Oct 012010

Dear NYTimes:

I am one of those who enjoys the study of both religion and science – as a lay person in both cases. I find great value in both of these, but as the author indicates, these values are of different sorts. Unlike some, I do not find conflict in these two studies.

In science, I learn about the beginnings of the universe and the structure of the nucleus of the atom. My Roman Catholic study teaches me that what is true is true. Religion cannot deny the truth of science. Pope John Paul, and Pope Benedict are adamant about this. I cringe when I hear people describe Christianity from the perspective of Fundamentalism. I hope people realize the difference.

As I said, I have learned a lot from science. What I have learned from religion, however, I feel is more important. From religion, I have learned to love and be loved, to forgive and be forgiven, to be an active member of a faith community working to make the world a better place by developing and nurturing relationships. In other words, from religion I learn to know my soul.

Before I was fully committed to religion, I was living what seemed to me to be a typical secular life. My values were to accumulate as many pleasures as I could, to seek my own self interested appetites and pretty much do whatever I felt like doing as long as I did not hurt anyone else in the process.

This quickly went nowhere. It was not my study of scientific truth, but my study of religious truth that led me to the realization that my life was on track for a dead end. It was not science, but religion where I found community, grace, and joy. And not religion in the abstract, but more specifically, in church, I found good people who teach me everyday by their example what it means to strive to live a certain kind of values-based, virtuous, spiritual life.

Does science contradict any of this? If so, I don’t see it. One of the priests in my parish is a molecular biologist at NIH. My spiritual adviser is a retired physicist from Berkeley. We talk about quantum mechanics, string theory and share a love for books like “The Lightness of Being” by Nobel Prize winner in physics Frank Wilczec as well as books like “No Man is an Island” by Thomas Merton, a Roman Catholic monk who sought to understand the truths of other religions from Suffism to Buddhism. The Dalai Lama visited his grave in Gethsemani and gave him credit for opening his eyes to the deep and meaningful value to be found in Christianity. It was the first time, said the Dalai Lama, that he realized that Tibet’s religion did not have a monopoly on truth. Merton, nor the Dalai Lama, are ignorant of science and both were well read in quantum mechanics – as much as any non-mathematican can be, that is.

In all of this, there is never a hint at a contradiction between religion and science. It saddens me, therefore, to read and hear the arrogant claims against the faithful as if we are ignorant, irrational, and intellectually irresponsible. I wonder when I hear these claims, how much time the claimants have spent reading – and trying to understand – Aquinas.

Perhaps it is a matter of grace in the end. I don’t think you can explain love to a being that has not experienced it. There are certain kinds of knowledge that transcend the mind, and must be experienced by a self. We are not merely minds, we are not merely intellect; we are beings who have experiences. For those who have not experienced God, and whose minds demand a satisfactory, Arisotelian, logically consistent, understandable vision, I will pray for you, for I was once one of you.

Dear Agnostics: if it is the big, full truth that you seek, pray for the supernatural and remember that the study of Nature will never reveal anything but Nature.

What I have learned, is that God is not a puzzle to be figured out through the process of logic, merely; rather, it is the heart, not the mind that ultimately bears witness to love and to God. The intellect reflects on what the heart witnesses and reason and logic and intelligence is applied, as they always are, after the fact. Understanding follows experience; there is no understanding without experience. To understand the supernatural, you must experience it.

Those looking for empirical data, therefore, must look in the one and only place it can be found – in their own hearts. This is not to say that God is sentimentality. Unfortunately, Hollywood has diluted our concept of heart, but what I mean when I say “heart” is the center of being, the essence of self.

Lastly, there is a saying that God loves an honest doubter. It is perfectly OK to pray to God and say that you are not going to turn your back on reason, logic, or science, and that you acknowledge that you may never fully understand or know God the way you would like, but that you will keep the door open, that you will listen, and wait. And if you remain open to the possibility, if you leave the door open for God and invite Him into your heart, you may be surprised. Or not. But you can be committed to this listening and waiting. And there is something in this, I think. Of course, we don’t know how to conjure God. Nothing we do can earn his love and nothing we do can win revelation or salvation. Rather, these are freely given. This grace is truly the greatest of gifts, and for all my brothers and sisters out there who are honest doubters, I pray especially for you that you may keep an open heart, even in your skepticism, that you may experience this grace and finally have a piece of the understanding for which you seek, but have not yet found.

 Posted by at 9:23 pm

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.