Religion and politics are two topics usually avoided in polite conversation. Since I consider the conversation I have with readers polite, I tend to avoid these topics as well. But today I’m making an exception.
A recent book confirmed two of my long-held beliefs, that religion and science can coexist and that religions around the world are similar at their core. More significantly, this book revived my hopes for the future.
In “The New Cosmic Story: Inside Our Awakening Universe,” author John Haught undertakes the challenging task of responding to the many scientists who claim religion has no value and the many fundamentalists who claim science is harmful to religion, especially the science of evolution.
He answers both groups by presenting the idea that the “Big History” of the universe is a story which needs to be read carefully. A careful reading, according to Haught, will show the universe has been in the gradual process of getting better as it developed matter, then life, then the mind, and eventually the mind’s quest for “indestructible rightness,” a quest he calls religion.
Haught, a professor of religion and science at Georgetown University, points out there was a monumental advancement in the universe when life arrived, beginning with single-cell organisms. The universe further advanced when human life developed, especially the mind.
And it advanced further yet when the human mind became aware of its innate need to seek indestructible rightness – a quest seen in religions such as Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity and Islam as well as the many religions of indigenous peoples, including Native Americans.
Some readers at this point are saying to themselves, or to their friends, “Spevak has gone crazy. He’s writing about a topic much too deep for a weekly newspaper column.”
But I remind readers that such topics are not eccentric, but natural to everyone reading a newspaper. Each of us, as Haught maintains, has an inner desire to make sense out of our lives and of the universe in which we live.
I’ve been a fan of science since taking physics and chemistry in high school. I enjoyed the formulas and equations used to demonstrate the systematic order of the physical world. I have a respect for biology and anatomy and, like Pope Francis, have developed an appreciation of evolution.
I do not see a contradiction between evolution and the Bible. I see the evolutionary progression of the universe, starting with the “Big Bang,” as a process reflecting the ingenuity of the Creator. I have been partial to this point of view since I read the works of the Jesuit priest and archeologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in college 52 years ago.
Haught is in my corner. He asserts that science and religion reflect two ways of knowing and understanding, not opposed but complementary.
He goes further, saying the universe continues to develop and is “awakening” more each day. The universe, then, in spite of what we see in the news of violence, greed, environmental destruction and war, is actually getting better. This, to me, provides hope – an outlook desperately needed today.
Haught also confirms the similarity of the world’s religions. As I’ve gotten older I’ve developed a similar understanding. Yes, there are significant differences, but as Haught writes, “The notions of God, Allah, logos, wisdom, Brahma, nirvana, moksha, dao and the kingdom of heaven all express the religious intuition of an indestructible rightness that saves the world from final insignificance.”
Haught is not naïve about the destruction religions have caused over the centuries. But he writes that the aspects of religions resulting in violence and war are not the essence of religion. At its core, each religion is an expression of the importance of compassion, gratitude and love – along with the search for indestructible rightness.
Anyone who wants to expand their horizons of science, religion and life should explore Haught’s book. It’s not particularly easy reading, but it’s not that difficult, either. Haught is writing for the ordinary person willing to take some time to think. The reward is an increased appreciation for science and religion and a renewed hope for the future.
John Spevak is a resident of Los Banos; he wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.