May 20, 2009
I went to see the latest Star Trek movie this past week. It was lots of fun, but I came away wondering again why fantasy with spaceships, but no science of any sort, is called “science-fiction?”
Of course the original Trek series often played loose and free with science. For example they never took trouble to explain phasers that vaporized bodies down to their shoe soles, without effecting anything near them. But the latest movie had strange “red matter” that was never explained in any way, starships being built on a planet’s surface (very illogical), huge shuttle bays on a small ship, inexplicable water works on a starship, magic mathematical equations, planets (Vulcan and Delta Vega) that are way too close to one another, (and what does “delta vega” mean?) etc. etc. There was, literally, no science ever used or mentioned except in some questions for Vulcan kids being tested in school.
The point is that we communicate our values in the stories we tell. Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists have long valued integrity between science and religion. We have long insisted that supernatural ideas be taken with a grain of agnosticism and that science is of great value. Many of UUs have loved Star Trek shows because they blended science and religion in fun ways (“Who Morns for Adonis,” “The Apple,” to name two original series episodes off the top of my head). Often there were strange “spiritual” elements that were explained in pseudo-scientific terms, like the energy existence of the Organians, but there was also real science, and the portion of that increased through the Next Generation and beyond.
Now a movie is made with no science at all. And we wonder why Kansas schools and others are trying to present religious ideas like Creationism (AKA “intelligent design”) as if they were good science!
May 6, 2009
I have been studying Buddhist thought for more than thirty years, since I first got a copy of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones in high school. For more than ten years I have been learning about Buddhist practice, integrating meditation into my life and attending Buddhist ceremonies of various sorts. Thus, as I was listening to All Things Considered yesterday to a report from Sichuan China, I was surprised to hear about someone who had lost his faith in Buddha.
Some NPR reporters had returned to Sichuan a year after the terrible earthquake. One year ago a reporter had spent a day with a couple who were looking for their child in the rubble. The body of the child was eventually found in the arms of his grandparents who had also been killed. A year later the couple felt too fragile to talk to the reporter, but the man’s sister was willing to tell how her brother and sister-in-law were doing.
What struck me was how she described her brother’s religious thinking. I paraphrase here: “He says he no longer believes in Buddha. There is no point in burning incense, no point in praying. He says, “My parents were good people, they lived a good life, my son was an innocent two year old. There can be no Buddha or Heaven if such people die like this.” ”
I thought this kind of tragicly flawed thinking, that if you pray good things will happen to you (and when bad things happen faith is lost), was only a product of Christianity, or monotheism and the idea that ‘God is in charge.’ I have been trained to think of the Buddha as a man who said, “Don’t put faith in me; test everything I say with experience; hold to the light within as the only light.” I have been trained to think that Buddhism is about awakening the mind, not about calling upon the protection of supernatural powers. (Though as I think about it I can remember several counter examples.)
The point is that many things are universal, including tragic and hurtful forms of magical thinking. Superstition is not a creation of any one religion, or of any, but of the human mind, of our desires, craving, sin or tanah. Thre will alwys be misplaced faith, trust in the wrong things. Thus there will always be people who need the balm of a liberal faith, one that explains why we should live by love, ‘agape’ or ‘metta’, that helps us to face death and disaster with courage and an affirmation of life, that does not give us false hope, but an enduring and cosmic hope that transcends all time and tides.
May 2, 2009
I am back. I have been away from my blog for quite a while. I went on a little trip to Paris, Prague and Rome, and I decided not to blog while I was there, but instead to write more personal reflections and to take lots of pictures. But now I am back to writing here regularly.
Today I was listening to the wonderful “This American Life” and it reminded me of my plan to return to blogging. One of the things I love about that show is that it thrives upon the same power that nurtures great preaching, the simple power of the human voice and the truth of stories well told. Most of the pieces shared there are also written down, so blogging can share the same power.
Anyway, the piece I listened to today was by Dan Savage, the gay sex advice columnist. He spoke about his relationship with the Catholic Church, especially as it has been changed, first by his coming out as a gay man and then more recently by his mother’s death. It was a beautiful piece, evoking the power and vital importance of religion. At one point he talked about finding a “Welcome Back” card encouraging lapsed Catholics to return to the ritual and community. Of course I wanted him instead to become a UU, or at least mention the possibility. The closest he came was quoting his mother who said, whenever the pope or a archbishop spoke of the evils of birth control, “It is like they are trying to make us all become Lutherans.”
But more than that he spoke about the power of the sacrament of last rights to sanctify a difficult and very painful moment, and he spoke of the beauty of an old church and ceremony with their sense of well worn sacredness, and he spoke of the comfort of certain beliefs, all of which are rare or impossible to find in UU congregations. I was glad that the piece ended with him still searching, longing for and yet not finding fully the Beloved Community. Perhaps someone will invite him to the right UU church that helps him bridge his longing to the reality of a community that affirms him as a gay man, and affirms a more inclusive, universal, and small ‘c’ catholic spirituality and faith.