April 12, 2008
The folks at NEST (New and Emerging Science and Technology) must have been in God's mind when He confounded the language of Babel's over-ambitious citizens, as they tried to build a tower that would reach up to his very abode.
The former have spearheaded an initiative under the auspices of the European Commission to the tune of 2 million Euros, comprised of a team of experts from several scientific and academic disciplines, whose objective is to provide a scientific (psychological?) diagnosis of the inexorable human propensity to engage in the religious experience.
Why this team of researchers and academics has been entrusted with what sounds like a rather gargantuan task to be performed at what some would argue is a disproportionably low budget is not entirely clear. As stated in one of their informational brochures, they expect the results of this research to yield information that may, at some future juncture, serve as a blueprint for "formulating social policy" and "promoting inter-religious and inter-ethnic tolerance". This is what is known behind closed doors as the clever use of social engineering to subtly introduce and gradually enforce religious and cultural hegemony.
One may suspect, judging from the decidedly neo-Darwinian parlance that permeates the writings of University of Oxford Professor Harvey Whitehouse, -- who was chosen to coordinate the aforementioned project -- that this venture is merely a crafty attempt aimed at corroborating at least one of the underlying premises of any scientific quest that is based on a generic evolutionary model, which postulates that belief in a supreme deity is merely the result of an erratic detour in otherwise fairly uniform natural selection mechanisms, which yielded a genetically triggered ancestral delusion, cognitively shared by religious communities worldwide.
This all-encompassing premise is usually advanced with a patronizing rider in favor of Religion, stating that faith is mostly a benign and often rather advantageous delusion, since belief in a higher power - or moral policeman of sorts - is especially conducive to the establishment of a more domesticated society.
But behind this seemingly harmless proposition is the notion that religious communities blindly consent to adhere to their respective belief system merely for the sake of harmony, and vigorously repudiate any type of sustained scrutiny that would threaten to expose the dearth of substance inherent in their collectively shared delusion, and disrupt the status quo; or worse, they are culturally conditioned to conform to a set of ethical standards by a periodic admonition - from their particular sect's leadership structure - that they are under the constant surveillance of a supreme being who will eventually demand their accountability.
The upshot of this analysis is that the religious experience at its core is no more than an intuitively orchestrated farce, and religious people are primarily driven by fear of retribution from an imagined transcendent being. Such motivation is rightly considered far from altruistic, which means that when it comes to the issue of hypocrisy, religious people are viewed as the greatest offenders.
But though there are plenty of examples that fit this pattern, it does not provide a fully satisfactory explanation for the emergence of the religious phenomenon, which is a distinctively human trait.
It is true that upon closer examination, many belief systems betray a rather frail infrastructure. The focus of this scrutiny should not only be on the system's alleged cultural benefits, but on its historical, prophetic and archeological foundations, the importance of its ritual practices, and the ethical and logical consistency of its central tenets, to name a few.
It is also true that there are many genuinely pious people who are driven primarily by fear of a "higher" being -- or force -- that is more than likely very poorly understood in terms of what is perceived to be its precepts of justice, love, ultimate origins and final destination, etc.
And finally, it is true that hypocrisy is the bane of human existence, regardless of one's spiritual persuasion. This is especially magnified in those who, due to the legalistic dynamics native to their belief system, are incapable of consistently meeting the prescribed standards.
But similarly to the way in which the presence of several idols should awaken an instinctual acknowledgement of the primordial essence from which they are faintly derived, all of these protestations against what qualifies as plagiarized mystical phenomena hint at an implicit descent from that which stands as the genuine article, which is that an authentic spiritual order does exist, that transcends the notion of mere Religion, is grounded on actual truth and upon a real person rather than wishful thinking or genetically specified cognitive agencies, and does not spring from the vain human desire to establish an utopian - yet ultimately sterile - society, but endures through a living, organic, and perpetual community.
One person in history stands out as unequivocally affirming this claim. Not surprisingly, this person is also the object of many a historian, scientist and academic's contempt, despite the fact that many extant creeds, religious icons, and belief systems - by necessity - also claim exclusive proprietorship of the truth, though the dubious authority of their prophetic, philosophical, and historical testimonies preclude them from comparably sustaining such a claim.
Jesus, son of a virgin, stepped into the nexus of time, lived among us, and performed miracles attested to by his contemporaries and the most stringent criterion of historicity. This unique event in history when God became man, perished at the hands of those he came to redeem, rose from the grave, and breathed life into a community that flourishes to this day, has heretofore resisted being terminally analyzed, dissected, or explained via the scientific endeavor.
No one is suggesting that man is forbidden from cultivating a curiosity and indulging a hunger for seeking explanations to the myriad phenomena that surrounds him; in fact it is a quintessentially human trait to engage in such an endeavor. But sometimes, in his zeal for acquiring knowledge, man places an undue burden upon his limited ability to unravel certain mysteries which refuse - for obvious reasons - to yield strictly scientific explanations, and simply stand outside the purview of his finite understanding.
Nevertheless, man stubbornly assumes a posture not unlike that of one who feigns a close approximation with deity, and in his pursuit of a materialistic explanation of what is referred to as abiding in the domain of the supernatural, he considers it his moral duty to expose the pointless nature of faith in the one whom he deigns to be his more reclusive counterpart, and seems to invariably prefer avoiding the scrutiny of his lens.
Thus it is the height of human arrogance for those engaged in the albeit noble scientific endeavor, to declare that their disciplines are singularly equipped to examine and eventually explain all the phenomena that transpire on earth; and that it is only after they have had their say and provided humanity with the answers, that we should consider any other prospects as worthy of our consideration.