VOLUME 2, NUMBER 26, MAY 22, 2011
A Fairy Story for People Afraid of the Dark
Likewise, I read A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking not long after it came out (it's also still on a shelf in the rectory, near Cosmos), and loved the documentary based on it. It's a short book and in it Professor Hawking makes very complicated and subtle ideas much simpler (not simple, but simpler). Through that book, too, Hawking makes reference to God, though the God he mentions is the God of the Deists (that is, the same God as that of the Enlightenment and so also of many of the founding fathers of the United States of America)—a God used to explain why there is something rather than nothing, but who doesn't seem to have much else to do with Creation after making it, winding it up and letting it go. Over the years Hawking would talk about God as a hypothesis or as a possible explanation for the beginning of everything—as something that could perhaps be tested—or proved or disproved. As is usually the case with such a God (god would probably be more appropriate, since such a god bears little resemblance to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and of Jesus Christ at this point), once alternative explanations surface for whatever function such a god would serve, the need for and scope of that god is made smaller. The god who fills the gaps of our knowledge grows smaller and smaller as our knowledge of the universe and its processes grows larger.
Recently Stephen Hawking's talk about G(g)od has changed and it seems, to paraphrase one philosopher, Hawking no longer has need of the god hypothesis. I wasn't surprised, then, to see a story from Reuters on the internet that quoted Hawking, who, diagnosed with degenerative motor neuron disease at the age of 21 and so has lived in death's shadow for almost fifty years, as saying, "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."
When a prominent figure speaks out against some aspect of religion it's not unusual for religious leaders to get worked up and speak about in reply. I don't really have an appetite for arguing with atheists. I have too many friends who were or are atheists. I know that, for the most part, the atheism of the average atheist is more like agnosticism or functional atheism. They just haven't seen anything in the beliefs, or more importantly, the lives of religious people that makes belief worthwhile. I think of the great quote in Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain about Communism, but it can apply to atheism in general:
Catholics are worried about Communism: and they have a right to be... But few Catholics stop to think that Communism would make very little progress in the world, or none at all, if Catholics really lived up to their obligations, and really did the things Christ came on earth to teach them to do: that is, if they really loved one another, and saw Christ in one another, and lived as saints, and did something to win justice for the poor. (373)
The atheists I have known and know now are a mixed lot—many are loving and caring people who give their lives to important and selfless work and some are selfish jerks and most are in between. Just like Christians or people of other religions.
But what saddened me as I read the short piece through the first time was how ill informed Hawking was about the teachings of the great religious traditions. His description of God and of the afterlife has no resemblance to what we find in Holy Scripture or the teaching of the Church. Now Hawking is about as smart as they come. But his understanding of Christianity is at about the third grade level (at best). And it made me wonder why that might be. It's easy for us to complain and attack those who dismiss religious belief (and it makes us feel better, which is, in its own way, spiritually dangerous), but if they've gotten that belief so wrong and if what they are rejecting is a childish understanding of the faith, then don't we have to ask why that is and even ask whether we have, by not understanding our own faith well and not being able or willing to share it well, contributed to their ignorance?
As those who have been baptized—that is, have already died with Christ and also already share in the new life of his resurrection, we have nothing to fear. NOTHING. Not even the dark. "What has come into being in [the Word] was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:3b-5) We have been given that light. May it shine in us, in our living and loving, in such a way that folks like Stephen Hawking cannot miss it or misunderstand it.
The Fifty Days of Easter continue. Happy Easter!
WESTWOOD HERITAGE DAY... Grace Church will beparticipating in Westwood Heritage Day on Sunday, May 22. Stop by at Veteran's Park and support Grace Church by being her face to the community.
"THE MANY FACES OF OPERA"...The Palisades Opera Company willpresent "The Many Faces of Opera" Friday evening, May 27 at 7 PM here atGrace Church. Featured will be piecesfrom "La Boheme", "Tosca", "Carmen" and more. Tickets are $15, seniors $10.
Feasts near and at the conclusion of the easter season... Easter is a fifty day celebration which ends on the Feast of Pentecost. Forty days from Easter Sunday is the Ascension, the day on which Christ was carried up into heaven as described at the end of the 24th chapter of Luke's gospel and in the 1st chapter of its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles. We will celebrate that feast with a Mass at 7:30 pm onJune 2. Following Ascension by about ten days (June 12) is the second greatest feast of the Church year (after Easter), Pentecost, also known as Whitsunday for the white garments placed on the newly baptized (Pentecost being the second most appropriate day for Baptism after the Great Vigil of Easter). We are lucky to celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism on that day at the 10 am Solemn Mass. The next two Sundays are also celebrations of some import and will be celebrated with Solemn Processions and other ceremonies at the 10 am Masses on those days: Trinity Sunday on June 19 and Corpus Christi on June 26.
FOOD FOR FRIENDS, AN EASTER THOUGHT... Easter is the greatest feast of the Christian year, and the Easter season lasts for 50 days. During that time, we can surely reach out to include needy persons in our continuing celebration, especially by donating to the Food for Friends food barrel on Sundays through Pentecost, June 12 this year. During these times of unemployment and underemployment, the need is great. The Food Pantry especially welcomes high protein items, such as beans and canned meats, as well as tuna, cereal, peanut butter, rice, coffee, and pasta. Alternatively checks may be drawn in favor of St. Paul's CDC and marked Food Pantry. Please send checks directly to St. Paul's at 451 Van Houten Street, Paterson, NJ 07501. Thank you.
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