Last week, I suggested that one reason why some religious conservatives follow Trump in spite of his contradictions is that many religious conservatives have been conditioned to view reason and worldly knowledge as something far subordinate, if not anathema to, godly faith. We see through a glass darkly—and therefore, no matter how well it telescopes or magnifies, we must not let it challenge God’s Teachings. Harvard’s VERITAS, said one commentator, does not reflect absolute truth but merely the worldly sort. To certain religious groups, reason is what the tempter offered us in the garden, and therefore its fruits can poison. In fact its fruits can damn. So considering all this, it is no real wonder that when people in these groups obey faith without reason, they may also do the same in politics. In other words, some conservative churches have conditioned their congregations to embrace authoritarians.
A part of the solution, I think, is to convince the faithful that reason—and skeptical critique—actually enhance one’s sense of the numinous. And I believe there’s no better way to make this case than by getting the faithful to accept science. This can be a tough sell, because to them, science is the home of evolutionary theory, and climate alarm, and vaccines, and abortions, and the whole damn(able) Enlightenment. But it also brings us the idea that we proceed through error (because, one might say, we see through a glass darkly). It bolsters the idea of democracy and checks and balances (because one person’s error shouldn’t be allowed to rule the rest). And it proceeds from the faith that whatever we learn about the universe, the universe can take it. In fact, as with any revelation, the real question is how much we can handle.
Isaac Newton once said that in his computations he was “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” Astrophysicists climb so high into their equations that they come down, wide-eyed, from a kind of Sinai. Time folds; dimensions multiply; according to NASA, dark matter and dark energy make up over 95 percent of the universe. I don’t have time to make a full case for how science feeds wonder, awe, and love. But I will say that ideas like the simultaneous vulnerability and omnipotence of God becomes far easier to accept, when you encounter things like the fact that light is both particle and wave.
Reason points to reality. And another word for reality is God. Reason may emulsify one’s simple concept of reality (or God, or any single political issue), but it’s in the thicket of things that we find revelation. After all, who ever said that wrestling with reality didn’t involve uncomfortable work? “Surely the Lord is in this place,” said Jacob in the wilderness, “and I knew it not.” Or to borrow another scripture, science shows us the back parts of God. And when science teaches a person to rely on fact and reason as further means of discerning what is good, it will surely show that following any sort of autocracy is far from holy.
(Originally posted August 8, 2017)