[asa] Over my head, I hear music in the air

From: Merv <mrb22667@kansas.net>
Date: Sat Apr 19 2008 - 07:12:29 EDT

I'm now kept awake reflecting on one of the songs I heard sung yesterday
with syncopated perfection at an academic-arts-music festival of
Christian schools: "Over my head, I hear music in the air .... There
must be a God somewhere." It strikes me how this chorus embeds (or
provokes, rather) an unintended modern mindset that is in tension with
the rich emotional content of this [African?] spiritual.
"When the world is silent ....",
"When I'm feeling lonely..."
"When I think on Jesus, I hear music in the air ..."

...There must be a God somewhere; which begs the reply from the
modern mind as well as the ancient psalmist: "...because He certainly
doesn't seem to be evident down here" [not at the moment, anyway -- the
ancient psalmist would add with hope and anticipation]. And my mind
wanders to the parables of the Master going away, leaving his servants
in charge. But this brief mental dalliance with deism is just an
historical stepping stone to atheism, and in practice, is
indistinguishable from it, to hear A. McGrath describe it. His book
describing the golden age of atheism is still fresh on my mind.

Ancient psalmists notwithstanding, I think McGrath had the relatively
recent European populations in mind when he wrote something to this
effect: Pretty much nobody doubted the existence of God until
theologians started trying to prove it. (referring to the attempts of
Descartes & others to set forth natural proofs -- a retrospectively
unwise enterprise.) Atheism aside, the European history of populations
and institutions offers, I think, some interesting insight for science
and Christianity in the U.S. now.

One of the not-so-good effects of the reformation is the loss of the
communal experience of religion. I think many of our protestant
traditions have recovered this sense of community somewhat, and now
hearken back to a sense of responsibility to the larger body again; but
we still are steeped in our culture of individualism. And our cries to
God are individual ones more than corporate. The psalmists may look
like individual cries --I'm sure some were, but when it is the king or
soldier (king-to-be) writing them, the distinction between individual
and nationalistic religion is blurred. They cried to God on behalf of
entire groups --poor, downtrodden, whole nation.

I'm not suggesting that individual experience should be demeaned again,
and certainly I'm not advocating any "national religion" such as always
leads to disaster when nations inevitably subvert that to their own
agenda. But I do think those who are frustrated by an apparent lack of
progress of science as it attempts to gain credibility among
populations, would do well to consider what is happening in the church.
I'm not sure it bodes well for science as secularists would like it to
be. I'm not going to, in the spirit of Spong, go so far as to suggest
somebody write a book "Why science must change or die." Nothing so
radical is necessary --science prides itself on evolving, after all.

But here is where this thought was going: The rise of the
individualistic experiential Christianity (Pentecostalism), and
numerical decline of traditional institutional Christianity, may be
revealing of our cultural attitudes towards things like science. Dare I
compare science to the institutional side of that dichotomy? Maybe the
grassroots science teacher will make the more effective pitch to think
scientifically and bring it home to an individualistic and
experientially oriented population. He/she must avoid dumping into it
all the irreligious baggage of coercion that (in addition to being
beyond what science can support in the first place) now smacks of
secular institutionalism to the hot-headed individualist of our day.
This isn't to advocate to opposite extreme of demanding that science
classes must be overtly religious, making artificial attempts to insert
"pro-religion statements" randomly into the curriculum. But honest
engagement can happen, even if this is presently a formula for trouble
in the public arena. The elephant is already under the carpet, in any
case; it might as well be discussed in the open, lest magnified
suspicions and fear continue to rule over public policy. Atheist and
Christian teachers both, can model respect for opposite minded students
even while maintaining disagreement and refusing to be apologetic about
their own beliefs. And they can both teach good science without trying
to pretend it to be a weapon of religious or irreligious coercion. Of
course, some beliefs (like YECism) must inevitably feel threatened --if
something is just contrary about what is observed or evidenced, there is
no way to rescue it from taking offense in a science class. But even in
these cases, --perhaps, especially in these cases, respect for
intelligence can still be modeled by the teacher. Disagreement need not
lead to belittling.

"Here is where physical evidence points. I respect that you have good
reasons to disregard this evidence. Since science doesn't consist of
ultimate proofs, even about the physical world (let alone the
metaphysical one) there will always be room for faith, but science can
only follow physical evidence as it appears now. Just chalk it up (or
celebrate it!) as a limitation of science."

I propose that this would slowly nurture public scientific literacy
more effectively than our paranoid mentality of trying (always
unsuccessfully) to lock religion out of the room. The music will always
be in the air. Learn to sign along.

--Merv Bitikofer

p.s. one other note from McGrath that didn't fit into the theme above,
but that still fascinated me:

The reformation had some interesting implications for how atheism would
(not) play out in the new world. McGrath describes how much of the
impetus towards atheism in Europe was blunted in America where religion
was not so tied in with state institutions like it was/is in Europe.
Some so-called "atheists" of that time, like Voltaire, were protesting
corrupt & intertwined religious institutions and governments as much or
more than they were debating over the actual existence of God. But they
certainly found common cause with the more hard core atheists of the
day. The new world across the puddle wisely refrained from this
baggage of association between state and church.

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Received on Sat Apr 19 07:14:59 2008

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