The State Religion of America (excerpt from book on Paul's Spirituality)
A few years ago our youngest daughter, Grace, was trying to explain how she negotiated the daily drama of her social world at middle school. One student was giving his female classmates fits, but Grace was able to dismiss the boy’s antics; she claimed he never got to her because she was able to size him up. “He’s a telepathic liar,” she said confidently. Grinning from ear to ear, Grace’s older brother and sister almost said simultaneously, “You mean, ‘pathological liar.’” But before Grace could agree, I wanted to enjoy her unintentional pun: “You know, I think she’s right. Maybe he is a telepathic liar. He may look like he’s telling the truth. But, Grace knows different: she’s reading his mind.” Then, turning to my thirteen-year-old daughter I said, “Grace. I hope you’re able to keep that ability. It will come in handy when you get older and have to deal with boys on a regular basis,” at which point our son (who majored in philosophy) and our oldest daughter (who majored in biology) playfully began to debate the metaphysical question, “what is real?”, by correlating gender issues and the differences between pathology and telepathy. Comments like, “men are pigs” and “women are trappers,” were bantered about as each combatant relied upon science and reason to score points in the battle of the sexes.
Nature (“men are pigs”) versus nurture (“women are trappers”) is the common dialectic by which we make sense of human behavior. We rely upon science to tell us why certain persons do certain things. Social scientists argue that context is key; individuals are conditioned to respond in certain ways due to the sum of their past experiences. Biological scientists maintain that we’re all hard-wired to behave a particular way; our genetic makeup predetermines how we will respond to different situations. In either case, the presumption of our quest—explaining why “men are pigs” or why “women are trappers”—is that science holds all the answers. In fact, it may be safe to say that science is the state religion in the west. Geneticists are prophets who predict our future; physicians are priests who serve in the temple of health. When they are unable to answer our questions, “why did this happen?” or “what is the prognosis?” or “what is the remedy?”, we fall into despair, troubled by the uncertainty of life. We want—we crave—certainty. So, a new “Calvinism” has been developed to make us feel better about our lot. Its theology is biology, where faith is the gift of reason and the doctrine of predestination is sorted out in the lab. We believe because test results are determinative.
What I find most puzzling is how this new “religion” found fertile soil in the land of American individualism.