Two pillars of fullfilment
There are some nights where you wake up from a dream and you learn something new. It's more odd though when the person who is telling you something, is yourself. I had this dream this morning where I was engaged in a philosophical conversation with a recent new friend of mine from Santa Barbara (Josh) and we started to talk about the lack of spiritual / religious values in modernist societies.
For a long time now societies have been moving away from religious institutions and replacing it with atheism, ietsism and agnosticism. But all the while becoming more materially focused, rational and scientifically-orientated. None of this is new or ground breaking, old hat, mulled over many times before.
What was interesting in this dialogue was that I flipped around the discussion and broke through the paradigm of religious and science: two quests to explain the nature of our existence and instead focsued on a different angle to the old adage.
If science was simply an explanation of "where we come from" then in and of itself it shouldn't feel like anything is lost by its slow replacement of traditional beliefs; so what is it exactly that people feel upset by?
My dream-self spelled it out differently. Religion offers us intimacy. We all want to be seen for who we really are. We have for many centuries gone to priests to confess our truths and to express our sins for forgiveness. We seek desperately moments of intimacy because they make us feel alive, connected. Intimacy is spiritual. You show yourself to God, all your sins included: and he accepts you. This ability to remove guilt and to forgive and ultimately to accept yourself is akin to feeling unconditional love, or total intimacy and acceptance for who you are. It's feeling deeply connected.
The quality of a conversation can be measured by the ability of two people to go beyond conversational-convention into deeper levels of engagement. We seek to share and understand, to break through boundaries. Spiritual desires can be seen as intimate desires. An intimacy with culture, the world and society can be seen as a desire for broad intimacy. I am living my life open, I am my true self, I am seen for who I am, and thus connected with everything. That connection is the heart of a spiritual desire.
The quest for truth is independent of this, or at least it has been separated from the quest for intimacy. We can have intimacy but not know truth about reality. Intimacy is about feeling understood, but seeking truth is about questioning your understanding. Before there was a formal science, religion sought to explain the nature of the universe (God, creationism etc.) while offering intimacy (ceremony, confessions, community, kinship). Because religion ultimately proved insufficient Science tore away (for the most part) the territory of truth from religion but has, in the process, tried to kill it off entirely.
it is bad enough that various religions fight each other over "what is truth" when their real remaining value is spiritual connection, but science itself is no passive observer in this process either.
We fill our public modern lives with commercials, pointless television shows, abusive billboards and false conversations. There are few opportunities for authentic conversations in the general domain. People are left to obtain their sense of intimacy in private quarters, as couples (who may or may not be able to achieve great degrees of intimacy), and via our friends. Many turn, return or continue to practice religious beliefs as they provide an unquestionable sense of integration, connection and spiritual-intimacy.
Religion provides us Intimacy, Science provides us with Truth.
The words "Religion" and "Science" though are largely disguises and misleading. If we focus instead on the inherent needs of a person, they are for a sense of authenticity and connection. We've done a good job of focusing on our material goals, but our moral values are as yet immature -- or have perhaps regressed. Either way we will require a new sense of community in the future where society is more focused on permitting real-exchanges between people to happen.
The battle between the atheists and the agnostics is largely irrelevant. Where we came from and what created us is a paradoxical question that I'm sure we will still puzzle over till the sun sets its last day. But what isn't questionable is that we are all here on earth for a limited amount of time, and that ultimately we don't really know a lot of things. We want to be loved, we want to make a difference, maybe we just want to be left alone. But no mater what it is we desire, we posses as a whole not only the drive for truth, but also that drive for intimacy.
One day we may indeed see that these two needs are real, and that the current institutions do not satisfy them entirely because they both fight over Truth and science generally leaves out the fulfillment of connection. Instead we need a clear separation between these two needs and modify our institutions and methods accordingly to provide for them more clearly and directly. Science, or "truth" is not superior to "intimacy", nor can it replace it.
We must breath both to live a full filled life.