Filed in Science

The Transcendent Imperative

At a time when our spiritual traditions struggle to remain relevant in a culture dominated by scientific materialism, Andrew Cooper considers the pros and cons of a new religious model based on the psychology of “flow.”

Andrew Cooper

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Throughout history, human beings have understood the transcendent imperative in a manner that reflected their own deepest and most characteristic experience of themselves and their world. For us, living as we do at a time when the truth of plurality outweighs the truth-claims of any specific point of view, religion, if it is to avoid the pull of regressively contrived certainty, must be, in key ways, different in character from how it was for those of earlier periods. For us, religion must be consonant with science—“our most trustworthy mirror of reality”—but not defined by it. The key issues in religious life no longer revolve around the particular faith one holds but how one holds one’s faith.

I am reminded here of a passage from the philosopher David Miller’s fine book Gods and Games: Toward a Theology of Play. For Miller, religious faith is something distinct from belief, something that need not correspond to actual fact:

Faith is being seized, being gripped by a pattern of meaning that affects one’s life pattern, that becomes a paradigm for the way one sees the world. . . . Faith is make-believe. It is playing as if it were true. It is not that the religious story is not true. It is simply that questions of truth are irrelevant while in the midst of make-believe, while in the midst of faith.

It is something of a truism to say that religion must accommodate science. But perhaps science must in turn accommodate religion. For if science is to serve religious ends—that is, if it is to teach us not just how things work but what meaning and purpose they hold—then it must partake of religious means. It must, in other words, entail active and vital faith. Given this, the need to understand the transcendent imperative anew and the fact that strong arguments exist both for and against evolutionary complexity are for the best. For faith must ripen through uncertainty and doubt. It must open us to something larger than our concepts, for these arise from within the limits of the self. Faith must, in the end, leave room for mystery.

Contributing editor Andrew Cooper lives in Oakland, California. He is currently taking the gradual path to writing his next book.

Image 1: Infected Lattice, 2003, ink on paper, 11 x 8.5 inches, © James Siena, Courtesy of Pacewildenstein; Photograp courtesy of Pacewildenstein
Image 2: Four Nesting Spirals, Second Version, 2000, enamel on aluminum, 2-1/16 x 22-11/16 inches, © James Siena, Courtesy of Pacewildenstein; Photograp courtesy of Pacewildenstein
Image 3: Floppy Recursive Combs, James Siena, 2004, wood engraving, 5 x 4 inches, paper size 12 x 10 inches, edition of 60. Printed by Pace Editions Ink; Published by Pace Editions, Inc.

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