Last Saturday evening I caught an episode of Big Bang Theory where Sheldon reaches through a wormhole into a series of parallel universes in an attempt to discern whether there is life there. It is actually a practical joke he is playing on Howard and Raj who are invading his privacy to satisfy their own curiosity and it plays out quite funny. I will come back to this point, trust me.
Then I read an article on the internet Sunday morning giving the reasons that Americans are becoming a secularized nation and rejecting religious beliefs. I wish that I could have found the article Sunday evening when I sat down to write this blog and if it sounds familiar to any of you readers, please send me the link.
The article claimed that scientists and philosophers are in a consensus that humankind has outgrown religion. Science sees the claims of religion not only as improvable but as unfounded in a world where science has unlocked the mysteries of human existence. Indeed, the author asserts, religious claims are clearly in conflict with scientific knowledge and thus without credibility. Philosophers, for their part, range from the materialist atheism of Diderot with an absolute denial of a Deity to the Enlightenment concept of a Deity who sets the clockworks of the universe in motion and then withdraws from its running its course to the Jeffersonian concept that God and Religion have a crucial role to play in the establishment of a moral order for those persons unlike themselves who are not sufficiently intelligent or moral to arrive at a natural understanding of human ethics.
I am probably not doing the article justice—I only had time to read it once before it disappeared in “the Cloud” or wherever things go these days and I don’t mean to dismiss it. To the contrary I found it a compelling argument despite its troubling thesis. I wasn’t overly impressed by statistics such as the claim that only 7% of scientists are religious believers; statistics as every historian knows can be cooked to come up with whatever results supports our thesis. But the article did make me stop and think and I had fully intended to go back to it after Mass and give it a second and third read. Again, if anyone can help me find the article, I would be interested.
What interrupted my reading the article, ironically, is that I wanted to go to Mass. Our parish has a monthly Mass for “Families with Special Needs”—kids with Autism, Downs Syndrome, and other life challenges. This was the pre-Christmas Mass and the number seemed to have doubled—perhaps about 250 people, about 35 or so who are “Special Needs” and the rest being their family, friends, and parishioners whose ministry is the liturgy and social that follows. The Mass is pretty lively—it is also somewhat chaotic as the normal conventions of social behavior don’t apply. One never knows what little bit of theatre will play out but that is precisely why we have this Mass. Parents can bring their families to Church without worrying if some outburst or other activity will disturb the other worshipers. We all know the fundamentals of the game at this Mass before we cross the church threshold.
But as I watched that congregation in Church and thought about the academics who are becoming evangelists for the rising secularism of our post-Christian culture, I could only think back to Sheldon and his wormhole into various parallel universes and it hit me how we believers and our non-believing friends live in parallel universes. The Special Needs faithful and their families would not have any interest in what the Philosophical and Scientific communities supposedly are saying about religion. They wouldn’t (for the most part) understand it and, more important, it would ring false to their experience. And the academics (and remember I know those ivory towers well having spent my years in the club) are, for the most part, clueless about what it means to live a life of 24/7 responsibility for someone who faces the sorts of challenges that a parent or family member of a “Special Needs” individual has. I am not saying that one is right and the other is wrong. Each system has its own internal cohesion, but the reality coordinates differ in each universe. I also know from attending these monthly Masses which universe I want to live in—which universe has the reality coordinates that ring most true to my experience and in which universe I might not find sure and fixed answers to speculative questions, but where I do find meaning for life.