Submitted by Trent Gilliss on Fri, 2012-09-07 10:35
During the past week, we watched and listened to a half-dozen or more "secular sermons," as Alain de Botton calls them, from The School of Life in London. These are weekday or Sunday meetings that are rich with singing and presentations by Mr. de Botton himself, as well as a wide array of outside speakers from all types of disciplines. Our task: to find about a minute of audio from one of these secular sermons that gives listeners a more visceral sense of what he's describing:
"We've had terrific success by hosting what we're calling secular sermons. Why are we calling them sermons? It's to try and suggest that listening to them is not simply going to be an intellectual exercise, you know, fascinating little bit of knowledge, a way to show off to friends about new stuff you've learned. It's actually going to be something that will hope to steer how you live. So it's didactic, you know, it's explicitly moralistic not in a kind of starched, Victorian way, but in the best possible sense. It exhorts you to a kind of better, fuller life and why not? Why should these pretty quite nice maneuvers only be the preserve of religion? As I say, they really are for all of us.
We ended up excerpting part of neuroscientist David Eagleman's lecture on "being oneselves." Dr. Eagleman holds joint appointments in the Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and is the founder and director of the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law. In this secular sermon, he focuses on how our conscious mind represents only a small portion of who we are: "It turns out that almost everything that you think and do and you act and you believe is generated by parts of your brain that you don't have access to."
He follows by saying that each person is not one singular body, but an amalgamation of many parts that are competing with one another. He likens our brains to conflicted democracies engaged in these internal battles with each other: emotion versus reason, how we make decisions in time and the appeal of right now, and the moral contracts (check out the part about the "Ulysses contract" at the 30-minute mark!) we make with ourselves.
"And I think the thing for all of us to think about, all the time, is how are we lashing ourselves to the mast. We all have weaknesses and things that we want to do better. And as we come to understand more about ourselves, there's this issue of what can we do to — to combat this? How can we really think hard about structuring things in our lives so we don't do the wrong things? And I think this gives us traction, you know, understanding what's going on under the hood gives us traction on old philosophical problems and ways to think about things.
Just think about the concept of virtue. I think that virtue has to do with the battles between these populations. If you've got a real drive to do something you want it so badly and yet you override that with more long-term decision making, with the parts of your brain that care about the deferred gratification verses the parts that care about, I want it right now. If you have that battle and you're successful, I think that's what we mean by a virtuous person. . . .
I think virtue comes at people's point of struggle, right when the parliament is sort of evenly balanced and they have real decision to make there about which way it tips."
In the days leading up to the Republican National Convention, Krista Tippett interviewed Joanna Brooks as Mitt Romney was about to become the party's presidential nominee. We followed up from our previous conversation to see if circumstances had changed since the primaries. Ms. Brooks says that Mormon culture continues to be stretched in interesting ways, deeper than politics.
» A White Knuckle Moment for Mormons(Aug 15, 2012)» read more and listen(mp3, 5:19)
Another white-knuckle moment for Mormons this year surrounding the comments of theologian and Brigham Young University professor Randy Bott. The outcome prompted the LDS church to take an official stand on racism
» Politics and Moral Bearings(Aug 15, 2012)» read more and listen(mp3, 5:40)
How faith should inform politics, "In the public sphere religion has been weaponized around a very few political issues."
» Mormonism Emerges from Isolation with Growing Pains(Aug 15, 2012)» read more and listen(mp3, 4:31)
The role of the internet on reducing cultural isolation and how Mormons deal with the new pressure to be open.
» On Balance, Media, and Religion(Aug 15, 2012)» read more and listen(mp3, 5:45)
"I've also weighed the balance between projecting a hopeful positive progressive Mormonism and the reality that in many places, that kind of Mormon experience is not available to people."
» Finding Latitude in Mormon History(Aug 15, 2012)» read more and listen(mp3, 3:11)
"An expansive hopeful Mormonism finds latitude for expression within and without the LDS church corporation. The more latitude we can find in our own history to tell our stories, the more hopeful I think we can be."
