'God' particle leaves out the meaning of life
Scientists last week announced they believe they have found evidence for the now famous Higgs boson. The Higgs boson is the particle that is responsible for giving matter mass; the single elusive property that allows all matter to exist as we know it. It allows for the interaction and the gravitational attraction of all physical things, hence the name "god particle."
It’s easy to see why – given the significance of this field that the particle emanates from – that this particle would be so christened. Assuming the standard model is correct, then all that exists moves in and through this field. It is that which gives mass to all.
But does it give meaning to all? To have mass, is not to have meaning. Meaning has traditionally been the domain of religion. This is still the case for much of the world, but less and less so in the West. I’d like to argue that this is partly for good reason. But I also believe that the growing detachment from traditions that challenge us to think about meaning, ethics and morality represents a step in the wrong direction.
It’s not hard to understand why socially connected, relatively well-off and educated people are leaving religious institutions (as never before, according to some demographic studies). The rejection of science, the myopic focus on ethical trivia, homophobia and the traditional denigration of women seen in some all seem representative of a morally bankrupt culture. So it’s easy to see why it’s rejected out of hand by those who believe they know better. Who needs an outdated tradition filled with superstitious rhetoric?
No one. But tradition needn’t be outdated, and spirituality needn’t be superstitious. The former can be innovative and the latter can interact with and be informed by science.
Religious tradition, at it the particle level, is simply a way people make sense of their lives. And just as scientists are slow to throw away an outdated paradigm, so it takes religious traditions a while to come around to new understandings. But it happens. In healthy traditions it happens constantly.
Like the incessant process of science, good hearted people of faith are seeking to keep up with the discoveries of our world. Old views on cosmology, gender relationships and female leadership must go the way of the dodo. The discoveries of our world must be folded into our ever broadening understanding of God, nature and human nature.
This does not mean, however, that we should jettison religious commitment. We ought to be very careful to not throw out the groceries with the trash. Ironically the evils of church hierarchy, the oppression of minorities, the obstinate embrace of outmoded ideas, (etc. – all that stinks like last week’s trash in 100 degree weather) is evidence of the central truth of great religions: We need help to do good and be good.
We dare not forget that much of our social progress in the last couple of centuries (the abolitionist movement, the civil rights movement) has been driven by religious motivations. We should listen, with scientific intensity, to the millions who testify to the life-giving, love engendering, power of their faith.
Many of these testimonies would refer to the way the golden rule shapes their interactions with others. Some would refer to the power the presence of others when in grief. Others would share about the healing power of ritual in their lives. As a pastor I’ve seen all of this first hand. And I’ve seen the dark side first hand. I keep seeking to hold on to the groceries that nourish, and toss the trash out where it belongs.
For me this means trying as best I can to hear what we are learning about our world as I reach back into my own tradition to determine how the wisdom there helps give meaning to my understanding. This process of reaching back, while moving forward, was exemplified by Jesus in his famous Sermon on the Mount. There he made a series of statements that began with a reference to the tradition, but alluded to a need for ethical innovation.
“You have heard it was said … but I say to you.” For example, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt. 5)
Some have noted that in this sermon, and in other teachings, Jesus is expanding our ethical circle to include those outside our “kin.” The idea is that this represents a new evolution of cultural ethics, which quite obviously never completely took root, but which does lead us to where we might not naturally go otherwise. In this sense a good faith commitment is just like a Higgs-boson. It gives weight to our lives and meaning to moments.
Scott L. Stearman is senior pastor of Kirkwood Baptist Church.