Science and Religion (ii)

Following on from the previous post, let’s note that some people like to keep science and religion in separate boxes, even though both address the origin and nature of ‘ultimate reality’. The totality of what is ultimately real, for religion must include the material (hence the ‘creation’ stories in Genesis), and for science must include the non-material, especially consciousness, after all, what is more ‘real’ to us than that? When we unbox science and religion, and lay them side by side, Kuhn’s model of ‘paradigms’, and the alternation of reasonably stable ‘normal’ times with times of ‘crisis’, (when what has been the ‘normal’ no longer works and ‘revolutionary transformations’ are required), might perhaps apply to religion.  

Early Christianity. 

In its earliest days, what became Christianity was more of a Jewish ‘reform’ movement, its first ‘paradigm’ being largely a continuation of traditional Judaism. The ‘Jesus people’ continued to observe the rituals of circumcision, sabbath observance, food laws, and Temple worship. A ‘crisis’ arose when this new movement spread into the pagan cities of the Roman Empire, and began to gain (surprisingly perhaps) rapidly increasing non-Jewish converts. Logically, this would seem to entail that such converts should accept the Jewish Law, including these ‘ritual’ obligations. Such a stumbling block would have drastically reduced the flow of converts, and this ‘crisis’ led to an equivalent of Kuhn’s ‘revolutionary transformation”. The Apostle Paul re-thought, not the entire message of the earliest ‘Jesus Movement’, but its understanding of, and relationship to, the Jewish Law. He thereby created a new ‘paradigm’ which removed that stumbling block (though it led, inevitably, to the separation of Judaism, from what became Christianity).  

The Reformation.

In the European Middle Ages, the ‘normal’ dominant ‘paradigm’ was that of Roman Catholicism. Dominance however, with associated power, wealth and status, bred the inevitable arrogance, greed and corruption. Religion, especially for pew-fodder commoners, no longer ‘worked’ as it ought to, but too bad – every aspect of human life was under the domination of the church, on pain of eternal damnation for dissent. “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus” (outside the church, there is no salvation) was the name of the game. The time was ripe for ‘crisis’, and for one of Kuhn’s ‘revolutionary transformations’, in the shape of the Reformation. In a ‘paradigm’ shift, instead of hierarchical domination, there was to be ‘the priesthood of all believers’. The new watchword was “sola scriptura”, the Bible, rather than the Church, as the final authority for belief and practice.

Modern Britain.

After another long period of relative ‘stability’, Christianity in the today’s UK faces a ‘crisis’ – a steep decline in church membership and attendance, with congregational amalgamations, and churches turned into nightclubs or flats, not to mention humanist marriages and other ceremonies. If we were to apply Kuhn’s model, we might suggest that the time has clearly come for a “revolutionary transformation” and a new ‘paradigm’. 

This is where the quote at the top of this post seems to me to be apt. It’s futile for the church to lay the blame, for its predicament, on a process of secularisation for which it itself must surely take some of the responsibility. It has ceased to scratch where people itch. It seems that its traditional ‘message’ and forms of ‘worship’ are no longer persuading minds and moving hearts, hence the word “irrelevant” in the quote. The world moves on, but the Church’s ‘traditional’ ways of thinking, on gender and sexuality for example, seem stuck in the past, and the resulting perceived ‘negativity’ underlies the word “oppressive” in the quote. 

What might a “revolutionary transformation” involve, and what might a new ‘paradigm’ look like? As a once-upon-a-time preacher and teacher of the Word, ought I to be impertinent enough to share some thoughts about this ….. ?

Recommended Reading :

“Doubts and Loves : What is Left of Christianity”.  Richard Holloway.  Canongate Books.  2001.

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