Submitted by Trent Gilliss on Tue, 2012-08-28 07:54
"I’m a snowboarder—that’s probably my biggest hobby. I’m also into this really interesting podcast ‘On Being.’ A journalist [Krista Tippett] interviews everybody from a man who changed his life through his relationship with animals to this guy who studies creativity in the brain. It’s fascinating."
Submitted by Trent Gilliss on Fri, 2012-08-24 13:36
My first year in college, I was dubbed the "singing freshman" because I used to regularly and vocally sing as I walked around campus. Some people looked at me askance, but I always wondered why they weren't singing. I never thought my non-conventional, self-expression would connect me to Hasidic Judaism until I encountered the teachings of Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer a.k.a the Baal Shem Tov (which means Master of the Good Name).
The Baal Shem Tov was a Jewish mystic and teacher who lived in the late 17th and early 18th century Ukraine. He revolutionized Eastern European Jewish culture and changed the course of Jewish history. He founded what is now called the Hasidic movement and taught God could be known not just by the elite, but by all people through "serving God with joy." Ordinary mundane life, he taught, could be revealed as sacred and awesome through "raising the sparks" of our everyday actions with godly intention. A Hasid was someone who went beyond the letter of the law and lived life fully. Part of his practice was a form of ecstatic singing meditation that would bring the singer to a state of dvekut, a "union with God." He taught that "through music you can reach joy and dvekut with the Infinite One, blessed be He.” These sacred melodies called niggunim were and still are sung around Shabbat tables, and at other sacred gatherings around the world.
This niggun called "Shalosh Tinuous" ("the three stanzas") is one of the most famous Hasidic niggunim. The first stanza was composed by the Baal Shem Tov, the second by his student and successor Rabbi Shmuel Dov Ber who is known as "The Maggid," and the third stanza by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, a student of the Maggid who founded the Lubavitch movement.
Ecstatic music has always been a part of Jewish spiritual practice. The Book of Samuel describes that part of King Saul's transformation from an ordinary man into a king was that he would “meet a band of prophets coming down from a high place with a lute, a drum, a pipe, and a lyre before them; and they shall prophecy: and the spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you shall prophecy with them, and shall be turned into another man.”
When I get deep enough into a niggun, all my thoughts settle and quiet down, I remember my Godly soul, and it feels like I am no longer singing the niggun. Rather, the niggun is singing me.
Special thanks to Nichoach Chabad for the recording.Ethan Stephen Press lives and works in Jerusalem, Israel. You can read more of his work on The Huffington Post.
With Mitt Romney on the verge of becoming the Republican presidential nominee, the media has been focusing in ever more tightly on the LDS Church and the Mormon faith. And Joanna Brooks has become a go-to voice during our national inspection of Mormonism during this election season. Particularly in the last month. She's been featured on CNN, cited in a New Yorker piece by Adam Gopnik, and most notably appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
If there's one thing Jon Stewart does superbly, it's poke fun at his Jewish upbringing — especially when he's counseling Joanna Brooks on her "baby" religion of Mormonism. It's a fun, lively conversation in which the author of The Book of Mormon Girl discusses the fears, tensions, and survivalist instinct of Mormons of today.
For a more in-depth conversation before Ms. Brooks hit the national spotlight, listen to her hour-long conversation with Krista Tippett. You'll be moved.
Submitted by Trent Gilliss on Wed, 2012-08-22 06:19
Photo by Alejandro Groenewold/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0
When one introduces the topic of the ethics of meat eating, a debate about religion will often follow. Scriptural texts will be invoked either for or against the practice. In short order, the diets of the Buddha, Muhammad, or Jesus will be considered. Recently, the invocation of beloved environmental writers such as Aldo Leopold has joined references to the traditional sacred texts of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Leopold — famous for proposing the concept of "thinking like a mountain" — introduced the eco-centric view of a "land ethic."
