July 15, 2009

Crash Course

by Brian Volck
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, (53-56)

Richard Dawkins, the famed British scientist and atheist, believes in Progress (with a capital “P”). He concedes the Shoah was a “temporary setback” for humanity, but nothing to fret about in the long run. In his view of history, religious faith is in full rout (though still, to his mind, terribly dangerous), material welfare is on the rise, and goodness and peace are coming in every way. Supremely confident in the power of Science (with a capital “S”), Dawkins assures his readers that, “our brains…are big enough to see into the future and plot long-term consequences.”

Progress has been a dogma of modernity since at least the time of Francis Bacon, and it has real staying power. It’s just a lot harder to believe in it now that Science and Technology (with a capital “T”) have shown themselves to be two-edged swords. To the extent human activity is warming the globe, the efficient cause is carbon-derived power, not prayer. Similarly, to imagine the manipulative scientific consciousness which produced the South Pole’s ozone hole and the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone will soon bring universal peace and prosperity is an illusion every bit as dangerous—and more immediately so—than the fanaticism Dawkins accuses theists of.

The readings this Sunday tell of rescue from the mess we’ve made of our lives, our relationships, our world. Our plans crack and crumble. Our shepherds have misled and scattered their flocks. We wander, confused, leaderless, lost. Our attempts at peace fail, shattering on stonewalls of enmity and the rocks of our clung-to differences. We need help.

I’ve noted here before that anyone who’s spent time with sheep knows being called “the sheep of His flock” is no complement. These readings are crash courses in humility. Our claims to “see into the future” are the na├»ve, self-consciously rebellious bragging of adolescent boys. The “long-term consequences of” today’s actions are obscure at best.

Peace is not just over the horizon. It needs far, far more than a chance. Nothing less than the reconciliation of the cross, we are told, makes it possible. The cross sure doesn’t look like capital “P” Progress to me and probably not to you, either. I suppose that’s why we need a shepherd.

To what unanticipated reconciliations have you been led? Where are you being led now?


Anonymous said...

Nicely put, Brian. Leon Wieseltier rightly notes that: "The question of the place of science in human life is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of our day; and it is not an insult to science to say so."

Barry Harvey

Will said...

Brian, you write very well. The two-edged sword is an apt metaphor for our scientific and technological progress. When reading this article I get a strong sense you have read Jacques Ellul?

I'm commenting on similar things, not in as much depth, over here:

or here