St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
Faith, Science, and Understanding by John Polkinghorne
Discussion Led By Prof. George John
Sunday, October 30, 2005
Professor John began by reviewing the essence of the John Polkinghorne writings. He is an avowed Christian who believes that science and religion are not separate domains. Following this brief summary, we then listened to a lecture by Robert H. Kane, entitled “Meaning and Belief in a Pluralistic Age.”
There are two main problems confronting modern religion today: 1) Plurality of religions and 2) Continuing secularization of life itself. When we are confronted by a plurality of religions, it makes us ask more questions about our own beliefs. When we observe how secular the world is becoming, we ask how God could allow differing standards for different people.
The idea that there may be multiple ways to “climb the mountain” is becoming a more popular belief as witnessed by the increasing number of classes being offered in comparative religions and comparative mythologies. Pluralism creates uncertainty. The growth of secularism diminishes the role of “the sacred.” The distinction between the secular and the sacred is the key to religion. Marriage, for example becomes a sacred and universal event and not just a secular ritual.
Some groups have rebelled against secularization by resorting back to fundamental beliefs. Such is the case with some of the various Jewish sects where its followers have rejected the lifestyle and beliefs of the modern world and resorted to ancient cultures. This phenomenon has been labeled orthodox retrenchment. For most of us, this is not acceptable, so what are the other options?
Religion is a path that is a made up of a theory of reality plus a theory of value. Examples include the Buddhist 8-fold path, Daoism’s way, Hindu’s works and meditations, and Christianity’s “I am the way, the light, and the truth.”
These paths of reality and value are meant to converge if we are to reach the highest level. In Hinduism, it is Brahma, or the merger of infinite being, consciousness, and bliss. In Daoism, it’s the way of the universe. In Christianity it’s God and love that ultimately converge to God is love.
Ethical behavior is also connected to religion. Most beliefs have their own version of the “Golden Rule.” Elevation of a secular rite to something sacred changes relative worth to universal or objective worth. The question then arises as how do we know that these two paths will converge. The fact of the matter is that we don’t know, but also that religion is a journey along the path and it is our belief that sustains us since human simply embody the truth, but do not necessarily know it. This is no different than a scientist searching for the truth.
With the various religions, there are conflicting ways to be saved. In many Eastern religions, there are “many paths up the mountain.” In other religions, there is only “one way.” This is something we won’t really know until it is all over. A good analogy is the particle and wave theories that were debated by scientists for many years until they found out later that they were both right! Thus, as humans can we accept that we don’t know the “whole truth,” and thus accept that a faith outside of our own may also be the right path to the top of the mountain?