Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A return trip

I haven't yet read any of Houston Smith's books, although I have looked over one or two on Amazon. I tend to back away from looking at other religions right now because I'm drowning in ignorance about my own. That means for the time being I think my time is better spent there. But if I'm given enough time I imagine the day will come when taking a look around will be enjoyable. I liked a lot of what Smith had to say in this article, although - I have to concede - he does overdo it and go a bit marshmellowish. For the most part, though, this is similar to some of the things I've been advancing here:
In the new The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition (HarperSanFrancisco), Smith ruminates about the beliefs, contributions and prospects of the world's largest faith. In the end, what he advocates is essentially a modernized and tolerant interpretation of the shared faith of Christianity's first thousand years, before it broke into Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant branches. But that's the end point. The start lies elsewhere, with Smith's premise that the future of Christianity and the other great faiths hinges on keeping proper limits on science - meaning religious people should not concede that scientific knowledge is the only kind. The outspoken senior statesman acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press that he's no expert, but said notable scientists who are friends of long standing have taught him about the oft-baffling aspects of nature and our limited knowledge of the physical universe. Over the past several centuries, empirical observation and laboratory experiments have produced huge benefits for health and removal of drudgery, Smith said. Problem is, as a result "we gave science a blank check, by which I mean we turned all truth over to them." Science is not omnicompetent," he insisted. "Our physical senses are not the only senses we have." As his book puts it: "No one has ever seen a thought. No one has ever seen a feeling. Yet our thoughts and feelings are where we primarily live our lives." His book says "discounting invisible realities" is the "modern mistake" promoted by an intolerant secularism that says only empirical, scientific knowledge is valid. ... "The university today is uncompromisingly secular," he lamented, noting his own half-century as a professor, most recently with the University of California, Berkeley. In American society, "religion is everywhere, except in the intelligentsia, the people who rule our country, and in the media," he said. ... The result: "The mainline churches have surrendered too much to modern secularism. The language they preserve - but the fire isn't in their souls." Smith's new book argues that liberal Christianity has turned religion into mere morality, leaving churches with "nothing to offer their members except rallying cries to be good. ... The authority of religion has waned along with the mystery of the sacred."

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