Thursday, July 15, 2010

Last week's Daily Show with Jon Stewart, had Marilynne Robinson on it talking about how we need the best insights from both science and religion.  And that scientists make a mistake when they set themselves up in opposition to religion.  As I thought about global warming and resource depletion and US jingo-militarism,  I felt myself reflexively bridling at the idea that science should defer to religion in some way.  After all, religions and the anti-science they accompany seem like primary stumbling blocks in our efforts to solve our most pressing problems.  Religious conservatives (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu) have an affinity with the various tribes of denialism (whether concerning evolution, climate change, human sexuality or whatever).  They share a penchant for willful ignorance and an unwillingness to place faith (so to speak) in empirical evidence or scientific consensus.

But it occurred to me that, of course, Robinson is right (at least as I imagined her argument from a 5 minute interview).  Religion and Science are both central to any solution of the big problems.  In many ways Science is letting us down.  It is not solving the problems.  Its collective communication skills are weak, its political power is under-developed.  It has been timid and complicit and un-compelling.  So too is Religion letting us down.  It is not now directing the moral, cultural and spiritual power that it can marshal toward a positive stewardship of our earth or of our children's future.  But this can't be a blanket condemnation of either one.  We need both science and spirituality on board -- and in their best qualities.

As mentioned before, in my summer of blossoming pessimism, I've been reading the doomer blogs.  The Peak Oil analysts and the Climate Scientists, the Collapse Preppers and the Permacultists, and myself, we all throw our hands up in frustration that so many people are in denial about the ways our actions as a species are wantonly and stupidly destructive and unsustainable and simply unsatisfying.  Especially, now that science has marshaled so much evidence that things are going in all the wrong directions.

A few days ago, after reading a moving, elegiacal post by John Rember, I had to respond

It's hard to know what's coming -- and what we should have in our pockets.  Scarcity and loss doesn't bring out the best in people -- though neither does our current spectacle of conspicuous materialism cross-hatched by inequality.  If and when collapse (or terminal decline) reaches our various redoubts, luck and nimbleness will probably count for much -- and whatever preparations there are that can contribute to either.
I think I most dread a lingering, half-assed decline that leaves the assholes in state capitals and corporate boardrooms with enough residual power to grind it all out into a banal and stupid archipelago of podunk tyrannies.  (Sort of like what began happening in the rural areas of the former Soviet Union in the mid 1990's.)  And that it will turn out that our people's preference for being led by fools and charlatans is deepset and fatal.
What I most hope for is an awakening of the good in people.  Or not quite that, because I think most people are good, or would prefer to be, but rather a world (or tribe or community) where the good and joyful in people had more place and more scope.  And I think it is even possible (however unlikely) that a collapse of our System could make a space for that.
And the choice between such trajectories is, after all, as much a religious question as anything.