The first-ever panel on Animals and Religion at the American Academy of Religion was held in 1994, consisting of Andrew Linzey, Catherine Keller, Paul Waldau, Jay McDaniels, and myself. While the points made by the panelists were theological, the discussions that followed ranged from the purpose of "canine" teeth in humans to the defense that eating meat is enjoyable.
An audience member suggested to the panel that "It's a dog-eat-dog world." Christian theologian Andrew Linzey responded, "Isn't that what Jesus came to change?" Paul Waldau pointed out that, in fact, it is not a dog-eat-dog world. Dogs rarely eat dogs.
The digressions that occur in such discussions — then and now — suggest that approaching the issue from the lens of religion or ethics can often become muddled and unfocused. But at least five approaches for addressing the issue of the consumption of animals arise when one studies religion:
1) Most religious traditions postulate a vegan beginning. In the religions that hold the Book of Genesis as a part of their scriptures, a vegan diet is pronounced as the appropriate food for human beings (Genesis 1:29); the much-contested "dominion" granted in Genesis 1:26 is dominion within a vegan world. Christopher Chapple suggests the possibility that one can trace religious ideas of the practice of nonviolence to an ancient renouncer tradition that later gave birth to Jainism and Buddhism and influenced aspects of Hinduism, including the classical yoga school. This is one of the reasons Rynn Berry calls Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism the "four ahimsa-based 'vegetarian' religions." What do those beginnings suggest about our relationships with other created beings?
2) As mentioned above, some find it helpful to invoke what Jesus, the Buddha, or Muhammad ate. Recently, the question has shifted to "if they were alive in our time, what would they eat now? If they learned about the way animals live and die within factory farms, what would they do?" Would they agree with the winner of the recent New York Times competition that "most present-day meat production is an ecologically foolish and ethically wrong endeavor"?
3) What is the nature of creation and what is our place in it? Some religious traditions are seen as reinforcing human-centeredness because they appear to suggest that humans are the teleological fulfillment of creation. Are we removed from creation or embedded within it? If our relationship with creation is a religious issue, and since animals are a part of creation, is not our relationship with animals also a religious issue? Karen Davis suggests in response to Aldo Leopold that before she could think like a mountain, she wanted to know if that would include thinking like a chicken. In other words, we should not lose sight of the individuals within creation.
4) What are the effects of anthropormorphizing God? Does an anthropormophic God cause us to see animals as excluded from God's love or concern? Moreover, what is the effect of seeing humans as in God's image? Why is being in God's image often interpreted in view of power and manipulation and hegemony instead of compassion and mercy and emptying unconditional love? Do we anthropomorphize God out of properties that we are most likely to be using against others? We are most likely to assert the image of God when we are lording over others, and using our power. Acts of unconditional love, suspensions of judgment, mercy for the weak, kindness to animals, get associated with a picture of wishy washy ineffectualness and weakness — qualities often seen as undesirable.
5) How do we show compassion and who are our neighbors? Do animals fall within a religious call to be compassionate? Are animals our neighbors? While most religions might have what some call a "miminal treatment" ethics regarding how animals should be treated, recent writings argue for expanding that. In their Religious Vegetarianism, Kerry Walter and Lisa Portmess suggest, "Whatever the sacred and the holy are thought to be, the human slaughter of animals questions it, renders it paradoxical, demands reflection." In my own work, I have found the writings of Simone Weil illuminating. Weil writes that all our neighbor requires of us is to ask "What are you going through?" and to be willing to listen to the answer.
What are you going through chicken, cow, pig, lamb, fish? This may be a more profound and urgent question in the twenty-first century than ever before.
Carol J. Adams is the author of The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, Woman-Battering, Prayers for Animals, and a four-book children's series of prayers for animals. In addition, she has edited and co-edited five anthologies, including Ecofeminism and the Sacred. She is working on a book on theology and animals and you can read more on her website.
