September 16, 2009

God, Approximately

God, Approximately

By Brian Cantwell Smith

Consider the rise of the religious right: Muslim and Hindu fundamentalism, right-wing Zionism, the Christian moral majority. These movements are responding to—and exploiting—a widespread social hunger: a sense that reigning secular, scientific, and capitalist world views don’t supply what matters: ways to tell right from wrong, guidance to anchor individual lives and give them meaning, the wherewithal to resolve ethical dilemmas.

I find many of the fundamentalists’ answers appalling: bigoted, meanspirited, scary. But what are those of us on the left—we scientists, we intellectuals, we in the academy—doing about this heartfelt lack? If we don’t recognize (and respond to) the yearning—if, willfully or unwittingly, we remain blind to the hunger—then we have no leg to stand on, in criticising others' replies.

What we need are better answers: frameworks to stir compassion, give meaning to lives, combat prejudice, secure a modicum of economic wellbeing, preserve the planet. These frameworks must be global; it is too late for parochial sectarianism. And they must build on the best in science. We need to move forwards, not back.

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