Monday, January 10, 2005

Where Was God?

William Safire takes the Book of Job as his text when asking Where was God? during the tsunami. His conclusions?
Job's lessons for today:
  1. Victims of this cataclysm in no way 'deserved' a fate inflicted by the Leviathanic force of nature.
  2. Questioning God's inscrutable ways has its exemplar in the Bible and need not undermine faith.
  3. Humanity's obligation to ameliorate injustice on earth is being expressed in a surge of generosity that refutes Voltaire's cynicism.
I think he's right, but this has nothing to do with religious faith. Safire wants to buttress the faith of his readers. But reality and tsunamis have nothing to do with faith.

In an essay entitled Non-overlapping Magisteria Stephen Jay Gould wrote
[T]he principled resolution of [the] supposed 'conflict' or 'warfare' between science and religion [does not exist] because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority — and these magisteria do not overlap.
With this statement Gould was attempting to retain a place for religious belief in the world. He went on to elaborate as follows.
[The Non-Overlapping Magesterium (NOMA) principle] represents a principled position on moral and intellectual grounds, not a mere diplomatic stance.

NOMA also cuts both ways. If religion can no longer dictate the nature of factual conclusions properly under the magisterium of science, then scientists cannot claim higher insight into moral truth from any superior knowledge of the world's empirical constitution. This mutual humility has important practical consequences in a world of such diverse passions.

Religion is too important to too many people for any dismissal or denigration of the comfort still sought by many folks from theology. I may, for example, privately suspect that papal insistence on divine infusion of the soul represents a sop to our fears [the essay was written during a trip to the Vatican], a device for maintaining a belief in human superiority within an evolutionary world offering no privileged position to any creature. But I also know that souls represent a subject outside the magisterium of science. My world cannot prove or disprove such a notion, and the concept of souls cannot threaten or impact my domain. Moreover, while I cannot personally accept the Catholic view of souls, I surely honor the metaphorical value of such a concept both for grounding moral discussion and for expressing what we most value about human potentiality: our decency, care, and all the ethical and intellectual struggles that the evolution of consciousness imposed upon us.

As a moral position (and therefore not as a deduction from my knowledge of nature's factuality), I prefer the "cold bath" theory that nature can be truly "cruel" and "indifferent"—in the utterly inappropriate terms of our ethical discourse—because nature was not constructed as our eventual abode, didn't know we were coming (we are, after all, interlopers of the latest geological microsecond), and doesn't give a damn about us (speaking metaphorically). I regard such a position as liberating, not depressing, because we then become free to conduct moral discourse—and nothing could be more important—in our own terms, spared from the delusion that we might read moral truth passively from nature's factuality.
In other words, tsunamis and God have nothing to do with each other, and for William Safire to attempt to make a connection — even by denying a direct connection — is intellectually dishonest and violates what I believe is a foundation stone of the reality-based community, namely that religion is a subjective experience and has nothing to do with the physical reality outside one's head.

Although I don't consider myself religious, the preceding statement is not a denigration of religion from my perspective. Everything that we consider important is a subjective experience.

No comments: