Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christianity in a Scientific World

Gauchet on page 203 of The Disenchantment of the World, writes, “When the gods abandon the world, when they stop coming to notify us of their otherness to it, the world itself begins to appear other, to disclose an imaginary depth that becomes the object of a special quest, containing its purpose and referring only to itself.” If Science has abolished religion, then why hasn’t the world become populated with little Scientists? With God no longer other, the pantheistic World, nature, has become other. We are no longer theologians interested in Biblical exegesis. We now want to attune ourselves to nature, and attempt to learn its secrets by every means imaginable.

Gauchet writes, “There is a wrenching away from routine everyday life: the vertigo of the musical abyss, the poignant heights of poetry, the frantic passion of novelistic intrigue, a dreamlike absorption into the image. But there is also the open-ended attempt to evoke the other deep inside the familiar: the increasingly amazing novelty of sounds, along with their fluctuating empty evocations, the unfathomable ‘hidden world’ uncovered in the midst of a landscape seen a hundred times before, the impressionists’ magic revelation of the deeply hidden truth of an inhabited landscape. And further along we encounter the extremely disconcerting obligation to see ourselves in a surreal landscape, where radical strangeness itself surprises us and reminds us of something that we shall never know and yet are sure of. Finally, there is a representation that does not represent anything, but whose abstract interplay of lines and marks still manages to tell us about the world we live in, from outside it, and in its absence. From Balzac to Kafka, the revelation of the strange depths of a secret world lying beneath the surface of history and cities, right down to the pure evocation of an indecipherable speech and Proust’s revival of the past – all these identify those moments we traverse without experiencing in the mirror of otherness, thus bringing them to life again for us.”

How can we reconcile our scientific precision to this chaotic pantheism? Gauchet writes, “The world is to be reduced to sameness in the intelligible sphere, but revealed as other in the sensory sphere.”

Is there room for Christianity in this mix? Science has not turned man into individuals happy with the knowledge that there is nothing beyond the laboratory. Individuals aren’t buying that. They aren’t at all willing to stop with Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, nor are they willing to follow him up his particular ladder. They are busy erecting ladders of their own. They feel the pantheistic otherness of the world and they want to worship some part of it. Science abolished Christianity, but religion has found a way.

Christianity should give up fighting absurd battles it can’t win. Why should the Church care how old the earth is or the precise method God chose to create man? That is the province of Science and the Church should stay out of it. The Church should create a new slogan: “We don’t know precisely how God did it, but we believe that he did.”

If the Church ever gives up tilting at scientific windmills and looks about, it may notice the world filled with little pagans worshiping trees in forests. They might discover others waiting in the desert with rapt expressions looking for supernatural beings coming in UFOs. They might see others still leap over fences in zoos to embraces grizzly bears. Wouldn’t it be good if there were a viable Christian alternative available? Wouldn’t Christian time be well spent prying the hands of pagans from trees and leading them off to church? Science has destroyed Christianity, so they say, but it hasn’t provided an alternative worthy of the name. There is still that God-shaped vacuum in each one of us and the Pagans, convinced by science that God is dead, run from church and stuff the first thing that comes to hand into that vacuum. Maybe here in the U.S. we favor Trees and Extraterrestrials, but in Europe there is Islam at hand. Science doesn’t seem to have the guts to take on Islam the way it took on Christianity; so the European subcontinent could end up a great Islamic conquest. Shouldn’t Christianity turn to and start doing its job?

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