Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Equations and Delusions

I left academia because I have a very low level of tolerance for nonsense. I adored teaching, loved my students with a passion, and was always energized by the exchange of ideas (and, to tell the truth, the arguments) among people who were passionate about learning and knowledge.

But academia isn’t about those things, really. Teaching is denigrated, publishing is God, and the exchange of ideas is often more about proving the size of your genitalia and burnishing your ego than it is about learning or stretching your mind.

For the last few days, I have been at a conference that focuses on religion and science. There are a lot of scientists here who are happy to tell you that God doesn’t exist (or certainly not in the form that moves and inspires you). And there are a lot of scholars of religion---very few of whom, as far as I can determine, are actually people of faith. They use a lot of big, postmodern words that I can understand because I used to be an academic, but it feels very much to me as if they are speaking Martian and I am having to transliterate everything they say into English.

I am a fish out of water here.

I am an educated person of faith who believes in God---believes in the Incarnation and that the God I worship made this unspeakably beautiful universe. I hold a graduate degree in a social science, and I know the rules of scientific inquiry---by any rational measure, I should not believe those things.

I sit through the presentations, look at the MRIs that show brain activity of those in religious states, try to decipher the mathematics (poorly, I might add). And I am not moved.

My faith is not challenged by what I have heard here. I can appreciate what they are trying to do---to separate what we can know about the cosmos, and our place in it, from tribal superstition and blatant religious delusion.

But they cannot reach me, because my experience of God is personal, interior, and unique to me. They will never find it in a lab. And no matter how much they want to convince me that what I “know” to be true is a delusion, they have failed.

Because I feel God everywhere. See Her in the flowers that bloom so profligately on this university campus. Hear Him in the music I experienced at the beautiful Anglo-Catholic church I attended on Sunday with one of my blogging friends. Find Her in the Hubble telescope photos, and the impossible-to-decipher equations, and the MRIs.

What I feel, and see, and hear, and find may be no more than a trick of my brain---some leftover evolutionary artifact that exists because there was a biological advantage to a belief in the transcendent.

But---at the end of the day---the scientific explanations of religious experience do not reach my heart and my soul. Only music, and beauty, and wonder, and love can do that.

I wish them well in their endeavors. I hope they find the elusive Explanation for Everything that they seek. An explanation that will not have the messy implications of love, sin, death, sacrifice, mercy, evil, grace, and meaning that I find in the transcendent being that I call God.

But I do not envy them, in their world devoid of mystery and miracles. They look down on religion because they cannot load it into an equation, and because it is the cause of so much pain and strife in the world---and they are right to be skeptical.

But they eat frantically from the tree of knowledge, despite the fact that it seems to bring them no peace or joy. As far as I can see, the only thing their expenditure of effort brings them is the pressure to publish the next article, so that the five people in the world who understand what they write can cut it to ribbons. I tried that life once, and found it wanting. I find it no more attractive now.

I am delusional. I believe in God and mystery and miracles. No scientific experiment will ever prove that I am “right.” Whether I experience evolutionary artifact or Ultimate Truth, I cannot say---but tomorrow I will go home to my children, and my community of my music, and my work, and my beautiful life. And there I will find what I did not find here. A reason for living, a sense of gratitude for my place in the world, the inspiration to be better and do better, and hope for the future.

Maybe I did learn something after all...