Is Religion Irrational?

The philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) famously said: “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.” Russell was a champion of humanitarianism and freedom of thought.

There’s much that Mr. Russell and I agree upon. But where we part company, is his belief that ‘religion is something left over from the infancy of intelligence’. For me reason and critical thinking need not be contrary to religious life. Even Russell for all his strong views towards religion considered himself an agnostic, ‘in that I cannot disprove the Christian concept of a divine being, just as I cannot disprove the reality of the mythical gods on Mount Olympus.’ Perhaps Mr. Russell has cracked open the door for a conversation.

A few semesters ago I served on a college panel on the topic of cosmology. My role was to offer a theological perspective. With me were professors representing chemistry, physics and biology. Each panelist spoke of creation with theories going back to the Big Bang, approx. 13. 8 billion years. Not holding to a literalist Biblical interpretation of the creation story, I had no problem listening to and accepting the science of my fellow panelists. One offered the provocative theory that there may have been a Big Bang before the Big Bang. New instruments had picked up energy waves suggesting a pre-Big Bang. Try to wrap your mind around that!

Photo Hubble One

I am a ‘cosmological theist’, in that I believe/sense that great mystery called God, is in the midst of this ever-expanding cosmological study. The poetry in Genesis 1: 1, 2 reflects the awesome and humbling nature of the cosmos: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.’

The poet who wrote Genesis, reflects the truth that the most sensitive scientific instruments and most brilliant scientific minds, can only begin to glimpse the intricacy and grandeur of the cosmos. Photos from the Hubble telescope reinforce this sense of wonder.

The common ground between science and religion is a shared sense of awe, that which many call the mystical. The mystical refers to those ‘aha’ moments when we sense that we are part of something greater. Rather than being random we see the mystical at work in the delicate dance of molecules that hold life together rather than flying the cosmos apart.

photo Hubble Two

Religion for all its human construction serves a purpose when it helps unite us to the mystery that transcends our imagination.
Bertrand Russell might suggest that mine ‘is an infant’ notion. Perhaps. Yet for me, an openness to that realm we call mystical/spiritual doesn’t limit but rather expands my mind, imagination and dare I say ‘my heart’, to embrace that which is greater than anything we can possibly imagine. In all humility all I can say is ‘Amen’.

Marking the Sacred

Aurora BorealisSleeping under the stars has long been one of my favorite parts of summer. Some years ago I slept under a Montana sky as the aurora borealis shimmered like a massive video game across the sky. In Oregon by a favorite lake I craned my neck to count shooting stars. Last night as the sun set at my home in Massachusetts the sky was a deep red.

Such natural occurrences carry a ‘wow’ factor and call us to look up and around. Such ‘wow’ moments can also serve as portals into the sacred, an invitation to look towards the source. Scientists surely offer answers as to why such phenomenon happen in the natural world.

Yet for many of us, such ‘wow’ moments call us to look beyond the science to the source of the science. For many of us good science and good theology are not mutually exclusive.

A scientist friend recently said that scientists are discovering indicators that suggest that there was a Big Bang before the Big Bang. If that doesn’t elicit a ‘wow’ response then check your pulse.

As a non scientist (who loves science) and loves theology such exploration leads me to look up, out and within with renewed openness to being surprised. Could it be that the source of the Big Bang (or the precursor to the Big Bang) is also at work in your life and mine?

3000 years ago Abram and Sarai (in Genesis 18: 14) were met with the unexpected news that in their old age they would have a child. Sarai we are told, ‘laughed’ at this improbable news, to which a messenger from God responded: ‘Is anything too wonderful for the Lord’?

In the twelfth century a mystic and monk named Mechtild of Magdeburg offered this: “The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw – and knew I saw – all things in God and God in all things.”

The ‘wow’ moments in life remind me that the fingerprints of the Creator are at work when charged particles from the sun penetrate the earths magnetic shield creating countless burst of light and form the aurora borealis.

In response all I can do is say, ‘wow’ and ‘amen’.