’s no real nourishment.

As Christians, our nourishment is based on studying, remembering, and praising the work of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, and then imitating that work to others. All of our church behavior should reflect these principles. If not, we risk becoming another “Sunday Assembly.”

Hallelujah! – May the Force Be with You!

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

In the previous post in this series, I said that naturalistic humanism borrows from religion the meanings of joy and good. I have found no greater example of this than in the writings1 of Carolyn Porco. Dr. Porco is a planetary scientist and currently leads the imaging science team on the Cassini mission now in orbit around Saturn. She was awarded the Carl Sagan Award in 2010 for “magnifying the public’s understanding of science.”

The confrontation between science and formal religion will come to an end when the role played by science in the lives of all people is the same played by religion today.

At the heart of every scientific inquiry is a deep spiritual quest — to grasp, to know, to feel connected through an understanding of the secrets of the natural world, to have a sense of one’s part in the greater whole…

Spiritual fulfillment and connection can be found in the revelations of science. From energy to matter, from fundamental particles to DNA, from microbes to Homo sapiens, from the singularity of the Big Bang to the immensity of the universe …. ours is the greatest story ever told. We scientists have the drama, the plot, the icons, the spectacles, the ‘miracles’, the magnificence, and even the special effects. We inspire awe. We evoke wonder.

These are reasons enough for jubilation … for riotous, unrestrained, exuberant merry-making.

So what are we missing?

Ceremony.2

Imagine a Church of Latter Day Scientists where believers could gather. Imagine congregations raising their voices in tribute to gravity, the force that binds us all to the Earth, and the Earth to the Sun, and the Sun to the Milky Way. Or others rejoicing in the nuclear force that makes possible the sunlight of our star and the starlight of distant suns. And can’t you just hear the hymns sung to the antiquity of the universe, its abiding laws, and the heaven above that ‘we’ will all one day inhabit, together, commingled, spread out like a nebula against a diamond sky?

One day, the sites we hold most sacred just might be the astronomical observatories, the particle accelerators, the university research installations, and other laboratories where the high priests of science — the biologists, the physicists, the astronomers, the chemists — engage in the noble pursuit of uncovering the workings of nature herself. And today’s museums, expositional halls, and planetaria may then become tomorrow’s houses of worship, where these revealed truths, and the wonder of our interconnectedness with the cosmos, are glorified in song by the devout and the soulful.

“Hallelujah!”, they will sing. “May the force be with you!”

  1. Dr. Porco’s essay has been edited for brevity. The full essay was included in Edge.org’s 2006 compilation, “What is Your Dangerous Idea?” and can be found at http://edge.org/response-detail/11273.  []
  2. The word “Worship” would be far more appropriate here, considering what Dr. Porco describes in the following paragraphs. []

Naturalistic Humanism as Religion

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

Atheist BenchSo an Atheist group had a granite bench placed next to a Ten Commandments monument at a Florida courthouse. It has been inscribed with an odd collection of quotes like, “An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church.” This got me thinking about the tendency of naturalistic humanism to borrow from religion. I’ve decided to start a series of posts detailing this ideological bleed-over.

Example #1 comes from well-know Atheist and writer Sam Harris. In an essay titled Science Must Destroy Religion, he laments the need to practice religious tolerance, says that religion is spoiling the fruits of human inquiry, and calls on scientists to blast, “the hideous fantasies of a prior age.” But he ends the essay with a suggestion that, “We must find ways of meeting our emotional needs.” He continues:

We must learn to invoke the power of ritual and to mark those transitions in every human life that demand profundity – birth, marriage, death – without lying to ourselves about the nature of reality… When we find reliable ways to make human beings more loving, less fearful, and genuinely enraptured by the fact of our appearance in the cosmos, we will have no need for divisive religious myths.

The problem here is that in naturalistic humanism, man is a cosmological accident without free will, a “wet robot.” Birth, marriage, and death are just biological necessities, often driven by the function of reproduction. There is no being in control and there is no ultimate purpose for mankind in the universe. This hardly makes us more loving, less fearful, and enraptured by our appearance in the cosmos. Our emotional needs don’t have an answer in naturalistic humanism so they must be “borrowed” from religion. Even Sam Harris doesn’t presume how to do this. That’s not to say that people haven’t tried. I’ll explore some of their ideas in further posts.