One of the prompts for me to write the book is that religion is important in society. It is still a historical base for our morality. Moreover, there is considerable evidence that religious practice results in a healthier and longer life, and even, as far as can be measured, a happier one. Yet for the educated professionals, especially, but not only scientists, neutrality on religion, or even opposition to it, is a default position. Being religious is sort of dumb, or at least uneducated. But why should the uneducated have that advantage?
All science, and indeed, nearly all paid work, operates in the objective, public world. The objective always assumes no mysticism: God is absent. Or at best, God is stuck on as an afterthought. This is true even of religious organisations in their day-to-day operation. (This building is being earthquake strengthened. The congregation did not just sit around and pray for there to be no earthquakes.)
But where we actually live is in the subjective: the internal world we all experience. We assume that that world matches the objective world, and indeed for most of us, most of the time this is nearly true. The subjective world is totally private. It is where we love; where our little fantasies are; and emotions, our motivation – the reasons we get out of bed in the morning. It is the world that really matters to us. We harness this primarily important world to achieve a measure of success and competence out in the public arena. Underpinning that is the sub-conscious: the meld of unarticulated and unrealised memories, drives and desires that influence us enormously but which we constitutionally cannot recognise.
Our experience of God, or ultimate meaning, or reason for living and loving, is in that internal, subjective world. The objective is reliable and coherent and science works there. Our internal consciousness, even though it is served by our operation in the objective world, and by the material chemistry of our brain and bodies, need not be so coherent.
So is God, based on subjective experience, in our private consciousness, with no material aspect, real? For some of us, “yes”. But if to be “real” means to materially exist, “no”. Our ultimate values, our love, our perception of beauty – all that non-material stuff – by the same standard is also not real. So pick your reality.
This special internal world in our subjective minds is also the content and intent of art – hence the poetry in my book. The arts, like everything we publically do, does operate in the objective world. The creative artist’s technique and skill works there, and thus critics can talk, discuss and analyse, art objects can be bought and sold. But the living pulsating body that communicates directly with the subjective in all of us, and is the real content of an art-work, is not touched.
As a community we are anchored, in the material and public world. So the church has creeds, the Bible, doctrine, establishment. However that all that stuff, needed as an anchor, limits and excludes, and being objective, is without real life. We all – and this includes the Church – make the mistake of focussing on that, and then feeling that to be participants, we should believe the contents of Bibles, creeds and the rest as objective reality. That’s because we all work in that public arena – even if we don’t live there. It’s where we can analyse, discuss and teach.
So can religion help us to live our lives more fruitfully? My suggestion is take the reported life of Jesus, not as a magic superman, but one whose life and teaching gives us direction, and points us towards what we call human values. It was Jesus, identified by Christians as the “Son of God”, who called us brothers and sisters. That identified us all as “Children of God”. This conceptually gave every human absolute equality and status, regardless of education, wealth, power or social standing. A radical position, still not fully absorbed.
At the moment we are approaching Christmas. That special babe – in Bethlehem or not, then or now, is like every babe everywhere and ever: supremely important. Each and every baby is our future. Each and every baby holds the universe in her mind – it is the universe contemplating and knowing itself.
This is what I have attempted to express and justify in this book.
“Matter & what Matters” is a strange mix of informal conversation about science and how it works (informal, but still objective), religion, and then some poetry where I attempt direct engagement. You are going to read the book of course. When you do, please don’t skip the poems and the text boxes – they are part of the whole.
It’s small – very concentrated. Just add it to your life and mix gently.
And remember, in the end, it’s love that matters.