This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Submitted by Trent Gilliss on Mon, 2012-08-20 10:06
A leprosy clinic Calcutta. (Photo by Donna Todd/Flickr/cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
When the geophysicist Xavier Le Pichon was 36, he had a "major crisis" in his life. As his scientific research consumed his time and energy, he found himself alienated from others in the world. He "was not seeing the people in difficulty and suffering," he said, and that led him to resign his academic positions and stop conducting his research. He went to Calcutta, India, "to Mother Teresa's place" and spent six weeks working with people in a home for dying destitutes.
In "Ecce Homo", Dr. Le Pichon writes of the foundational experience:
"How old is the small boy lying on the pallet? Five, eight, ten? Misery and suffering are ageless. Emaciated, coiled up like a fetus, all his life has taken refuge in his eyes, immense eyes that look at me without any blink. He was picked up in the street two weeks ago. The sister thinks that he will soon die. 'Try to give him something to eat.'
This is the only task that I can fill in this home for dying destitutes of mother Teresa of Calcutta. With my children, I have learned how to spoon feed a baby. From the motions of the lips, of the tongue, I detect when it is possible to delicately introduce a tiny bit of food in the mouth. The infants are so fragile that the only food they can accept is one that is given with tenderness. The proximity of death has brought back this child to his infancy.
In the position he has taken, lying on his side, it is not easy to get the grains of rice in his mouth. He would like to help in order to please me. But he does not have this strength any more. The grains of rice fall on the napkin that I have spread below his chin. Small windows through the upper part of the walls diffuse a peaceful translucent light that envelops the rows of bodies from which groans are rising. The street noise that comes from the outside strangely appears to come from far away. Yet this peace islet is in the heart of one of the most life teeming quarters of Calcutta. Above the child, against a pillar, a statue of the Virgin Mary is presiding over the exchange between the child and me, exchange that penetrates in the deepest part of my heart.
Who is this child that the tidal wave of human misery has deposited among the dozens of other 'dying destitutes,' as announced on the board at the entrance: 'Home for dying destitutes.' Why did I have to travel over ten thousand kilometers to meet him so that he would completely reorient my life?
Suffering has suddenly swept my soul: it has washed away everything in me. How so much suffering that I had not even noticed could be present next to me? As I had been standing on the crest of the advancing wave of our scientific and technologic civilization, I did not even glance at the debris left over by its flow. I was looking ahead. And suddenly, among the debris of my civilization, this child becomes for me a person, the most important person in my life.
'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?' In the eyes of this child, it is Jesus on his cross, in the mystery of his abandonment, who reveals himself to me. I never felt him to be so close. Jesus alive, taking upon himself the pain of the whole world, revealing to me that I had abandoned him. 'For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you did not receive me as a guest, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Mary, his mother, is there, also present. I now understand why she is always there, next to the cross. How is it possible without her to live this suffering without revolt? The peace that comes from this child, in the middle of his pain, I know that it comes from the presence of Mary.'"
After encountering that child in Calcutta in 1973, he realized life as he had lived it would be different:
"I could not go back to my lab and continue to live as before. The “Poor” had knocked at my door. I had opened it. He had entered and was now with me forever. Borrowing the words of Isaiah, I had recognized in this child my own flesh and I could not escape any more. I did not know his name and yet he had given me a new name that I had been expecting for years. Within his suffering, my new friend had a mysterious power of presence that had enlightened my own self. In exchange for the small amount of love that I had been manifesting in my own poor way, I had received the gift of the Spirit of God who was dwelling in him. Through this gift I had been confirmed in the depth of my living being, that is of my loving being, who needs presence and who needs at the same time to give himself and to be received fully within a unique relationship."
Dr. Le Pichon then returned to France and consulted with Father Thomas Philippe. He encouraged him to come live in the L'Arche community, and share his life with suffering people. But, the wise priest and friend also urged Dr. Le Pichon to continue his work as a geophysicist. Pursuing these dual passions of science and spiritual community, Xavier Le Pichon continued to ponder the implications of the fragility that marks human life at its beginning, its end, and at places in between.
