Most modern societies believe that the delivery of better living through science offsets the over-promising of scientific researchers themselves. So why do so many religious communities seem so indifferent and even hostile toward the science itself?
I think the answer lies in an inadequately unexamined religious attitude. One way of describing it is in terms of an anxious respectfulness toward whatever is believed to be a sacred reality. The emphasis here falls on the word, “anxious.”
The carefulness includes maintaining a self-protective distance from the Sacred (as in sitting toward the back in a half empty sanctuary), as a dutifulness bordering on compulsiveness, and as a refusal to question anything about what is regarded as the divinely ordained order of things.
With a religious outlook like this, modern science can only be viewed as edging closer to blasphemy with every hypothesis it puts forward for investigation, even when an investigation fails to confirm it. As one sweat-soaked preacher I heard as a youth put it: “friends, science is the work of the devil.”
Alongside this ancient religious attitude, however, is a very different one. This one is at the same time older, more modern, and wiser. It is an attitude of joyful participation with the Spirit of Life in bringing and sustaining human order out of chaos. It includes a sense that the human environing world is not a fixed order, but rather one that changes constantly, partly because of how we interact with it.
A test case for the comparing of these two attitudes is the ever-present challenge that diseases and infirmities present to human well-being. One way that this challenge was addressed within the framework of the first attitude was to re-iterate that all suffering is divine punishment for sin, those of the afflicted person and those of his/her blood kin.
The way this challenge is met by the second attitude is to seek to overcome suffering with the help of every human and divine power available, in a joint venture of making the human body a healthier habitat for all the generations to come.
Once upon a time, Jesus healed a man born blind by spitting on the ground, making a paste with the spittle, and slathering it on the man’s eyes. Today, gene therapists are injecting genes directly into the eyes in hopes of achieving the same result. Now that’s attitude for you.