On religions was Re: Stephen Jay Gould: conflict between science andreligion not necessary

Gary MacLennan g.maclennan at SPAMqut.edu.au
Thu Jan 25 02:26:49 MST 2001

This does not appear to have arrived.  Apologies if it turns up twice.


I tend to agree on Lou Paulsen and Jim on this one.  But I suspect that the
irreconcilable quarrel is between science and organised religion rather
than between science and what I term for want of a better word spirituality.

For years my hatred of organised Catholicism knew no bounds because I
*knew* what they are like.  I absolutely refused to be beguiled or
impressed by the actions of the Church of the Poor. I have softened
somewhat but I still believe that if the Catholic Church ever return to a
position of strength then it would torture and murder as of old.

I am reminded here of an old quarrel and bitter it was between Lou and
Jerry Levy on the old Marxism list.  Jerry defended Judaism while Lou
attacked as only he can.  I wrote that Lou on Judaism reminded me of myself
on Catholicism.  A very bright young man, Adam Rose, who alas got swallowed
up in fantasies of being a hard man in the ISO, wrote that it all depended
on prior experience. He could barely look at rabbis without getting angry
while the sight of a priest was enough to drive me beyond reason.

But the attraction of religious or spiritual belief in some kind of
transcendent still survives the reality of organised religion.  Why? By way
of answer let me tell a tale of two books.

I have just been given a present of a book The Wisdom of Israel edited by
Lewis Browne.  It is indeed a treasure.  Consider the following from the Mishna

"Rabban Jochanan ben Zakkai used to say: 'Don't feel self righteous if you
have learned much Torah, because that is what you were created for.' He
said to his disciples: 'Go and discover what [best helps] a man to find the
right way of life.' Rabbi Eliezer answered: 'A good eye.' rabbi Jehoshua
answered: 'A good neighbour.' Rabbi Simeon answered: 'Foresightedness.'
Rabbi Elazar answered: 'A good heart.' Rabban Jochanan then said to them:
'I prefer Rabbi Elazar's answer, for his words include all of yours.' "

I have also just begun to work through a book on Zen.  There I found the
following story of the Buddha. He was approached by a woman bearing her
dead baby and seeking an answer. He said he could help, but first the woman
must bring a mustard seed to him from a house without suffering. She failed
in that quest and then the Buddha said
                 My sister, thou has found,
                 Searching for what none finds, that bitter balm
                 I had to give thee. He thou lovest slept
                 Dead on thy bosom yesterday; today
                 Thou knowest the whole world weeps
                 With thy woe (cited in Scott & Doubleday, 1992: 12]

In neither of these instances does science or Marxism have very much to
say. But for me the wisdom in the books is essential if we are ever going
to fulfil the promise made when humanity first stood upright.





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