Mystery vs. Superstition

gold buddhaIt takes a certain kind of person who can be blown away by the Mystery of God and who at the same time can be in love with solving that Mystery. It’s not that we can ever know everything there is to know (who would want to?) but that we can know our place in the cosmos—we can know our own being, even if we can’t articulate that knowing to everyone’s satisfaction.

In this day and age, we are all that kind of person. Who among us has not looked at images from the Hubble Telescope and not been filled with a trembling awe. Those who haven’t had that feeling simply have not thought about what they were looking at. The sheer magnitude of the space we occupy is enough wipe your mind clean in an instant, if you let it.

cosmosThe same goes for Inner Space. We know that the distance between the atoms in our body is proportional to the distance between stars. Each one of us is both figuratively and literally a galaxy. If that doesn’t stop you in your tracks, nothing will.

We live in a Mystery. It is a mystery as holy as any devised by theologians, a mystery that at least in part inspired those theologians to write about the deeper truths and their inherently inexhaustible contents. We tend to think that science, as we know it, did not exist before the Middle Ages, but the truth is that it had not yet emerged as a separate way of thinking. Science was simply enfolded in the vestments of theology.

HierophantSir Isaac Newton, the father of modern physics, was a profoundly religious person, intimately familiar with the Bible and also the technicalities of astrology and numerology. He could see how it all fit together. He was a person filled with awe, but he didn’t let that stop him from investigating the Mystery to the fullest extent of his mind’s capacity.

It wasn’t until it started to gain traction that science, and the power it represented, began to lure the brightest minds away from the sanctuary and into the laboratory. It was then that the Mystery became a kind of enemy, something to be conquered rather than be swept away by. Carl Sagan was the first, in recent memory, to recapture the awe at the immensity of the cosmos, the “billions and billions” of worlds out there, each one a Mystery in its own right.

Baby-JesusSo, this is the question: Can we be both—can we see God in the world? Or will we, as those who have become intoxicated with the power of science, see the world as nothing more than a soulless stockpile of raw materials? Or…will we turn our backs on technology, letting our awe turn into horror, and see it, as Robert Oppenheimer did when the first atom bomb was created, as the “destroyer of worlds“? Will we abandon reason and the spirit of inquiry for the comfort of quaint superstitions and over-literalized myths? Will we opt for the mindset that sees God and Matter as separate? God the Absentee Landlord and the world as His failed experiment.

SivaIf we do take the latter course, we are no better than the power-mad scientists who abuse the world and its biosphere (those scientists whose sole motivation is their own profit and the profit of their corporate sponsors). In fact, we hand it to them on a silver platter. We say, in effect, “Take it! It’s not real anyway. It’s all going to end soon, and when it does, I’m gonna be raptured out of here!” This is the worst kind of superstition, the kind that justifies the abdication of personal responsibility for how it all turns out. This is where the pendulum turns into a wrecking ball—instead of restoring balance, it slams into a brick wall.

So, again, can we be both? Can we embrace the Mystery, be blown away by the magnificence and the splendor of it all, and at the same time peel back its outer garment and see the true rapture that lies underneath? This is the kind of person the world so desperately needs today. This is us—we are that person.

The Lady and the Unicorn: Sight

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6 Responses to Mystery vs. Superstition

  1. Richard Distasi says:

    Thank You.

  2. There is often a fine line.

  3. rogerwolsey says:

    Excellent blog. Progressive Christianity embraces the insights of contemporary science – as well as paradox and mystery.

    Roger Wolsey, author, Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity

  4. Kathleen Schwab says:

    Lovely.

  5. annetrue says:

    I enjoyed your post, but I have a big complaint about your last part. Scientists are not “power-mad.” Scientists are explorers and dreamers and intellectuals. They do not “abuse the world and its biosphere.” In fact, they try to find ways to help the world and the biosphere, and they do not ignore evidence of things such as global warning. If scientists were truly “power-mad” as you state, they would have gone into professions that actually gave them some power. Your misrepresentation of scientists was unkind and smacks of anti-intellectualism.

    • Dear Anne,
      It was not my intention to paint all scientists with the same brush. I think that the way I worded the sentence shows that. But, since there is obviously a chance that it will be misread, I added a parenthetical statement that should make it even clearer that I mean only those who actually are power-mad, not all scientists. Thanks for pointing this out.
      Michael Maciel

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