During the decades Xavier Le Pichon spent working on his scientific theories explaining plate tectonics, he's come to see the analogies between the "rigidity" and what he calls "ductility" of the Earth and human communities he's witnessed from India to France:
"As I knew from my own scientific experience, the weaknesses, the imperfections, the faults facilitate the evolution of a system. A system, which is too perfect, is also too rigid because it does not need to evolve. This is true in politics; it is true within a society, within families, within nature.
A perfectly, smoothly running system, without any default is a close system that can only evolve through a major commotion: the evolution occurs through revolutions. An example from my own geological domain illustrates this very important point: most of the earthquakes occur within the upper fifteen to twenty kilometers of the Earth. Let us take the example of California. The western portion glides toward the northwest at about four centimeters per year along a major fracture, which is called the San Andreas Fault. Yet during about one hundred years, the two lips of the fault stay in contact and the corresponding four meters of motion are absorbed by elastic deformation over a width of about one hundred kilometers on both sides of the fault.
Then suddenly there is a break: this is the earthquake. The two sides jump back to their equilibrium position with a corresponding quasi-instantaneous relative motion of four meters (100 x 4 cm) of the two lips of the fault. Yet below fifteen to twenty kilometers, instead of these discontinuous, abrupt motions, there is a continuous creep at four centimeters per year without any earthquake. Why? This is because at this depth, the small defaults of the crystals within the rocks have been activated by the increase in temperature and relax the rigidity, allowing a continuous creep to release the plate tectonic forces and thus avoiding the necessity for periodic disasters. Above this depth, on the contrary, the defaults are 'frozen in' because of the colder temperatures. The rocks keep their rigidity until they are fractured, thus producing the earthquake. One moves from rigid and brittle rocks, within the upper layer, to ductile rocks below that can deform in a continuous fashion under the action of tectonic forces.
The same thing is true for all systems that need to evolve. Contrarily to what is often assumed, the weak and imperfect parts are often those that allow the evolution to occur without any revolution. This is true for the evolution of life, which is in great part based on the occurrence of coding errors during the duplication of the genetic information.
One can ask whether it is not also true of our societies. We tend to dissociate the individuals who are well adapted to our social life from those that have difficulties to follow the pace that is imposed on them by our life style. Yet a society that separates the producers from the others considered as dead weight, even as marginal or excluded individuals, is a hard society, characterized by conflicts and often by complete rejection of minorities. It is sad and pessimistic. On the contrary a society where all are well integrated has a much more adaptable structure, with a different, easier and more conciliatory mode of life. It is often happier and more optimistic."
"The ideas of science make it so important for humans — it’s part of what makes being human worth being human, the ideas of science,”
Dr. Lawrence Krauss said.
On July 13, Dr. Krauss sat down with radio show host and producer Krista Tippett for the final interview in her week-long series based around the theme, “Inspire, Commit, Act.”
“The ideas change our perspective of our place in the cosmos, and to me, that’s what great art, music, and literature is all about. When you see a play, or see a painting or hear a wonderful piece of music in some sense, it changes your perspective of yourself, and that’s what science does in a profoundly important way and in a way with content that matters.”
Dr. Krauss is a theoretical physicist and foundation professor at the School of Earth and Space Exploration and physics department at Arizona State University. He is a frequent contributor to publications such as The New York Times and Scientific American. He has authored many books, including, The Fifth Essence: The Search for Dark Matter in the Universe; Fear of Physics; and Atom: An Odyssey from the Big Bang to Life on Earth…and Beyond.
In his conversation with Ms. Tippett in the Hall of Philosophy, Dr. Krauss discussed his own experience with religion, the excitement and beauty of science, scientific progress and the universe, how science can provide comfort, a positive understanding of life and provided a short lesson on the recently discovered Higgs boson particle.
