Re: Experimental Spirituality (Was Science and Religion)

Tibor Benke (benke@SFU.CA)
Tue, 25 Oct 1994 02:19:42 -0700

>From first Kings 18:22-25
"the Elijah said to the people 'I am the only Prophet of the Lord
left, but there are four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal. Bring two
bulls; let them choose one for themselves, cut it up and lay it on the wood
without setting fire to it. You shall invoke your god by name and I will
invoke the Lord by name; and the god who answers by fire is God'. And all
the people shouted their approval."

To begin with, it seems to me, that 'religion' and 'science' name
categories which might be termed 'emic', that is our interpretation of the
terms is already scewed. In particular, when we speak of 'religion' we are
working with a Western, largely Christian category which already requires
consistency and a certain relationship to other categories of thought, such
as 'ideology', 'philosophy', or 'science'..This becomes obvious when we try
to apply the terms to systems increasingly different from Christianity.
While Judaism, and Islam differ only slightly, Budhism is much different
both in its content and its relationship to what we see as 'the rest of
existence'. Hinduism, Taoism, Shinto, Shamanism are progressively more
different. Baha'i, New Age, Rastafarianism, Santaria, ect. are, perhaps,
more different still. Similarly, when we debate 'science' and what the
limits of its reliability are, the methods apropriate to it, and its
limitations, we are dealing with a largely anglo-american category. Even
the German word, 'Wissenchaft', covers a slightly different semantic
territory. Infact, we seem to lack a proper vocabulary to discuss any of
these things, because all our terms are full of built in preconceptions to
begin with. What all of these have in common, is that they are the product
of human cognition, they are socially produced and mediated, and they are
functional (i.e. they are intended to address specific human problems).
Furthermore all of these cognitive products are subject to selective
processes, both by social and material constraints.

Its a mistake of arrogance to think that science is the only self
correcting system of thought. Repentence, for example, is a self
correcting process, Confession for Catholics, is a self correcting
methodology. If religions were more rigid then other cognitive cultural
systemizations, religious innovation would rarely occur, whereas it is
clear, that they occur frequently in history. The rise of Christianity
itself in the wake of Judaism and Mediterranian paganisms; and within
Christianity schisms such as Arianism, Nestorianism, Coptic Orthodoxy,
Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism in its many forms, all testify that
religious innovation is an ongoing process. Some religious traditions even
have institutions for innovation, such as prophecy in Judaism. In our own
days there is a veritable flood of spiritual innovation: Native
spirituality, feminist spirituality, new age, various South American
syncretisms. And all these innovations are undergoing continous
validations as people adhere to them, attempt to apply them to their daily
lives, drop out of them, modify them, etc.

In contrast, it is becoming an ever more difficult task to prevent science
from degenerating into dogma. I have a hunch that this is a consequence of
the struggle scientists waged against the Catholic clergy in the
enlightenment. In order to differentiate science from religion, they had
to either claim exclusive validity for their own methods and demystify the
practices of the church (which, to be sure, were well rigidified and
required demystification), or draw a rigid boundary between religious and
scientific topics. These boundry maintenance activities cause the public
understanding of science to be indistinguishable from any other dogma.
(N.B. I am not saying that actual science is but another dogma, just that
many claims to be scientific are really dogmatic). Furthermore, it seems
to me, that no general rule can be formulated to distinguish once and for
all scientific thought from all other systematizations.

As far as I can see, the difference between science and religious
knowledge, is that intuition or revelation has less epidtemological value
assigned to it in science.


>@> Tibor Benke / (^)%(#)
>@> Graduate Student (MA program)
>@> Department of Sociology and Anthropology
>@> Simon Fraser University,
>@> Burnaby, B.C., Canada. V5A 1S6