Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Luminous Web

My soon-to-be mother-in-law gave me an autographed copy of Barbara Brown Taylor's The Luminous Web for Easter. It isn't my usual fare by any means, but it's a topic I'm interested in, the relationship between science and religion, and it was a gift from the woman who gave birth to the love of my life, so I went ahead and read it. And why not? Taylor's a spiritual person fascinated by science; I consider myself a skeptic fascinated by religion. We're foils for one another. I can learn from her.

Offhand, Taylor preaches to the choir. If you're a believer, you'll see that science has something to offer religion. If you're a skeptic, you'll see little value in interpreting quantum mechanics through a religious lens. Perhaps, that's what's needed in the current political climate - getting religious people to see that science is not necessarily a threat. The problem is that Taylor fails to take the argument in the other direction and show that religion isn't a threat to science.

As an Episcopalian priest, Taylor probably sees herself as a child of the Reformation and the Enlightenment, of religion and science. I too see myself this way but my perspective on the divorce seems to be markedly different from my sister's. I don't know what she thinks about the break-up but let me tell you what I know.

Our parents, Science and Religion, stopped speaking a long time ago, and Taylor, like some children of divorce, hopes that if she just tries hard enough, they're going to get back together. They're not. It's not going to happen. Not any time soon anyway. Religion cheated on Science a couple of times with her off-and-on lover, Politics. After a bitter custody battle, I went with Dad; she went with Mom. Religion has been bad-mouthing Science in front of me, and her new husband, Politics, isn't much better about it. He's worse in fact. Science, on the other hand, is quite happy to be living the single life once again, but he doesn't think much of our new step-dad and said as much when he dropped me off the other day. I believe him.

So what we have here is a situation in which she lives with Religion and visits Science every once in a while, and that's fine. Her book is refreshingly optimistic, and it's good to know that there are religious people out there who take it upon themselves to look at what science can really offer in the way of making sense of our absurd existence.

I live with Science and visit Religion, but that's not okay. I'm always going to hate going over there as long as Politics is skulking about. I love my sister, but I can't stand her step-dad.

Taylor succeeds in presenting a world in which believers can see science as non-threatening but fails to show skeptics that religion isn't a threat. Of course, that's not entirely her fault. We're called skeptics for a reason. You see, no one's ever going to be good enough for Mom.


Thomas said...


Good metaphor. But not good enough to make me want to suffer through the book.

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