Dr. Krauss was reared in a Jewish household, but religion was always considered the root of tradition and social machination rather than as a source of ideas:
“I read the Bible, I read the Quran, I read a bunch of things when I was a kid and went through phases where those myths appealed to me. And then I grew out of it — just like Santa Claus.”
Early in his life, his mother, who hoped he would become a doctor, pushed Dr. Krauss toward science. Reading about scientists and science further sparked his attention. As he, he focused his scholarship on physics.
“Physics was always, by far, the sexiest of the disciplines and still is by the way."
Scientists do the work they do because it is fun and exciting, Dr. Krauss said. In our world and society, it is becoming increasingly common to view science from a narrow, utilitarian lens; essentially, people see science as the physical technologies it creates rather than the ideas it fosters.
“To me, one of the most exciting things about science is the ideas. Science has produced the most interesting ideas that humans have ever come up with."
Dr. Krauss lamented that we live in an era where it has been both common and acceptable to be science illiterate. That is dangerous, especially when everything around us that keeps us alive is fueled by scientific research. It is shocking that the presidential candidates do not have a debate centered around science, he said.
In 1996, Dr. Krauss published The Physics of Star Trek. The physicist said he liked science fiction until he realized how much more exciting the scientific ideas, discoveries, and questions behind it could be.
“People imagine science fiction as an imaginative rendering of science, when in fact science is a far more imaginative rendering of science fiction.”
In the Star Trek narrative, two very important ideas are posited.
“The Star Trek future is a better place because of science. And I can’t resist saying it here, now that I think about it. It was one of the reasons in Star Trek that basically they’ve dispensed of the quaint notions, the myopic views of the 21st century, including most of the world religions.”
Dr. Krauss is director of the Origins Project at Arizona State.
“All of the interesting questions that I can see in science, and for the most part in scholarship, are based on the topic of origins.”
In his work, Dr. Krauss asks questions about the origins of the universe, life, and consciousness. He asks questions that seem to combine both scientific and spiritual curiosities.
One vast difference, Dr. Krauss said, can be found hidden within the word “choice.” In religion, philosophy or theology, many questions and questions of origins are started with the word “why.” Dr. Krauss said he believes asking questions with the word “why” implies a presumption that there is a greater meaning, a greater significance, when in fact, no evidence points to that.
Science alters the kinds of questions we ask, because science is always progressing, pushing at the frontier and finding new knowledge so new questions must be asked, he said.
Two hundred years ago, when Darwin was studying and writing, he worked on understanding the origin of the diversity of species — he never attempted to define the origin of life, or the origin of matter, and he laughed off the notion that one ever would, Dr. Krauss said.
“But today, that’s exactly what we’re talking about,” he said.
The scientific world is full of ideas, questions, discoveries and failures. Often the information gathered by scientists challenges preconceived notions about the nature of the universe or religious beliefs.
“Being uncomfortable is a good thing, because it forces you to reassess your place in the cosmos. Being too comfortable means you’ve become complacent and you stop thinking. And so being uncomfortable should be a spiritually uplifting experience.”
One of the most important and widely discussed scientific discoveries in recent history is the Higgs boson. In his lecture, Dr. Krauss traced the recent progressions in scientific thought and understanding, which have allowed for the revolutionary finding. He discussed how that has expanded the scientific frontier and allowed for the eruption of a new set of questions and ideas.
The importance of the discovery reflects and celebrates a change in the understanding of the universe that took place approximately 50 years ago, Dr. Krauss said.
There are four basic forces of nature: electromagnetism, gravity, and strong and weak forces. At the start of the 1960s, only one of the forces — electromagnetism — was thought to be understood. By the end of that decade, scientists understood three of the four forces, Dr. Krauss said.
The realization that all forces could be understood by one mathematical formalism prompted that growth in understanding, Dr. Krauss said.
