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Monday, July 8, 2013

David Brooks, "The Secular Society": Is There Still a God in 2013?

Is it only me? If I remember correctly, when I was a child some fifty years ago, people were reluctant, at least in public, to question the existence of God. Today, in a world of narcissism, in which we - at least in the West - are more devoted to ourselves, remonstration against the existence of God has become commonplace, prosaic and pedestrian. After all, Facebook has turned us into idols and demigods, at least in our own minds.

Seeing himself as "someone who tries to report on the world of ideas," David Brooks, in his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Secular Society" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/09/opinion/brooks-the-secular-society.html?_r=0), tells us a little about Charles Taylor’s book "A Secular Age," which, Brooks reports, is almost 800 pages long. Brooks writes:

"Taylor’s investigation begins with this question: 'Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say 1500, in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy but even inescapable?' That is, how did we move from the all encompassing sacred cosmos, to our current world in which faith is a choice, in which some people believe, others don’t and a lot are in the middle?"

Whoa! Hold your horses, David! Shouldn't you say: "Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say 1500, in our Western society, while in 2000, in our Western society . . ." Consider how in many places outside of the West, belief in God is not a choice. Consider how the Pew Research Center discovered in 2010 that in Egypt, which is currently aflame, that 84 percent of Egyptian Muslims believe that those who abandon Islam should be executed and 95 percent of Egyptian Muslims believe it is "good" that Islam plays a large role in politics (see: http://www.pewglobal.org/2010/12/02/muslims-around-the-world-divided-on-hamas-and-hezbollah/).

I have not read Charles Taylor’s book - a pity - and given its length, I don't know how I could possibly fit it into my work schedule, except at the expense of sleep, which even now goes lacking. However, I wonder to what extent our belief in God should be portrayed in terms of black and white, yes or no. Is it not possible that our belief in God is undergoing evolution?

My father was an electrical engineer in the defense industry, and I still remember visiting his offices and seeing a computer, which filled much of a large room, and marveling at the punch cards. To run a program and obtain results could take an entire weekend. Today, almost all of us have laptops connecting us with the rest of the world at lightning speed. Ecce homo! Behold the man!

Me? I consider myself blessed to work with a couple of remarkable life science companies. Can life be modeled by computer on a molecular level? Answer: An emphatic yes, but we are still at the beginning of the journey. The complexity of billions of years of evolution leaves me, a simpleton, in awe, and I believe that human understanding of life on the molecular level may never explain - no matter how hard we try - the beauty of "poetry and music," which Brooks refers to as "the realms beyond the ordinary," or the evolution of conscience and morality.

And as we continue to build this Tower of Babel, reaching up into heaven, one wonders whether it will ultimately be struck down by "God" or the folly of man. The West continues to nap as the Islamic Republic of Iran  readies its first atomic weapon.

Is it possible that "God" and the folly of man are part and parcel? Could the folly of man be a fail-safe device? God forbid!

Every day, I grow grayer, and will probably never reach acceptable answers.

3 comments:

  1. "If I remember correctly, when I was a child some fifty years ago, people were reluctant, at least in public, to question the existence of God"
    At this time, it was the American thing - humanism and particularly the Enlightenment undermined religiosity everywhere in the Western world, but .... in America (19th century?and again after WWII?) it became respectable to be religious. In other words, Americans have chosen the appearances.
    Brooks's question is of course absurd - we know exactly how it happened. Art reflected well the process - the medieval tiny humans were replaced with the Renaissance equality of the humans and the divine and followed by the 19th century expulsion of the divine.
    Personally, I am a Jewish Pascalian agnostic, and I don't know the answers. Atheism does seem to be simplistic, if not idiotic.

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  2. OFF TOPIC.
    I was thinking ...
    Is there anyone competent in Washington? I don't need more speeches about love, peace and tofu eating. I believe that competent people (if they still exist after decades of strategic planning and team working on one side and "hug and kiss" on the other) should be brought in. Our experts, including Oprah and Alice, must be sent packing.
    This is serious.

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  3. "I have not read Charles Taylor’s book - a pity - and given its length, I don't know how I could possibly fit it into my work schedule, except at the expense of sleep, which even now goes lacking. However, I wonder to what extent our belief in God should be portrayed in terms of black and white, yes or no. Is it not possible that our belief in God is undergoing evolution?"

    I found this kind of funny...almost ironic, considering the topic. Were you trying to be ironic?

    ReplyDelete