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Moving beyond the old battles between science and religion

GERALDINE MOONEY SIMMIE :: A response to ‘Spirituality after Einstein’ by Bill Toner SJ

I found ‘Spirituality after Einstein’ by Bill Toner SJ » an interesting read as it weaved between science and religion and made a convincing case for the important place of spirituality in this current era of utilitarianism. The primacy of the economy has left us all with a rather flat world, with no collective critical conscience, no real politics, and serious inequalities.

In Ireland, we have reacted to the scandals of the Catholic Church, with a populist movement against faith and organised religion gathering momentum. However, nothing is even straightforward in Ireland. We want to eschew the bits we don’t like while holding onto, at the same time, all the trappings of protection and privilege that institutional religion affords, such as access to education, securing a place in elite sports (for men), and access to prestigious professional job opportunities through fitting in with the right people who know how to work the ‘system’.

How can we grow up as a nation and find new spaces for healing, courage, growth and yes, for a rich spiritual life and a journey of transcendence? The clock is ticking even if the ticks are slightly out of step in different parts of the planet. It is ticking on climate change and the sustainability of the planet as our one and only collective dwelling home. It is ticking on our capacity to become more than chasing collective selfishness. It is ticking on finding the right antibodies to ameliorate the coronavirus pandemic and the viruses that follow. It is ticking on an elite who work ceaselessly to preserve the status quo, shutting down critical debate, closed to new ways of taking care of those amongst us who are just not able, for whatever reason, to make it on their own.

While science and religion have had a long history of differences, and have played games of supremacy over the centuries, they also stand shoulder to shoulder to eschew and to block other important ways of knowing, in particular the feminine and the affective. Their agreed rational Enlightenment man (I’ll include woman to show some generosity of spirit in my response) has for the last five hundred years dominated life in every sphere.

A logical and detached man, who works from the computer in his brain, who rationalises everything, including his emotions, who denies that he has a body, who keeps his passions and desires under control through a path of denial, mortification and self-mastery. A logical man who has by now, five hundred years later become the ‘almost perfect’ robot in a global world of crass competition, divisiveness and loss of ethical judgement, who has walked himself away not only from his passions, desires, dark side, but also his heart and humanity and his journey to transcendence.

I posit here that the Enlightenment view of man is no longer fit for purpose – it will not bring us to a just global world and a sustainable planet. We need to take a long hard look at ourselves as a species, to stop blaming others and start to work together to make a shared and decent dwelling home on Earth as well as to join one another as pilgrims on our personal journeys toward transcendence. We are ‘tricked’ into a dualist and essentialist way of reasoning that suggests that making room for the Spirit and transcendence in our life necessitates denial of our human existence, equality and the important heart work of a shared humanity. We might talk about gaps between science and religion but we would be rather naive not to include the political. Who benefits, we have to ask, when clinging to a view that has the world at loggerheads?

The missing link is respect for the dignity of each person and the importance of authentic soulful relationships, a wholesome human being who has at his disposal several interconnected systems of feedback that resemble more the whorl in the petals of a flower than that old tired diagram of the frozen iceberg peeping above that icy cold water. Both religion and science as institutions need to step back and acknowledge the damage done by their denial of the place of the political, and the insidious and paternalistic ways they have wielded power and privilege as they continue today to deny other ways of knowing, such as, the affective and the feminine.

My point is that there is an opportunity and a danger in this present moment for us to be something better as a species, to do something different rather than continue to behave like the drunk man trying to find his lost keys under the street lamp as it was the only place he could see the light.

Dr. Geraldine Mooney Simmie is Deputy Head of the School of Education at the University of Limerick where she is a Senior Lecturer with a research interest in critical and feminist perspectives in emancipatory teacher education, the protean nature of teachers’ subjectivities and the complexity of the lived reality of teachers’ practices. Her book on Democracy and Teacher Education is published in London by Routledge. Before that Geraldine was a physics and mathematics teacher at the Jesuit secondary school, Coláiste Iognáid SJ in Galway City.

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