Spiritual Life in a Scientific Age

I was trying to gather my thoughts about what it is I really want to say, like what’s the crux of it. What it came down to is that there’s a really bad need to get spiritual life back on the track it got kicked off with the rise of Modernity about a hundred years ago. Well onto a new track actually.

As you read the following, please see it for the rant that it is, and notice that I have my tongue in my cheek throughout but at the same time, I’m deadly serious.

This is a short potted history of Western thought.

From about 200 AD until the 16th or 17th Centuries the Church provided the metaphors and the metaphysics which guided spiritual life. This lasted until Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Hume, Locke, and their mates drove a coach and horses through the old mythology. Natural history (later to become Science) put an end to our specialness, first by showing we weren’t at the centre of the universe, and then by showing we were just animals like the rest (albeit clever ones).

Darwin did away with the need for God the Designer, since the whole project could chunter along on natural selection alone, thank you very much. Marx and Freud put the tin hat on it by indicating that our religion was just some sort of general anaesthetic, and the workings of our unconscious.

So God the Big Guy dishing out the goodies to the good and hell-fire to the wicked was killed off. With him went Virgin births and resurrections and all of that unlikely stuff. Which was a good thing really, since this God was a dubious character pretty much invented by the celibate clergy controlling the show.

So now the ‘Truth’ wasn’t held by the Church anymore. And being the suckers for certainty that we are science stepped in to fill the vacuüm. Now we have the high Priests of Science telling us how it really, really is. They don’t like the old myths, so they’ve invented a few tall tales themselves. Just as fantastic as angels dancing on the head of a pin, now we have multiverses, and eleven dimensions, and a host of other great stories. And no intelligence behind it all, and selfish genes running the show. (Which gene gets to decide, I always wonder?). And consciousness is just an epiphenomenon of brains, and all the rest of it.

Which would be fine and dandy if they told as it is- just another set of myths to fill in the gaps. But, like the Church did before, Science tells it as the ‘Truth’, and there are sanctions if you disagree or disobey. Don’t wear crucifixes, don’t pray in public, no Christmas Carols in the streets, and no jobs in Academia for believers, and Richard Dawkins banging on ad nauseam.

The mythological Christians fight back with nonsense about Creationism (invented by some Bishop of Ussher guy who did the sums and got 4004 BC or something, probably as a jape to while away a few winters’ evenings), and the clever Christians come up with Intelligent Design.

Anyway, somewhere in there the PostModernists (who come after the Modernists, the scientists) say that all truth is relative, that there is no Absolute Truth (except this one!); that all truth is culture-dependent, and only works in the context of the society that expresses it.

But the Scientists aren’t having any of that, they’re on a roll. (It’s always the ones with the power who get the last shout on what we have to believe.)

So now, instead of a tired Christianity with priests who let themselves and us down, and an Anglican Communion with African Homophobes and castrated vicars, we have Scientific Materialism as the only game in town.

This religion says there’s no god, no intelligence, no meaning, no purpose; altruism and love are just the workings of some evolutionary reproductive advantage; when you die, that’s it, and anything science can’t explain they deal with by dismissing it. Superstrings and multiverses fill in the gaps. (But, heaven’s above, never ever a God, or Source or Intelligence, or anything transcendent like that.)

In fact, this religion is reactionary, angry, shallow and all in all pretty shitty as religions go.

But the impulse for the transcendent, for God, for the ultimate source of meaning (a very Platonic ideal), doesn’t go away. Man always needs to have a source of meaning and purpose by which to live.

So along comes Buddhism, in the nick of time. It slips in under the radar, because thankfully, it has no God. And instead of praying to Jesus, or Mary, or St Francis of Assisi, we now have Bodhisattvas and Divas and a bunch of foreign idols. Not only that but we even say the prayers in Tibetan, or Sanskrit of Japanese. We don’t even know the meaning of the words, for God’s sake. But that doesn’t matter because it’s cool and exotic. (Imagine saying the Our Father in Chinese; what would the point of that be?)

So now we have a New Age spirituality, a sort of smorgasbord of Crystals and Reiki and Buddhism. All purveyed by a small group of alternative, hippie-like, knit-your-own-muesli brigade of anti-capitalist, Citreon Dyane driving, VW Beetle Glastonbury goers who are allergic to BMWs and money. And they’re as locked-in to their narrow views, and vegetarianism, as the other crowd of Happy-Clappies. and Angry Atheists.

So for the ordinary intelligent punter who can’t see him or herself in any of those camps we have a problem. How do I express, honour and practice my spiritual life?

There’s the question…