“You know you make a breakthrough in science when two things that seem very, very different suddenly are recognized as being different aspects of the same thing."
In the ’60s, scientists proposed that electromagnetism, a long-range force that works across long distances, and weak force, a force that is responsible for nuclear reactions on the sun and is prompted by short-range interactions between nuclei, were fundamentally the same.
Forces are understood in physics as the exchange of particles. Historically, it was theorized that electromagnetism was a long-range force because the particle exchanged was a photon, which was massless. It was also thought that in weak force, particles were exchanged over minute distances, because the particles were massive.
But with the realization that those particles could be explained by the same math formula, the proposal came that those particles were essentially the same and massless, Dr. Krauss said. The only way that could be possible would be if there were an invisible field with which massless particles could relate.
“If this invisible field permeates all of space, you can’t see it, but if the particles that convey the weak force interact with that field and get slowed down like swimming through molasses, get retarded because of that interaction, they act like they’re massive, whereas the photon doesn’t — it remains massless. Then everything would work.”
Scientists are not in the business of creating forces, Dr. Krauss said. So following that proposal, physicists have been at work trying to detect that invisible force. Because if something exists, it should be detectable, Dr. Krauss said. If the field exists, scientists proposed that if they hit it with enough energy in a small enough region, an observable particle should be produced. That is what Higgs scientists think they have discovered.
“What’s really beautiful is every time we make a discovery in science, we end up having more questions than answers. Having discovered the Higgs does not close the book. We still don’t understand why this Higgs field exists in the universe, and by why I mean how."
Mystery drives science, Dr. Krauss said. Though concepts such as religion, mysticism and other similar schools are based in mystery, the difference is science has changed the language of mystery and progresses with the gathering of real knowledge.
“Science has moved beyond, has taken us beyond our childhood.”
In the lecture, Ms. Tippett discussed the value of religion and spirituality for aiding, preparing, and comforting someone who is on his or her deathbed. She asked Dr. Krauss what science would be able to say to a dying person.
“Every single thing that religion provides, rationality, empiricism, and science can provide. And not only that — they can provide it better.”
People should be taught the truth about death — that it is a natural, necessary part of life and that it will happen. The meaning of life is the meaning you make of it, Dr. Krauss said. That knowledge should be instilled in people not just on their deathbeds, but throughout their lives, so they make decisions in a way that reflects that reality. Moral and ethical decisions cannot be made or decided without a basis in reality, Dr. Krauss said.
“If the stars tonight realigned themselves and said ‘I am here,’ in Greek — presumably, ancient Greek — then I’d say, ‘Maybe there’s something to all of this.’ ”
He said, though, that when there is no evidence of something, it becomes highly unlikely.
“It seems to me the knowledge that the meaning we have is the meaning we make should inspire us to do better.”
Ms. Tippett asked Dr. Krauss whether he would appreciate or understand religion more if he experienced it in a different way. She read Dr. Krauss a passage from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish theologian:
“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion — its message becomes meaningless.”
Wise people can come from any background, Dr. Krauss said. Wisdom is born of experience and knowledge, and there have been many wise thinkers and writers from religion, such as Maimonides. However, he said, he is often confused by why people who are so wise feel they still need religion.
“There’s beauty in the paintings that Leonardo da Vinci and others, Michelangelo and others, did in context of religion. That’s just a response to the culture of the time, and I don’t see why given what you know now you can’t have that same wisdom without discarding the provincial basis of it.”
In the closing minutes of the lecture hour, Ms. Tippett and Dr. Krauss discussed the scientific refutation of the historical precedent to create “us versus them” scenarios, which often lead to prejudice, violence, and inhumanity. He said:
“Science can provide a realistic basis of understanding how artificial and myopic the definitions of us versus our enemies are. We’re made of their atoms. And every atom in our body was once inside a star that exploded. One of the most poetic things I know about the universe is that we’re all stardust. These are amazing things and they have content and they’re true.”