Surely, we live now in an “age of reason,” despite the fact that our current president is anything but reasonable in terms of policies or what constitutes reality to him. Irrationality is always an enemy of the people and it is a signature component of a bully’s insistence on obedience.
Fundamentalist Christianity is a prime example, far eclipsing the Roman Catholic Church on this score which for eons had a monopoly on the practice, fighting relentlessly against the rise of science and reason during the Italian Renaissance and its successor, the French, English and American Enlightenment that produced the American Revolution and its establishment of the modern notion of democracy.
While Catholicism gradually gave ground to the compelling force of reason, fundamentalist Christianity superseded it in intensity, beginning with its deployment by the British in their so-called “Great Awakening” to curb the spread of the Enlightenment and its American Revolution with “hellfire and brimstone” preaching to lock the masses down with a fear of damnation for any action not specifically sanctioned by the crown and the ruling class.
The American founding fathers were united in their resolved opposition to the grip of fear and superstition over the lives of people, just as they touted science and reason as the keys to freeing them to live under the reign of democratic institutions. Fundamentalism, of course, denies this reality to this day, lying that the founders of America were irrational zealots like themselves.
The greatest gains in securing the long-term sustainability of America’s constitutional democracy came with progress in the expansion of free, science and reason-based public education. America’s strongest cornerstones of its democracy are the classrooms that teach the fundamentals of “reading, writing and arithmetic” to its new generations.
Today, the beautiful stories that are re-enacted during the holiday season are widely held to be poetic verbal and visual manifestations of the bonds of love and compassion that bind us, as a society, together. They are stories that a science and reason based culture values for their affirmations of the hopeful qualities of our human condition. They do not contradict, they complement humanity’s striving to elevate the most positive traits in the interactions and improvements among us as mortal beings.
They place us in a cosmic context, entirely in keeping with our actual role in this astonishing universe in which we play out our lives. The confluence of the stars with the destiny of humankind is an affirmation of this, that the universe despite its incomprehensible vastness is not an indifferent backdrop, but our friend, in fact an advocate for us.
Stories of the holiday season, in fact, point to more profound realities than a linear concept of the extensions of time and space permit us. While eluding attempts to explain “things unseen” that are the stuff of nature and the universe, they do place our human destiny in the lap of that universe.
Still, science is only beginning to discover what have been mysterious realities of this universe, phenomena like “entangled particles” that Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.”
“Entangled” photons can transfer states between them spontaneously despite great distances, according to science, “taking place at a speed of at least 10,000 times the speed of light, possibly even instantaneously, regardless of distance.” How much of our reality in this life is “entangled” with phenomena elsewhere, if you will, in this universe? How may action by one component of this entanglement be determinate of others in our current time-space experience?
The ancients didn’t know less of our universe insofar as long as they sensed and experienced cosmic nuances of our condition. Their poetry and their imagery were often acutely profound in ways we are no better at explaining now than in their time.
Abraham’s sparing of Isaac made our modern western civilization possible, a holiday season thought worth contemplating.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected].