Wednesday, August 21, 2013

RS Religious Identity: Some Elul Thoughts

As we approach the High Holidays, we want to contemplate the thoughts of various thinkers on why religion and the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) should matter to us. Here is Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in his Introduction to The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning:

Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean. Both are necessary, but they are very different. . . . Whole civilisations made mistakes because they could not keep these two apart and applied to one the logic of the other.

When you treat things as if they were people, the result is myth: light is from the sun god, rain from the sky god, natural disasters from the clash of deities, and so on. Science was born when people stopped telling stories about nature and instead observed it; when, in short, they relinquished myth.

When you treat people as if they were things, the result is dehumanization: people categorised by colour, class or creed and treated differently as a result. The religion of Abraham was born when people stopped seeing people as objects and began to see each individual as unique, sacrosanct, the image of God. 

One of the most difficult tasks of any civilisation -- of any individual life, for that matter -- is to keep the two [science and religion] separate, but integrated and in balance. . . .

. . . [N]eo-Darwinian biologists and evolutionary psychologists have focused on the self, the 'I.' 'I' is what passes my genes on to the next generation. 'I' is what engages in reciprocal altruism, the seemingly selfless behaviour that actually serves self-centred ends. The market is about the choosing 'I.' The liberal democratic state is about the voting 'I.' The economy is about the consuming 'I.' But 'I,' like Adam long ago, is lonely. 'I' is bad at relationships. In a world of 'I's, marriages do not last. Communities erode. Loyalty is devalued. Trust grows thin. God is ruled out completely. In a world of clamorous egos, there is no room for God. 

So the presence or absence of God makes an immense difference to our lives. (2-5)