Posted by: CJ | March 24, 2011

Science…the last true Catholic Church

I have frequent arguments with friends over what religion is. I think that modern academia and science is basically like a religion, because I think of a religion in terms of the community that practices it and the bonds between the adherents. All the mystical stuff is more like window dressing.

I always figured that point of view was heavily influenced by the archaeology/sociology leanings of my family. And it most definitely is. But I think it’s also influenced by the particulars of small town midwestern Christianity.

Of all places, I was reminded of this while reading Hyperion.

One of the characters in the book is an archeologist priest. In a minor part of the book, he falsies evidence at a site with the ultimate goal of helping the catholic church transition to the modern period instead of continuing its slow death. Ultimately he recants that earlier attempt, deciding that an important part of being a Catholic is holding on to the same traditions and faith his forebears had.

Thinking about it, I sorta finally got part of why the Catholic Church originally fought having services in vernacular.

Sure, having a service in vernacular makes a religion more appealing, more approachable, and more real to its lowest level of adherents. It makes it so the lowest level of adherents can have a personal relationship with their higher powers. But it also makes the institution much more focused on the local community. On what’s right around them.

For example, I know the Lord’s Prayer by heart even though I haven’t said it in a church more than 10-20 times in the past decade.  In a sense, that, and all sorts of other minutiae, unify me with Christians the world over.

But I don’t have a clue what the Lord’s Prayer sounds like in any language other than English. Nada. Even though somehow belief in Christ, the Resurrection, and the God of Joseph and Abraham should in principle unify a believer in the US with believers all over the world…there’s really no way to communicate about it. Nothing but a vague feeling one can have around other believers. A feeling that might be the mystical light of God shining down on his flock mingling, or could be a self-delusion one feels because it’s what they want to believe.

By contrast, I can solve problems and discuss science with people who barely speak any English. Not only can, but have. Newton’s Law, Fourier series, Linked Lists, chemical equations, etc…these things, while universal in some sense, are still just notation…but everyone who knows them also knows the same notation. We don’t have to trust in my feelings being true, we can just start drawing diagrams in inclined planes and taking derivatives on a chalk board.

In this sense, if no other, the community of scientists have preserved something that modern Christianity–even the Catholic church–hasn’t. A worldwide community of people that speak the same language, a functional language, of what they have faith in.


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